Creating Assignment Instructions
In order for students to succeed with their assignments, clear assignment instructions are essential. Below, you will find some advice on what to keep in mind when developing assignment instructions for your students.
Who are the Intended Readers?
Texts differ depending on who their intended readers are. Make sure that your students have a clearly understanding of their intended readers so that they can write texts geared at the needs and expectations of this specific group.
Target Group 1: General readers who are interested in the topic
Text types like press releases, newspaper articles, and popular science are often written for general readers. These kinds of texts are characterized by fairly simple language and few technical terms. Examples: relatives or friends.
Target Group 2: Informed readers
Text types intended for informed readers include B-essays and memos, but sometimes popular science texts and scientific texts belong to this category as well. Informed readers have some knowledge about the topic and are expected to be able to find out what difficult terms and content in the text entail on their own.
Target Group 3: Experts
Scientific texts are usually intended for expert readers, specialists with insight into the topic of the text.
Text types intended for this group of readers include undergraduate-and master’s theses, scientific articles, and doctoral theses.These kinds of texts are written in accordance with disciplinary research-and writing traditions. Certain advanced knowledge is expected and specialized (or technical) terms are often not defined. Writers of scientific textsare expected to be able to distinguish between what is generally known on the topic from what can be expected to be new to the reader and therefore needs to be explained. Some terms and phenomena might require careful explanation and in a way that is considered precise and clear by the scholarly community.
Purpose and Delimitations
Students often find it to be difficult to formulate a purpose anddefine a focus for their task. Try to specify in the assignment instructions whatthe students are expected to do. What type of problem are they expected to solve? What kind of literature should theyrely on and refer to in their text? Which method should be used?
Structure, Scope, and Source Use
Most of the text types students are expected to write belong to a tradition with specific conventions. There is, for example, not just one way to write a lab report. Rather, the formal expectations and requirements differ between different disciplines. In order to guide students in the practices of writing in the discipline, consider the following:
The Structure of the Text – Consider the Following:
- Should the text be structured in a certain way? Should specific subheadings be used (e.g. Introduction, Method, Results, Discussion, Conclusion)?
- Should you use a writing template or detailed instructions regarding the typography (font, font size, margins, etc.).
- Should there be an abstract and/or table of contents)
- Should there be footnotes or endnotes? Which reference system should be used? Try to be as specific as possible.
Length of the Text
Indicate clearly how long the text should be and consider mentioning a range (for example, between 6000 and 8000 words).
The Text Triangleas a Model for the Assignment Instruction
The text triangle is a model that visualizes the writing process. It emphasizes the advantages of moving from a global level, where you focus on aspects like purpose and intended audience, to a local level, where the focus is on details in the text, such as word choice and sentence structure. The model is often used by the Language Workshop in order to explain how a student can take on a writing assignment. Students often benefit from a working process where they work themselves down through the levels of the triangle, from the global levels to the local ones.
The text triangle is also useful when organizing an assignment instruction, where the initial sections may focus on overarching aspects of the task and then, the later sections deal with the details of the text. For example, it might be helpful to start with information about what you consider to be most important, such as purpose, text type, and structure, and save information about font style and referencing for later.
Feedback and Examination
- Explain how the feedback will be given: orally, in writing, or both.
- Explain how the assignment will be examined, that is, what criteria and which course goals that are relevant related to the grading scale.
Resources that may be helpful for your students: links to e.g. dictionaries and essay writing. Consider making these part of your assignment instruction.
The Assignment Instruction: A Dynamic Document
View your assignment instruction as a dynamic document that you continually revise and update.
- Reflect on your assignment instructions. If many students misunderstand the same aspect, the instructions are probably vague or unclear.
- Include the assignment instruction in your course evaluation and revise it directly after the end of the course.