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Writing assignments

A page within CATL Teaching Improvement Guide

Brief Description

Writing assignments provide a unique opportunity for students to achieve course goals and improve their written communication skills at the same time. By incorporating writing assignments into their classes, instructors can promote and assess student learning and improve student engagement and motivation.

TIG: Writing Assignments

Examples of formal writing

Formal writing follows conventions of organization, style and format appropriate to the field of study, including traditional academic as well as discipline-specific and professional forms of writing.

Examples of informal writing

Informal writing or "writing to learn" refers to brief assignments or activities, in or out of class, in which students use writing to improve their understanding of course materials, concepts or topics.

Tips to implement writing assignments effectively
  • Contextualize writing assignments. Students learn to write well when they:
    • understand the kinds of writing expected of them,
    • internalize the criteria that define good writing,
    • deliberately practice writing through a process of revision and editing, thus developing an efficient and effective composing process,
    • learn to compose with a strong awareness of disciplinary/professional conventions and the needs, knowledge, and attitudes of their audiences, and
    • become progressively better at self-assessment

  • Link with course objectives. To the extent possible, integrate writing tasks into the overall course design, explicitly linking writing to course objectives and learning outcomes. 

  • Sequence assignments. Writing assignments are often arranged in sequences which begin with more basic or familiar writing and thinking tasks and then progress to more complex and challenging ones, thus helping students develop mastery over course content, concepts, skills, goals, etc.

    • Formal writing is best spaced throughout the semester to give students ample time to re-think their work and incorporate what they have learned from previous assignments. By working through a composing process, including drafting, feedback and revising, students have maximum opportunity to learn.

    • Informal writing may be completed in the moment, with little or no revision. When linked to course content and goals, student benefit from practicing writing to learn frequently—ideally before, during, and after each class session or unit. 

  • Clarify expectations. Expectations for writing vary across disciplines, fields, levels, etc. For this reason, students need explicit guidance and feedback in order to maximize their learning. They benefit from examples and discussion of actual written work, examining how specific kinds of writing are tailored for particular audiences, purposes, conventions, etc. Make explicit what kind of writing is expected from students and how it will be evaluated. While formal writing is evaluated based on explicit criteria and standards, informal writing may be evaluated on a pass/fail basis, depending on whether or not students have made a “good faith” effort to respond to the given assignment.

  • Provide feedback. Instructors adapt their procedures for giving feedback to their particular course sizes, populations, formats, technologies, etc. As a general rule, student writers should receive constructive feedback on their formal writing to identify areas for improvement and strategies for revision. Instructors are rarely able to provide extensive commentary on every piece of writing, but they can ensure that students receive guidance and feedback on all formal writing assignments.

  • Refer to campus resources in your syllabus and in other course materials. Encourage students to take advantage of UWL's Writing Center.

Kopp, B. (2015). Writing assignments. In Teaching Improvement Guide. University of Wisconsin at La Crosse Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from