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Communicating assignment instructions.

Updated on October 30, 2023

Once you know what a particular assignment is assessing, you can focus on how to convey this information to your students. An assignment prompt can take many forms, including a narrative description, a checklist, and/or a rubric. 

Clear assignment instructions will help students understand the purpose of the assignment, the steps students will need to take to successfully complete it, and how the assignment will be graded. Lack of clarity in any of these components can lead to student confusion, which can result in them not knowing how to start, spending time on tasks that are not essential to the assignment, or a final product that does not meet your expectations and perhaps does not accurately represent their learning. Alternatively, when the assignment instructions are written with transparency and clarity in mind, students know what they are supposed to be learning and can better engage in intentional practice, study, and reflection that supports deep learning. This page draws on research into transparent assignment design to surface strategies for more clearly communicating assignment expectations. 

Just as the process of determining assignment-level learning goals is iterative, you may find yourself revising your assignment instructions every time you reuse them. When designing a new assignment, you may need to be a bit vaguer than you would like, since you still need to figure out exactly what you’re looking for. Some instructors find it helpful to create an internal fleshed out rubric they can use as they grade, and a briefer version of the assignment expectations for their students. Over time, as you have a better sense of how students perform on the assignment and what your expectations are, you can work towards having just one rubric that is both shared with students and used by you when you sit down to grade the final product.

Transparent Assignment Design

The research generated by the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) project has shown that increasing transparency of assignments can improve student learning, motivation, and persistence, particularly among traditionally underrepresented populations ( Winkelmes et al 2016 ). Below are questions to reflect on as you design an assignment and consider how to convey this information to your students.

What is the purpose of the assignment?

Students may not immediately understand how an assignment connects to the content they have been studying or the learning goals of the course. Or, they may know the content an assignment is assessing but not how they are expected to engage with that content. 

For example, if a student is learning new formulas, knowing whether they need to memorize the formulas, identify which formula to use in which situation, and/or explain when each formula should be used and its limitations will change how they study the material. Or, if you ask students to write an essay, you may want to clarify the kinds of evidence they should incorporate, including whether or not connecting course content to personal experiences is appropriate.

Questions about assignment purpose:

  • In what way(s) do you want students to engage with the course content? Consider the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy to help you answer this question.
  • How is this assignment relevant to the larger goals of the course? Of the curriculum? Of your students? How can you motivate students by helping them recognize the alignment between the assignment and the relevant goals?

When deciding whether or not the purpose of the assignment is transparent, it is important to consider the title of the assignment, which can help convey what you are looking for. Calling an assignment a “book review” may prompt your students to provide a summary of a text, while calling it a “reading response” could encourage students to draw connections between a text and their own lives. Take a moment to check that the title of your assignment accurately communicates your expectations.

 What is the task the assignment demands of students?

Students may find it difficult to “unpack” an assignment into smaller components or know how to get started and the key steps towards completing an assignment successfully. Rather than just telling students to study for an exam or write a paper, a breakdown of the tasks can benefit even the students in an upper level course. The questions below ask you to unpack your assignment and use that information to help you discover potential challenging parts of an assignment and, therefore, moments when students might need some guidance  in order to do the work you most want them to engage through the assignment. 

Unpacking the task of the assignment gives you an opportunity to plan for students to have opportunities to practice and receive feedback on the task before they will have to do it in a high-stakes environment, like an exam or major paper. Having the assignment’s purpose in mind when articulating the task also gives you another chance to check for alignment. Do the tasks you are assigning to students correspond with the assignment’s purpose? 

Questions about the task of the assignment:

  • What are the steps you imagine most students would need to take in order to complete the assignment?
  • What steps are they likely to skip? What unnecessary detours might they take?
  • What elements of the task are important for students to figure out for themselves? Where would students’ benefit from explicit guidance (e.g. so they don’t waste their time/energy on less essential components)?
  • How will you scaffold the assignment, or break down the assignment into smaller component parts, to give students opportunities to practice necessary skills before submitting the assignment? (More information on scaffolding is available on our Providing Opportunities to Practice  page.)

What criteria will you use to evaluate the assignment?

The same assignment can be graded in numerous ways. Thus, explicitly telling students how they will be evaluated will clarify your expectations and impact how they prepare and what they submit. Students find it most helpful to know these criteria as they are getting started, and they will better understand them if they can practice assessing an example assignment. Sometimes, seeing a less proficient example of an assignment can clarify what not to do, especially if there are common pitfalls you want students to avoid.

