As instructors we are familiar with conventions of academic writing and writing in our fields. Itâ€™s easy to assume that students will observe the conventions we take for granted, but such assumptions generally leave students floundering with style and format concerns that compromise their attention to larger assignment goals. The following questions will help you create an assignment description that details every element of the writing task.
What background reading, interviews, experience, or other preparation will expose students to style and format conventions, as well as preparing them to meet larger goals?
What do students need to know about citing outside sources? When they understand the purpose and importance of citation, what citation format are they to use?
What documents should accompany studentsâ€™ final written product? For example, should they turn in notes, outlines, drafts, or peer review comments (whether or not theyâ€™ve been submitted previously)?
How can I best support assignment and course goals through specifications about word and page count, margins, and font size? Does my assignment description clearly communicate these specifications (or my flexibility regarding these format decisions)?
Though itâ€™s important to inform students of style and format requirements, we want to avoid emphasizing the cosmetic over the substantive. Working backwards from assignment and course goals will naturally shift our focus from cosmetic concerns. The assignments we design should maintain a global focus by highlighting the process that will advance overall goals and downplaying style and format requirements. If the specifications weâ€™ve indicated donâ€™t advance assignment or course goals, we might consider revising our specifications.