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Center for Academic Support Home Page: Tips for Drafting Assignments

Home page for the Center for Academic Support, Denver Campus


  1. Begin by considering what you want your students to learn.
    1. Writing assignments generally assist students in exploration, analysis, argument, and research.
  2. Remember that not all writing is the same.
    1. Make sure students are familiar with the standards, practices and methodologies of the field in relation to knowledge creation and writing.
  3. Remember your knowledge in the field/discipline greatly outweighs the students’ knowledge.
    1. Things you may consider basic, such as formatting or research methodology, may seem foreign to students who have not practiced it.
    2. Take time to explain the rationale of the required tasks in relation to your discipline.
  4. Make the scheduling and sequencing of assignments support your course goals.
    1. (See Sequencing and Scaffolding if you are interested in larger, complex and/or process-oriented tasks.)
  5. Ask yourself whether the workload you are planning for yourself and your students is reasonable, strategically planned, and sustainable.
    1. Are there ways that you can use in-class or out-of-class time to reinforce key proficiencies so that you are not killing yourself grading papers?
  6. Make sure that your assignment guidelines reflect learning objectives (i.e., that they help students comprehend information in a new and meaningful way, rather than repeating information already provided).



  1. Avoid formatting that might mislead students (Roman numerals, numbers, paragraph groupings). Students might think this is a model for their own papers.
  2. Be aware that the more/less space you dedicate to a certain aspect, the more/less time students will dedicate to that aspect when completing the assignment. That is, make sure the important stuff takes up the most room.
  3. Consider assignment language, and be specific: "analyze," "argue," "develop and support a thesis or claim," "respond to," and "reflect upon" are more direct than "discuss," "explore," "examine," and "consider."
  4. Put all of your directions and guidelines clearly and comprehensively in writing. Include in your instructions:
    1. The purpose or nature of the genre or mode of the writing (lab report, research paper, personal essay).
    2. The intended audience (you, peers, experts, general audience).
    3. A clear articulation of the problem or questions to be addressed.
    4. The evidence that counts (logic, quotations, statistics, observations).
    5. An explanation of how the writer might go about investigating the topic and creating the paper.
    6. Your expectations regarding paper scope, depth, format, and length.
    7. What resources you expect to be used.
    8. The evaluation procedures and standards you will apply to the paper.
  5. Make sure your assignment sheet is an appropriate length. One page is good.
    1. Overly detailed and lengthy prompts can lead students to focus on accomplishing tasks instead of learning.
  6. Avoid assignments that only ask students to regurgitate someone else's views.
  7. Build in a plan for revision.
    1. Sequence assignments (see Sequencing and Scaffolding), or include distinct revision options that ask students to consider particular aspects.
  8. Make clear the amount of latitude students have to choose focus or direction.
  9. Try to make your assignments approximate real communication situations, where the writer communicates something to a reader who wants to learn more about it.


Introducing the Assignment

  1. To allow time for the composing process to work, issue assignments at least ten days (but preferably two weeks) in advance.
  2. Make your expectations explicit.
    1. Since we are immersed in our discipline we sometimes forget that for students—especially those new to the field—disciplinary norms and expectations are unknown or unclear.
  3. Encourage students to consult each other about paper ideas, visit the writing center, or approach you during office hours.
  4. Have a discussion about organization in class or have students write a small proposal in which they explain their topic and potential method of organizing the paper.
  5. Explain how you want the students to use source material.

Follow Up (before the due date)

  1. Discuss with them the codes, conventions, and assumptions of the disciplinary audience.
  2. Make your criteria for grading explicit to the students and provide it in advance.
    1. Share rubrics with students before they submit their assignments.
    2. Consider drafting a rubric with the students (See Harris et al.).
  3. Share and discuss examples of work in the genre you are assigning.
    1. Ideal models are not always ideal. Students benefit from seeing professional work, but also student examples and counterexamples.
  4. Workshopping drafts (in pairs, small groups, or whole class) helps students hone their abilities and learn how to revise their own work.
    1. Caution: Peer review works best if it is done regularly and if you provide clear guidelines.
    2. Consider a full class workshop of a student volunteer’s paper to model the process and discuss certain key points relevant to all students.