For example, when grading a word problem, how much weight will you give to having a correct answer and how much to students showing the steps they took to get that answer? How much will you take off for a minor miscalculation? When grading an essay, what components will you be looking at more closely? How important are correct grammar and citation style?

Questions about evaluation criteria

  • What evidence will you be looking for as you evaluate whether a student has successfully met the criteria?
  • How will you communicate those criteria to students (a checklist, a rubric)?
  • Will students be able to use those criteria to help them self-assess how well they’re meeting the assignment expectations? Could you build in opportunities for students to apply the criteria by providing feedback to their peers?
  • Can you provide students with examples of good work, or examples of what not to do?

For more resources related to Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT), see the TILT Website . Here is an assignment template you are welcome to adapt for your own purposes and a checklist for designing transparent assignments if it is useful to you.

Del Mar College

Understanding Assignment Instructions


At some point in school, you may have turned in a paper, confident you will earn an A, only to be confused and let down when you earn a C instead. You read your instructor’s comments and realize you used the wrong citation style and overlooked one of the major parts of the assignment. This scenario shows the importance of understanding assignment instructions; although it may seem like a simple step, there are strategies you can implement to help ensure you understand what your instructor is asking you to do.

Read, Read, Read

It may seem obvious to read your assignment instructions carefully, yet many students fall into the habit of only glancing through instructions, losing precious points on their work as a result.

It is therefore extremely important to carefully read the assignment guidelines. Read them once. Then read them again. Look for the key aspects of the assignment: What is it asking you to do, what criteria will you be graded on, and what stylistic guidelines do you need to follow?

Breaking the Instructions Down

Identifying the main task.

The most important thing to do when evaluating a set of assignment instructions is to figure out what exactly you need to do. In most cases, you can identify key verb phrases that reveal the task/s of the assignment. Look for words like “describe,” “summarize,” “analyze,” “compare/contrast,” and similar key verbs. These verbs will tell you a lot about how to approach the assignment.

Additionally, you can always look for any questions you need to answer or other further details in your instructions, such as audience, purpose, and outcome. Pay close attention to any words like “what,” “when,” “how,” or “why” as well as any numbered information. Sentences containing these words or structures will typically point you in the direction you need to go with your paper.

Along those same lines, be on the lookout for any lists or bullet points; these will likely tell you what your paper is expected to address.

For example, a typical English assignment sheet may contain instructions like this bulleted list:

  • Identify and analyze a major theme of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
  • Choose at least two literary devices the author uses, and explain how he uses these to convey the theme you identified.
  • Does the author use these devices effectively? Why or why not?

This set of instructions can be broken down. First, when looking for key verbs, numbers, and other words, two main tasks are revealed:

  • Identify a theme of the literature, and then analyze it.
  • Reviewing the numbers in the instructions, at least two literary devices are needed.

Moving to the last part of the prompt, it asks not one, but two questions for you to answer. When an instructor asks a question or series of questions like this, they are almost always asking you to make an argument, not a statement. In other words, you are not only tasked with determining whether the author uses literary devices effectively, you must also explain why you think he does or does not. Assignment questions such as these tell you to back up your position with a well-reasoned argument and to support it with evidence.

Even after identifying the main task/s of an assignment, you should look carefully at all the guidelines to prioritize and plan your approach to the assignment. Professors put a lot of thought into instructions, and it is likely that every word is important in some way.

Additional Items

After identifying the main task/s of the assignment, look for any other parts of the guidelines that may be important. Some questions to consider are:

  • Does the assignment require outside research, or is source material provided?
  • How many sources are required?
  • Are there any things your professor wants you to avoid, such as rhetorical questions or contractions?
  • Are you required to submit your work to the Stone Writing Center for review?
  • How will your work be graded?

Asking questions like this can help you ensure that your paper closely follows your instructor’s guidelines.

Style and Other Details

Other key aspects of your assignment sheet that you’ll need to pay close attention to are any style, length, and format requirements. Check to see what citation style, if any, you’ll need to use for your sources (English papers, for example, often use MLA style, and science classes typically use APA). Pay close attention to any length requirements; some assignments have a minimum, maximum, or range of length. Last, check for any format requirements. Are you supposed to use a particular font type? What about margins and spacing? Pay close attention to these details to avoid losing points.

Confused? Unsure? Ask!

