Writing Assignments

Writing assignments can range from one-minute reflection pieces to exam essays to more involved research papers. The more writing practice and feedback students receive, the more likely they are to develop stronger writing skills.

Why use writing assignments?

Writing assignments can:

  • introduce and train students in the writing conventions of a field
  • encourage students to process course material more deeply
  • allow you to assess students’ comprehension of course topics

Considerations for designing effective writing assignments

  • Consider how students in your course should be able to write in their academic and/or professional career:
    • With what purpose?
    • Who is their audience?
    • In what style?
    • Following which conventions?
  • Design your writing assignments based on the skills students need to develop or acquire (e.g., proposal, abstract, poster session, book review, report, research paper, etc.)
  • Make sure the description of the writing assignment task is clear and precise
  • Consider creating and providing a list of guidelines or a rubric
  • Students vary in their research skills. For research assignments, arrange for a library session or work with a Cornell librarian to establish activities that help develop information competency
  • Peer assessment opportunities are beneficial for students as they allow opportunities for students to receive additional feedback and to practice critically assessing the writing of others
  • Providing feedback on writing assignments is an involved task. Plan ahead how you will provide feedback. Time-saving tactics include using a rubric, staggering due dates for written assignments, and integrating peer review throughout the revision process

Getting started with helping students improve their writing

  • Break up larger writing assignments into smaller pieces (annotated bibliography, paper outline, first draft, second draft, etc.) and provide opportunities for feedback at each step. Consider grading students at each step, thereby drawing focus to the writing process in addition to the final product.
  • Integrate self-assessment and peer assessment into your class. To help students develop these skills, allow them to practice assessing each other’s writing and provide feedback on their comments (use a rubric or have students rate the quality from one to five).
  • Start small at the beginning of the semester with low-stakes writing activities that contribute little, if at all, to final course grades. These types of activities allow you to gauge students' writing levels and give students opportunities for practice and feedback.