Before designing a writing assignment, it is essential to articulate goals for the assignment as clearly and concretely as possible. For example, will the assignment help students learn course material or writing conventions in the discipline—or both?
Assignment goals will guide every choice regarding assignment design. A preliminary list of goals allows us to address such questions as:
What writing products (e.g., research papers, reading summaries, reports) will meet assignment goals and will suit my teaching style and preferences? Will formal or informal writing better meet these goals?
What specific skills will contribute to the final product and how can I foster those skills through classroom instruction and the assignment itself?
How can I sequence activities (e.g., reading, researching, writing) to build toward a final product that demonstrates progress toward particular goals?
You will notice that these questions suggest a broader understanding of writing assignments than we usually consider. A writing assignment can be understood as a series of stages that enhance larger course goals while moving students toward a final product that demonstrates progress toward some of those goals. This understanding is further explored in the following section on positioning an assignment within the class.