If ever you find yourself wondering what your instructions are asking, even a minor issue such as formatting, always ask your instructors; they are available to help you learn and develop your academic abilities, so don’t be intimidated or afraid to ask. Reaching out for clarification not only helps you know what you’re doing, but it also shows your instructor that you care about succeeding on the assignment.

Don’t hesitate to seek help from other resources as well. Do a web search for any unfamiliar terms. Look at example essays, guides, or other resources your instructor provides to help you better understand the assignment. Talk to your classmates. Use the resources that are available to you as a Del Mar College student, including working with the consultants at the Stone Writing Center who have likely completed assignments just like the one you’re working on.

Note: Although exploring additional resources can be helpful, you should always defer to your professor for any assignment questions. Ultimately, they assign grades, so their input should be prioritized.

Last Thoughts

To succeed on any assignment, it is crucial to understand what is being asked of you. The main strategies to remember when looking at assignment instructions are: read, read, read; identify the main task; look for details; and always ask when in doubt. Using these strategies can help ensure you complete each assignment as required.

Works Consulted

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 2020. “Understanding Assignments.” University of North Carolina Writing Center: Tips & Tools . https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/understanding-assignments/.

Swarthmore College. 2020. “Understanding Your Assignment.” Swarthmore College Writing Center: Writing Associates Program . https://www.swarthmore.edu/writing/understanding-your-assignment.

Page last updated July 31, 2023.

assignment instructions examples

Designing Writing Assignments

Designing Writing Assignments designing-assignments

As you think about creating writing assignments, use these five principles:

  • Tie the writing task to specific pedagogical goals.
  • Note rhetorical aspects of the task, i.e., audience, purpose, writing situation.
  • Make all elements of the task clear.
  • Include grading criteria on the assignment sheet.
  • Break down the task into manageable steps.

You'll find discussions of these principles in the following sections of this guide.

Writing Should Meet Teaching Goals

Working backwards from goals, guidelines for writing assignments, resource: checksheets, resources: sample assignments.

  • Citation Information

To guarantee that writing tasks tie directly to the teaching goals for your class, ask yourself questions such as the following:

  • What specific course objectives will the writing assignment meet?
  • Will informal or formal writing better meet my teaching goals?
  • Will students be writing to learn course material, to master writing conventions in this discipline, or both?
  • Does the assignment make sense?

Although it might seem awkward at first, working backwards from what you hope the final papers will look like often produces the best assignment sheets. We recommend jotting down several points that will help you with this step in writing your assignments:

  • Why should students write in your class? State your goals for the final product as clearly and concretely as possible.
  • Determine what writing products will meet these goals and fit your teaching style/preferences.
  • Note specific skills that will contribute to the final product.
  • Sequence activities (reading, researching, writing) to build toward the final product.

Successful writing assignments depend on preparation, careful and thorough instructions, and on explicit criteria for evaluation. Although your experience with a given assignment will suggest ways of improving a specific paper in your class, the following guidelines should help you anticipate many potential problems and considerably reduce your grading time.

  • Explain the purpose of the writing assignment.
  • Make the format of the writing assignment fit the purpose (format: research paper, position paper, brief or abstract, lab report, problem-solving paper, etc.).

II. The assignment

  • Provide complete written instructions.
  • Provide format models where possible.
  • Discuss sample strong, average, and weak papers.

III. Revision of written drafts

Where appropriate, peer group workshops on rough drafts of papers may improve the overall quality of papers. For example, have students critique each others' papers one week before the due date for format, organization, or mechanics. For these workshops, outline specific and limited tasks on a checksheet. These workshops also give you an opportunity to make sure that all the students are progressing satisfactorily on the project.

IV. Evaluation

On a grading sheet, indicate the percentage of the grade devoted to content and the percentage devoted to writing skills (expression, punctuation, spelling, mechanics). The grading sheet should indicate the important content features as well as the writing skills you consider significant.

Visitors to this site are welcome to download and print these guidelines

Checksheet 1: (thanks to Kate Kiefer and Donna Lecourt)

  • written out the assignment so that students can take away a copy of the precise task?
  • made clear which course goals this writing task helps students meet?
  • specified the audience and purpose of the assignment?
  • outlined clearly all required sub-parts of the assignment (if any)?
  • included my grading criteria on the assignment sheet?
  • pointed students toward appropriate prewriting activities or sources of information?
  • specified the format of the final paper (including documentation, headings or sections, page layout)?
  • given students models or appropriate samples?
  • set a schedule that will encourage students to review each other's drafts and revise their papers?

