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Developing Effective Writing Assignments

"A good writing assignment deepens students' engagement materials, promotes critical thinking, and helps them learn the discipline's discourseits characteristic methods of inquiry, analysis, and argumentation."

John C. Bean, Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom

Design assignments with:

  • Clear goals based on your course objectives
  • Engaging, relevant contexts
  • Specific audiences
  • Explicit format requirements (lengths, manuscript format, citation style, etc.)
  • Criteria by which the work will be evaluated

Student writing is likely to be strongest when instructors:

  1. Develop assignments that are problem-based rather than topic-based
  2. Provide written guidelines for the assignment that: a) specify the purpose for the assignment; b) outline the discrete steps to be taken to complete the assignment
  3. Sequence assignments to develop increasingly complex thinking and writing
  4. Sequence several shorter, varied, multi-genre assignments rather than a single "term paper"
  5. Provide time for students to brainstorm or "pre-write" when giving the assignment
  6. Present examples which illustrate strong and/or weak work
  7. Help students develop effective writing processes by: a) guiding students' completion of assignment (e.g., check working bibliography; respond to outline; respond to introduction; etc.); b) encouraging or requiring revision as a necessary part of the writing process; c) providing opportunities for peer and/or instructor feedback on drafts. (Try writing the assignment yourself and then talk about your process with students.)
  8. Have students self-evaluate or write a short analysis/reflection on the work they are submitting
  9. Create opportunities for students to "publish" their work

Diane Boehm, Writing Center Director Emeritus, Saginaw Valley State University