Criteria for Effective Writing Assignments

Providing students students with the topic of the writing assignment is essential but most likely not sufficient. In order for students to understand the writing assignment as an opportunity to practice their writing skills, clear guidelines are essential. Read about writing assignment characteristics that help students complete the writing task successfully and move them towards more sophisticated writing.

Students will benefit from receiving guidelines for the writing assignment. Consider the following checklist (not all may apply to your course):

Writing prompt *:

  • Identify the academic form or the genre (summary of research, argumentative essay, blog post (what kind), creative writing, etc.)
  • Explain the purpose of writing assignment:
    • Learn language (putting sentences together coherently)
    • Write to learn new material (doing research for assignment)
    • Write to assess what students have learned¬† about topic (apply knowledge to new text; film; linguistic examples)
    • Write to create knew knowledge (e.g., evaluate theory, create argument)
  • Identify audience (establish social context of act of writing: academic, professional, personal, public, etc.)
  • Provide grading rubric
  • Specify citation style, length, spacing, formatting (provide the link for MLA style, APA style.)

Remind students of existence of example/model text (e.g., read in class together, in the textbook, student model available on BB)

Remind students about genre specific writing conventions (e.g., discussed in class, handout on BB)

  • Organization of text
  • Language (e.g., discourse markers; tense)

Outline steps:

  • Which resources students should use (class notes; textbook; on-line and library research)
  • Which (if any) on-line sources students may use (e.g.
  • Which (if any) sources are not allowed (e.g. spellcheck? google translate? wikipedia? etc)
  • Will you give feedback on a draft (does the draft count in the final grade?)
  • Are students required to / allowed to consult a coach at the Language and Writing Studio: specify for which aspect (language and/or content; organization, etc.)
  • Review the steps of effective writing process: start early, pre-writing/planning, drafting, revising content; editing grammar and vocabulary; final proofreading.
    • Pre-writing: outline ideas, assess vocabulary knowledge (unskilled writers usually spend less time on pre-writing)
  • Review grammatical structures students should focus on particularly for this genre and assignment.
  • Provide information about how students should submit the paper (paper copy in class; safe assign on BB to deter plagiarism and to make sure that you have a record of when the paper was submitted)
  • Provide a statement about plagiarism: Copy UIC’s policy

*For term papers where students choose their own topic, students could be asked to identify their audience and genre for themselves.

Here is an example of a writing assignment (Ferris & Hedgcock, 2014)

Here is an example of a pre-writing task guiding students to develop an awareness of genre-specific textual organization and language use (Ferris & Hedgcock, 2014)

Assignment criteria are adapted from:

Ferris, D. R., & Hedgcock, J.S. (2014). Teaching L2 Composition. Purpose, Process, and Practice. New York: Routledge.

Ferris, D., & Thaiss, C. (2011, December 21). Writing at UC Davis: Addressing the needs of second language writers. Across the Disciplines, 8(4). Retrieved October 20, 2013, from

Williams, J. (2005). Teaching Writing in Second and Foreign Language Classrooms. Boston: McGraw Hill.