What is the audience for the intended writing?  What is the writer’s relationship to this audience?

What is the purpose of the writing; what is it trying to do for its audience?

Note: informational writing is often written to someone who knows less than the writer – that’s why the writing exists.  It’s unnatural to write something informational to a person who knows more than you do, which is the case between student and professor.  Therefore it may help students on some assignments if you ask them to imagine an audience less knowledgeable than themselves, e.g., a student who hasn’t yet taken the course.

What is the underlying thinking process in the desired piece of writing?

What is the key verb that tells the student what she is supposed to do / how she is supposed to think here?

What traps should the student avoid?  [You can’t know until you’ve given the assignment at least once and seen what people write.]  Sometimes it is enormously helpful to be explicit about what you are not asking for.

What, in a very practical way, might be the process of doing the assignment?  What would you envision the student doing first?  What would be the next step toward completing the assignment, etc.?

What is the intended shape or form of the finished writing?  How can you describe it so that the student doesn’t produce the wrong kind of a piece?  Use examples, if you can, so that students can see what a finished product should look like.  Often, the major challenge of giving a writing assignment is getting the students to imagine the desired piece of writing in the same way that you imagine it.

What would be the descriptors (criteria) on the various lines of a grid (or rubric) for evaluating this piece of writing?  What would be some great things about a piece that truly fulfilled this assignment, lived up to your fondest hopes?


You can download this as a Word document here: Creating Writing Assignments

You can download this as a PDF here: Creating Writing Assignments (PDF)