Writing Assignment Checklist

Feel free to use this checklist to guide you through the stages of assignment design.

Hand placing red check marks in black boxes on a pieces of paper titled checklist.
  1. Is the relevance of this writing assignment obvious (to other writing assignments, to course objectives, and to the discipline/field)? Students will likely be more motivated to complete a task that has obvious relevance to course goals and/or personal goals.
  2. Have you helped students focus their writing by clarifying its primary purpose? Are you, for example, primarily asking them to argue a position? Provide information? Express themselves? Explore an issue? If you have more specific expectations, it may help to clarify their writing task. For instance, you might ask students to apply a theory to specific data, critically evaluate a text, solve a problem, synthesize disparate ideas, analyze data by scrutinizing specific aspects separately or apply theories to new contexts. Additionally, is it clear whether you’re asking students to work backward (using the assignment to prove what they’ve already learned) or work forward (expanding their learning)? 
  3. Where possible, have you moved beyond assigning a “topic” and provided students with an authentic scenario, problem-solving scenario, or inquiry question? Authentic prompts can inspire ideas, motivate writers, and deter students from writing what John Bean calls the “all about paper” or the “data dump.
  4. If this is a longish assignment, have you broken it into manageable tasks? If you’re working with a complex and lengthy assignment, you’ll want to build smaller assignments backward from the end product.
  5. If you’ve not already made it apparent, have you specified what sort of reader or audience your students should address? Writing to designated or selected audiences allows students to make important decisions about how much background knowledge they can assume on the part of their reader and what sorts of evidence, logic, and tone they should use. Specifying an audience allows students to write toward authentic communication with a reader for a purpose, rather than simply proving to you that they are fulfilling course expectations.
  6. Have you described what sorts of evidence student writers are expected to rally? Are they to back ideas using their own logic/experience, or are they conducting traditional research? Is there a type of scholarly source you’re expecting students to use, or is the choice theirs to make? Likewise, are you looking for a specific citation style?
  7. Have you described your aims using a limited number of comprehensive rather than abstract verbs? For example, “support a position with evidence” or “describe a process so that it can be replicated” are likely more actionable directives than “consider,” "explore," or "discuss."
  8. Is the wording and are the cultural references inclusive? If the assignment uses idiomatic language (expressions), do you provide an explanation for the benefit of non-native English speakers? Does the assignment use generic language and acknowledge different lived experiences?
  9. Is the assignment accessible? Does the format and document structure (use of headings and subheadings) of the assignment work with adaptive technologies?
  10. Where appropriate, have you described the organization of the finished product you envision in adequate detail, including elements of format and appearance? This includes length, margins, organizational sequencing, format, style, and documentation specifications.
  11. Have you provided your grading criteria and conveyed their relative weight or importance? And, are these criteria relevant to the assignment’s purpose and disciplinary discourse rather than generic writing attributes?
  12. Have you scheduled instances of feedback into the process? These include responses from peers or the instructor on topic ideas, proposals, thesis ideas, or drafts.
  13. Have you indicated what resources might be useful to students as they write and revise? Examples include model papers, resource books, writing consultation services.
  14. Have you balanced freedom with guidance and structure? Have you successfully avoided intimating that the only successful responses to this assignment will be those that approach the target question/problem exactly as you would? Can students make choices related to topic, argument, form, audience, research, or mode? If so, how and when will you check in to ensure that they make workable choices? For high-stakes, lengthy assignments, you’ll want to check in early.