Checksheet 2: (thanks to Jean Wyrick)

  • Is the assignment written clearly on the board or on a handout?
  • Do the instructions explain the purpose(s) of the assignment?
  • Does the assignment fit the purpose?
  • Is the assignment stated in precise language that cannot be misunderstood?
  • If choices are possible, are these options clearly marked?
  • Are there instructions for the appropriate format? (examples: length? typed? cover sheet? type of paper?)
  • Are there any special instructions, such as use of a particular citation format or kinds of headings? If so, are these clearly stated?
  • Is the due date clearly visible? (Are late assignments accepted? If so, any penalty?)
  • Are any potential problems anticipated and explained?
  • Are the grading criteria spelled out as specifically as possible? How much does content count? Organization? Writing skills? One grade or separate grades on form and content? Etc.
  • Does the grading criteria section specifically indicate which writing skills the teacher considers important as well as the various aspects of content?
  • What part of the course grade is this assignment?
  • Does the assignment include use of models (strong, average, weak) or samples outlines?

Sample Full-Semester Assignment from Ag Econ 4XX

Good analytical writing is a rigorous and difficult task. It involves a process of editing and rewriting, and it is common to do a half dozen or more drafts. Because of the difficulty of analytical writing and the need for drafting, we will be completing the assignment in four stages. A draft of each of the sections described below is due when we finish the class unit related to that topic (see due dates on syllabus). I will read the drafts of each section and provide comments; these drafts will not be graded but failure to pass in a complete version of a section will result in a deduction in your final paper grade. Because of the time both you and I are investing in the project, it will constitute one-half of your semester grade.

Content, Concepts and Substance

Papers will focus on the peoples and policies related to population, food, and the environment of your chosen country. As well as exploring each of these subsets, papers need to highlight the interrelations among them. These interrelations should form part of your revision focus for the final draft. Important concepts relevant to the papers will be covered in class; therefore, your research should be focused on the collection of information on your chosen country or region to substantiate your themes. Specifically, the paper needs to address the following questions.

  • Population - Developing countries have undergone large changes in population. Explain the dynamic nature of this continuing change in your country or region and the forces underlying the changes. Better papers will go beyond description and analyze the situation at hand. That is, go behind the numbers to explain what is happening in your country with respect to the underlying population dynamics: structure of growth, population momentum, rural/urban migration, age structure of population, unanticipated populations shocks, etc. DUE: WEEK 4.
  • Food - What is the nature of food consumption in your country or region? Is the average daily consumption below recommended levels? Is food consumption increasing with economic growth? What is the income elasticity of demand? Use Engel's law to discuss this behavior. Is production able to stay abreast with demand given these trends? What is the nature of agricultural production: traditional agriculture or green revolution technology? Is the trend in food production towards self-sufficiency? If not, can comparative advantage explain this? Does the country import or export food? Is the politico-economic regime supportive of a progressive agricultural sector? DUE: WEEK 8.
  • Environment - This is the third issue to be covered in class. It is crucial to show in your paper the environmental impact of agricultural production techniques as well as any direct impacts from population changes. This is especially true in countries that have evolved from traditional agriculture to green revolution techniques in the wake of population pressures. While there are private benefits to increased production, the use of petroleum-based inputs leads to environmental and human health related social costs which are exacerbated by poorly defined property rights. Use the concepts of technological externalities, assimilative capacity, property rights, etc. to explain the nature of this situation in your country or region. What other environmental problems are evident? Discuss the problems and methods for economically measuring environmental degradation. DUE: WEEK 12.
  • Final Draft - The final draft of the project should consider the economic situation of agriculture in your specified country or region from the three perspectives outlined above. Key to such an analysis are the interrelationships of the three perspectives. How does each factor contribute to an overall analysis of the successes and problems in agricultural policy and production of your chosen country or region? The paper may conclude with recommendations, but, at the very least, it should provide a clear summary statement about the challenges facing your country or region. DUE: WEEK15.

Landscape Architecture 3XX: Design Critique

Critical yet often overlooked components of the landscape architect's professional skills are the ability to critically evaluate existing designs and the ability to eloquently express him/herself in writing. To develop your skills at these fundamental components, you are to professionally critique a built project with which you are personally and directly familiar. The critique is intended for the "informed public" as might be expected to be read in such features in The New York Times or Columbus Monthly ; therefore, it should be insightful and professionally valid, yet also entertaining and eloquent. It should reflect a sophisticated knowledge of the subject without being burdened with professional jargon.

