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Creating Writing Assignments

Sequence writing assignments to help students build skills throughout the semester.


Beginning-of-the-semester writing helps you gauge your students’ writing skills, what they know (and don’t know) about a topic, and any misconceptions they harbor. Most instructors weight these earlier writing assignments more lightly, to reflect their exploratory, calibrating nature. Some common beginning-of-term assignments in Signature Courses:

  • introductory journal entries (focusing on prior experiences)
  • reflections
  • interviews
  • reading responses
  • descriptions or summaries


Mid-semester assignments should be more substantive, involving concepts, questions, and problem-solving methods appropriate to college. Research and evidence come into play, as students explore how to find a solution or convince others. Students should practice quoting and paraphrasing sources. Typical mid-semester assignments:

  • 3-5 page paper synthesizing two concepts from class
  • 5-7 page paper applying class concepts to a current event or personal experience
  • several 2-4 page papers analyzing authors, theories, or controversies

End of Semester

Final projects should build upon earlier work, but note that a long, “capstone” project is not required in your Signature Course. Long research papers are typically better suited to upper-division students, who know how to ask a research question, find and use sources, and fit the information into a prescribed format. If you want your students to write research papers, plan your preceding assignments as steps leading toward the final project—first a thesis-building assignment, then an assignment teaching the use of sources, and so on.

Assignments that work well to round out a Signature Course are thesis-driven projects where students defend or refute a proposition, answer a complex question, or perform a detailed analysis of data or other evidence. They tie together ideas from previous projects, or bring students together in group to build on individual research. Including a reflective element in final projects, or an opportunity for students to present and discuss their work, is a good way to highlight how much they have learned in the course.