The Skidmore College
Expository Writing Network

Designing Assignments

The first step to a successful paper is a thoughtful, well-crafted assignment. Students need a written assignment that they can take with them, ponder, read and re-read. Oral assignments invite misunderstanding and deprive students of a useful prompt.

 An assignment should be clear (explaining the task precisely), complete (telling the student the length, due date, sources required or recommended, and criteria by which the paper will be evaluated), and concise (an assignment much longer than two paragraph may produce a paper that is a mere checklist of responses to the various questions you asked in the assignment).

 Before you write an assignment, you may want to think about the following questions:

What are the main intellectual tasks that will engage students as they write the paper? Are they going to summarize readings? Synthesize material from several sources? Compare two or more sources? Argue with someone else's conclusion? Do a close reading? Formulate questions? Pose solutions? Why do I want them to fulfill these tasks at this time?

What will students learn from doing this assignment?

Will students understand the key words in the assignment, such as explain, discuss, examine, analyze, argue, compare, describe, explore, consider?

How does the assignment fit my objectives at this point in the course?

What steps in the writing process (e.g., outlining, drafting, revising) will help students fulfill this assignment successfully?

What sources do I want students to use? Lecture notes? Course readings? Outside readings?

Who is the audience for this paper? For whom are the students writing?

Does the assignment allow students enough time to plan, read, and write?

How will I evaluate the work? Is the paper a first or a final draft? Is revision possible?

What constitutes a successful response to the assignment? There may, and should, be several possibilities for a successful paper. What range of possibilities would be acceptable to me?

How and when will I respond to the paper?

Skidmore College

Writing Center

Scribner Library