Debby Ellis Writing Center

Effective Writing Assignments

Six Parts of an Effective Prompt

One of the most common challenges in designing a prompt is determining how much information to include. We recommend that you limit the information provided on the prompt to the unique requirements for this assignment and that you provide students with writing guides distinct from the prompt that outline your expectations for different types of assignments and different disciplines.

Of course, the following is just one model for arranging a prompt. We encourage you to adapt it as you see fit to best provide your students with the guidance that will help them produce the kinds of papers you want to read.

1. Articulation of purpose

  • This section explains the significance of the assignment itself by explaining what skills students will display in their writing and why they are important.
  • This section may also identify the audience of the assignment. If the assignment has real-world applications (for example, if students are asked to construct a business memo), this section may present students with a scenario that their writing will address.
  • De Paul Teaching Commons identifies nine of the most common purposes for writing, including encouraging students to engage course material, to develop scholarly skills, and to bridge academic and real world understanding. On their site, they include a helpful chart that breaks each of these purposes into smaller goals and suggests which types of writing assignments engage each.
  • Below is a sample articulation of purpose. You can find the full prompt from which this example is drawn here.

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2. Summary of assignment

Essentially, this is the “thesis statement” of the prompt. Assignment summaries tend to work best when limited to a few sentences in which you provide students with the genre of the assignment, the most important components of the assignment, and the audience for their paper.

  • You can find the full prompt from which this example is drawn here.

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3. Logistics

  • This section provides students with the basic information about your requirements, including the specific length, the due date, the method of submission, formatting requirements, and citation style.
  • You can find the full prompt from which this example is drawn here.

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4. Key components of the paper or important sections

  • This is a where you might provide a brief synopsis of the genre, or type of assignment,in which students are writing and address the types and number of sources they should use. You might also use this space to refer students to a writing guide.
  • You can find the full prompt from which this example is drawn here.

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5. Framing questions

  • This section is designed to provide students with further guidance. Depending on the type of assignment, you might include either an overview of important sections or framing questions or both. The length of this section will depend on the degree to which you expect students to develop their own framing questions.
  • You can find the full prompt from which this example is drawn here.

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6. Evaluation criteria

  • This section could refer back to your rubric, but it’s also a good idea to include those general categories on your prompt as well. Precise language is particularly helpful in this section. For examples of alternatives to criteria like “assignment is well-written,” you may want to check out our examples of precise language.
  • You can find the full prompt from which this example is drawn here.

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Bonus: References to Resources, Tips for Approaching the Project, Common Missteps & Models

References to Resources

  • As its name suggests, this section directs students to resources that will help them with their assignment. You might include links to websites or information about library resources available to them, suggestions for visiting the DEWC or departmental tutors, or other useful information.

Tips for Approaching the Project

  • Perhaps you want students to write their papers in a particular order or take notes in a certain way. By separating that information from the rest of the prompt, you can offer them with an easy way to reference your suggestions.

Common Errors

  • This can be a particularly helpful section to include – if students in your Business Writing class often lapse into poetic language or students in your Art History class tend to want to make value judgments about the works they’re analyzing, you can warn them off here.

Reproductions

  • We recommend providing models for writing in your class throughout the semester. Providing a model of an exemplary paper for students when you distribute the prompt can go a long way toward producing the kind of papers you want to be grading.

 

 Next: Troubleshooting Prompts: Seven Easy Fixes

Sources:

Better Assignments. Writing Center. Yale College. 2014. Web. 1 June 2014. 

Boye, Allison. How Do I Create Meaningful and Effective Assignments? Teaching, Learning, and Professional Development Center. Texas Tech University. 2014. 1 June 2014.

Brewster, Glen et al. Formal Biology Lab Reports. Writer’s Guide. Westfield State College. Web. 1 June 2014. 

Creating Effective Assignments. Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. University of New Hampshire. 2004. Web. 1 June 2014.

Gardner, Traci. Ten Tips for Designing Writing Assignments. Pedablogical. 2001. Web. 1 June 2014.

Gately, Maeve. Writing an Art History Paper. Writing Resources. Hamilton College Writing Center. 2014. Web. 1 June 2014.

Guidelines for Analysis of Art. Department of Art. University of Arkansas at Little Rock. n.d. Web. 1 June 2014.

Jehn, Tom, and Jane Rosenweig. Writing in the Disciplines: Advice and Models: Supplement to accompany Diana Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference, Sixth Edition. Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s. 2007.

Matching Learning Goals to Assignment Types. De Paul Teaching Commons. DePaul University. n.d. Web. 1 June 2014.

Pop, Andrei. How to Do Things with Pictures: A Guide for Writing in Art History.Disciplinary Writing Guides. Harvard Writing Project. 2008. Web. 1 June 2014.

Writing Assignments. Center for Teaching and Learning. Hobart and William Smith Colleges. 2014. Web. 1 June 2014.