Designing Effective Writing Assignments: Questions to Consider

Unclear assignments can lead to unclear writing. It is sometimes only as you are grading papers or essay exams that you realize your assignment or prompt may not have been as clear as it could have been. For this reason, the end of a semester–when you are reviewing student work–can be an opportune time to revise your assignments.

Whether you are revising an old assignment or developing a new one for the coming term, consider the following questions, designed to help you write clear, well-crafted writing assignments and essay prompts that can deepen student learning and help students shape their writing for specific audiences and purposes. 


Why are you asking students to write this assignment? What learning objectives do you hope to advance with the writing assignment? Choose significant course objectives from your syllabus, for example:

  • To demonstrate understanding of key concepts
  • To present and support an argument
  • To improve ability to communicate complex ideas in clear, elegant language
  • To report research findings 


  • What is the rhetorical strategy, vis-à-vis the audience?
  • What kind of critical thinking do you expect students to do? (e.g. evaluate, compare and contrast, define, describe, analyze, explain, summarize)


To whom are students expected to write?

  • Novice or expert
  • Instructor
  • Another student or peer

Scope and Format

How broad or narrow should the focus be? What is the topical focus? What sources of evidence should students use?

  • Is research required?
  • What are the conventions/expectations regarding citations?
  • What form should the writing take?
  • What is the required length?


How will you communicate the writing and revision process?

  • Will the assignment be separated into parts? (e.g. proposal, bibliography, complete papers; or first draft, final draft, etc.)
  • Will there be opportunities for students to receive feedback from instructor or peers?
  • What are the deadlines? (include date and time)

Evaluation Criteria

How will you assess the process and the final product?

  • Will the writing process be segmented to enable feedback or additional instruction?
  • Will you be using a rubric to grade the assignment?
  • Will assignments be evaluated for both ideas and clarity of writing?
  • How will late papers be addressed?