Creating good writing assignments



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  • Roger Graves Director, Writing Across the Curriculum University of Alberta
  • http://www.humanities.ualberta.ca/WAC/

Like the protagonist in Dickens’ novel, we sometimes come to class with great expectations of our students, only to be disappointed by their actual performance on written assignments

  • Like the protagonist in Dickens’ novel, we sometimes come to class with great expectations of our students, only to be disappointed by their actual performance on written assignments

One way to forestall disappointment is to write clear instructions

  • One way to forestall disappointment is to write clear instructions
  • As the co-author of a technical writing textbook, I have some advice on this

Define your terms

  • Define your terms
  • Write a brief overview or rationale of the entire assignment
  • Provide a list or concepts that the student needs to know to complete the assignment successfully

Purpose

  • Purpose
  • This essay should demonstrate that you can identify the audience, ethos, and purpose of a written text (Chapter 1). You should also demonstrate the ability to apply the concepts from Chapter 2—visual and verbal explanations, organization, point of view, focus and frame, and interest in texts. Your essay should explain
  • the purpose of the news article,
  • the ways in which the visual interacts with the verbal to accomplish this purpose,
  • how the language of the article contributes to this purpose and communicates with the audience
  • how the context of this article (it appeared in a student newspaper at a university) affected the way it was written, the selection of the topic, and the framing of the topic

Use numbered lists for steps that must occur in chronological order

  • Use numbered lists for steps that must occur in chronological order
  • Use bulleted list for items that do not have to appear in sequence
  • Limit each sub-procedure to 7-10 steps
  • Each step should describe one action
  • Packing more than one action into a step invites errors

Invention/Drafting/Research strategies

  • Invention/Drafting/Research strategies
  • Identify a scientific topic that you are already familiar with or that you want to learn more about.
  • In the research class on Oct. 31 in UC 2, find 5-10 sources that you might be able to use in the research essay (Assignment 4)
  • Email pdfs or full-text copies of these to yourself.
  • Write short (50-100 word) summaries of these articles describing what they add to your knowledge of the topic.
  • Write the introduction to your proposal in which you make the argument that researching this topic benefits you in some way or improves your scientific knowledge and background—why do you want to study this topic?

Use the imperative (command) sentence order: “Verb + Object” [This sentence is itself an example of this principle]

  • Use the imperative (command) sentence order: “Verb + Object” [This sentence is itself an example of this principle]
  • If conditions apply to the action, include them in a dependent phrase or clause before the imperative. [This sentence is itself an example of this principle]

Overview

  • Overview
  • Group into chunks
  • Step-by-step
  • Clarify key points
  • Include alternatives or substitutions
  • Tips, warnings, cautions
  • Troubleshooting
  • Adapt to reader’s level
  • Use imperative
  • Define terms
  • Use logical order
  • Maintain uniform tone

Topic/description

  • Topic/description
  • Purpose
  • Audience
  • Invention/drafting/research strategies
  • Length
  • Drafts/workshopping deadlines
  • Revision policy
  • Drafting
  • Criteria/rubric/grading
  • Glenn, Cheryl, Melissa Goldthwaite, and Robert Connors. The St. Martin’s Guide to Teaching Writing

Did you need all these categories?

  • Did you need all these categories?
  • Do your students need other kinds of information?
  • Conflicts?
  • Observations?

Questions we ask—“why” and “how”—need to be elaborated to make obvious the implied argument we want to read

  • Questions we ask—“why” and “how”—need to be elaborated to make obvious the implied argument we want to read
  • Directives (“discuss,” “consider”) need to be elaborated to identify the argument from sources you want to read
  • Open-ended assignments: turn them into questions

Analyze: find connections

  • Analyze: find connections
  • Compare and contrast
  • Define: make a claim about how something should be defined
  • Describe: observe and select details
  • Evaluate: argue according to criteria that something is good, bad, best
  • Propose: identify a problem and argue for a solution
  • The Brief Penguin Handbook, Canadian ed.

Aims:

  • Aims:
  • To please
  • To entertain
  • To engage
  • O’Brien, Emily, Jane Rosenweig, and Nancy Sommers, “Making the most of College Writing.”

Non-academic

  • Non-academic
    • Audience
    • For the article review, your initial audience for this assignment is your instructor; readers of Occupational Therapy Now form the primary audience.

Assessment tools, like NSSE (National Survey of Student Engagement) and other “benchmarking” or outcomes statements, increasingly rely on explicit statements describing levels of student achievement

  • Assessment tools, like NSSE (National Survey of Student Engagement) and other “benchmarking” or outcomes statements, increasingly rely on explicit statements describing levels of student achievement
  • Rubrics are useful ways to control this process because they allow you to self-define the learning outcomes for your course

Glenn, Cheryl, Melissa Goldthwaite, and Robert Connors. The St. Martin’s Guide to Teaching Writing. New York: St. Martin’s, 2003.

  • Glenn, Cheryl, Melissa Goldthwaite, and Robert Connors. The St. Martin’s Guide to Teaching Writing. New York: St. Martin’s, 2003.
  • Faigley, Lester, Roger Graves, and Heather Graves. The Brief Penguin Handbook. Toronto: Pearson, 2008.
  • Graves, Heather, and Roger Graves. A Strategic Guide to Technical Communication. Peterborough: Broadview, 2007.
  • O’Brien, Emily, Jane Rosenweig, and Nancy Sommers, “Making the most of College Writing.” Harvard Expository Writing Program, http://www.fas.harvard.edu/%7Eexpos/EWP_guide.web.pdf


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