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Assignment Design for Research and Writing

Resources to reference when creating research and writing assignments to maximize clarity and accessibility.


Designing clear, accessible, and equitable assignments is a question of ethics.

We know, we started out with a bold and perhaps controversial statement, but for us, assignment design isn’t just about getting your students to “stop using internet sources” or “write clear thesis statements.” It’s about meeting students -- particularly students with learning disabilities and/or students for whom English is not their first language -- where they are and helping them succeed.

We really like the simplicity of the Harvard Writing Project’s advice on designing essay assignments:

1. Name what you want and imagine students doing it.

We interpret this as asking you to define the key terms you use (even “research” and “thesis” should be defined!). Take your time really thinking through what you need to tell your students to see the results you want: Is this a creative assignment or an academic one? What is the audience you’re imagining for this writing? What kind of argument do you want to see? 

2. Take time in class to prepare students to succeed at the paper.

Yes, this! Don’t just hand out an assignment and be done with it. Go over it in class. Over. And. Over.

3. Build in process.

Are you asking for peer-reviewed sources? Why not build in a peer review or peer editing session? Ask for drafts in advance. Assign an annotated bibliography. What’s the point of giving feedback if students don’t have a chance to learn and revise based on that feedback?



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