DESIGNING WRITING ASSIGNMENTS*
Laura Brady, Department of
Here are some general areas and questions that you may want to consider
as you design writing assignments and as you discuss assignments with students.
Your own students' needs will determine the amount of detail you'll need
or want to give on each of these points.
Context. What is the topic, subject, or principle behind the assignment?
Has the instructor specified an exact topic, or is the student supposed
to find a topic by narrowing down the subject area? If so, what kinds of
narrowing might be productive? What kinds of skills are students expected
to demonstrate? What questions does the assignment raise?
Purpose(s). For what purpose is the author writing (to explain,
to persuade, to summarize, etc.)? A clear sense of purpose can sharpen
a writer's focus and provide motivation for writing. How does the purpose
shape choices about the type and level of detail? How does a specific purpose
Characteristics of the Reader(s). Who is the audience? While the
teacher is usually the implicit reader for every academic assignment, teachers
usually have hypothetical readers in mind, too. As with purpose, detailing
reader traits helps students focus, become motivated, gather and arrange
information appropriately, select the tone and style, etc.
Format and Physical Constraints. When is the assignment due? When
are drafts due? What form is it to be in (essay, lab report, editorial,
etc.)? What would be a reasonable length? Must it be typed? Should all
notes or drafts be submitted? What kind of documentation should be used?
Process. Have you explained the stages of writing and review that
the student's writing will go through? Have you discussed particular prewriting,
drafting, and/or revising activities that might be helpful?
Resources. Where in the text can the student seek help? What class
discussions are relevant? May the students seek outside help from fellow
students, authorities, and librarians? Is the student expected to consult
secondary scholarship? If so, what kind(s)?
Evaluation Criteria. What will determine success or failure in completing
this assignment? Will students have an opportunity to receive feedback
before they submit the assignment for a grade?
Tarvers, Josephine Koster. "Designing Writing Assignments."Teaching
in Progress: Theories, Practices, and Scenarios. 2nd ed. New York:
Longman, 1998. 92-99.
Thaiss, Christopher. "Learning to Write: Designing Assignments
and Responding to Student Writing."The Harcourt Brace Guide to Writing
across the Curriculum. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace, 1998. 34-57.