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Writing Assignment Checklist

A few key elements make any writing assignment more likely to elicit good work.

Make Assignments in Writing

Any formal writing assignment should be accompanied by an assignment sheet. Verbal directions may make sense to you but are often hard for students to understand and remember. Creating the assignment sheet also gives you a chance to think through your goals for the assignment, and how you will grade it.

Make expectations and standards clear.

On your assignment sheet, include a description of the criteria you will use to evaluate the final paper. Give your students a sample of the kind of writing you want from them, and discuss it. Several samples, varying in quality, help students distinguish between excellent, poor, and mediocre levels of performance.

Be explicit about the intellectual work required.

Take the time to unpack your own understanding of the tasks you describe in your assignments, and think about where (or if) your students will have done that kind of work previously. When we ask students to “discuss,” “analyze,” “review,” or “research,” we expect them to demonstrate very specific kinds of thinking. But interpretations of these words vary from field to field, from instructor to instructor: what counts as “discussion” in one class may be “just summary” to another instructor.

Tell students about their audience.

Students often have trouble gauging the appropriate tone for different kinds of academic writing. They have no concrete understanding of the audience they are writing for, and assume the instructor, who will grade their papers, is the only reader they need to worry about. Unlike a typical audience, however, the instructor usually knows more about the topic than the student. Who would actually be informed by the student’s writing? Who has a stake in the issue?

View sample and model assignments from previous Signature Courses.