As in most critiques or reviews, you are attempting not only to identify the project's good and bad features but also to interpret the project's significance and meaning. As such, the critique should have a clear "point of view" or thesis that is then supported by evidence (your description of the place) that persuades the reader that your thesis is valid. Note, however, that your primary goal is not to force the reader to agree with your point of view but rather to present a valid discussion that enriches and broadens the reader's understanding of the project.

To assist in the development of the best possible paper, you are to submit a typed draft by 1:00 pm, Monday, February 10th. The drafts will be reviewed as a set and will then serve as a basis of an in-class writing improvement seminar on Friday, February 14th. The seminar will focus on problems identified in the set of drafts, so individual papers will not have been commented on or marked. You may also submit a typed draft of your paper to the course instructor for review and comment at any time prior to the final submission.

Final papers are due at 2:00 pm, Friday, February 23rd.

Animal/Dairy/Poultry Science 2XX: Comparative Animal Nutrition

Purpose: Students should be able to integrate lecture and laboratory material, relate class material to industry situations, and improve their problem-solving abilities.

Assignment 1: Weekly laboratory reports (50 points)

For the first laboratory, students will be expected to provide depth and breadth of knowledge, creativity, and proper writing format in a one-page, typed, double-spaced report. Thus, conciseness will be stressed. Five points total will be possible for the first draft, another five points possible will be given to a student peer-reviewer of the draft, and five final points will be available for a second draft. This assignment, in its entirety, will be due before the first midterm (class 20). Any major writing flaws will be addressed early so that students can grasp concepts stressed by the instructors without major impact on their grades. Additional objectives are to provide students with skills in critically reviewing papers and to acquaint writers and reviewers of the instructors' expectations for assignments 2 and 3, which are weighted much more heavily.

Students will submit seven one-page handwritten reports from each week's previous laboratory. These reports will cover laboratory classes 2-9; note that one report can be dropped and week 10 has no laboratory. Reports will be graded (5 points each) by the instructors for integration of relevant lecture material or prior experience with the current laboratory.

Assignment 2: Group problem-solving approach to a nutritional problem in the animal industry (50 points)

Students will be divided into groups of four. Several problems will be offered by the instructors, but a group can choose an alternative, approved topic. Students should propose a solution to the problem. Because most real-life problems are solved by groups of employees and (or) consultants, this exercise should provide students an opportunity to practice skills they will need after graduation. Groups will divide the assignment as they see fit. However, 25 points will be based on an individual's separate assignment (1-2 typed pages), and 25 points will be based on the group's total document. Thus, it is assumed that papers will be peer-reviewed. The audience intended will be marketing directors, who will need suitable background, illustrations, etc., to help their salespersons sell more products. This assignment will be started in about the second week of class and will be due by class 28.

Assignment 3: Students will develop a topic of their own choosing (approved by instructors) to be written for two audiences (100 points).

The first assignment (25 points) will be written in "common language," e.g., to farmers or salespersons. High clarity of presentation will be expected. It also will be graded for content to assure that the student has developed the topic adequately. This assignment will be due by class 38.

Concomitant with this assignment will be a first draft of a scientific term paper on the same subject. Ten scientific articles and five typed, double-spaced pages are minimum requirements. Basic knowledge of scientific principles will be incorporated into this term paper written to an audience of alumni of this course working in a nutrition-related field. This draft (25 points) will be due by class 38. It will be reviewed by a peer who will receive up to 25 points for his/her critique. It will be returned to the student and instructor by class 43. The final draft, worth an additional 25 points, will be due before class 50 and will be returned to the student during the final exam period.

Integration Papers - HD 3XX

Two papers will be assigned for the semester, each to be no more than three typewritten pages in length. Each paper will be worth 50 points.

Purpose:   The purpose of this assignment is to aid the student in learning skills necessary in forming policy-making decisions and to encourage the student to consider the integral relationship between theory, research, and social policy.

Format:   The student may choose any issue of interest that is appropriate to the socialization focus of the course, but the issue must be clearly stated and the student is advised to carefully limit the scope of the issue question.

There are three sections to the paper:

First:   One page will summarize two conflicting theoretical approaches to the chosen issue. Summarize only what the selected theories may or would say about the particular question you've posed; do not try to summarize the entire theory. Make clear to a reader in what way the two theories disagree or contrast. Your text should provide you with the basic information to do this section.

Second:   On the second page, summarize (abstract) one relevant piece of current research. The research article must be chosen from a professional journal (not a secondary source) written within the last five years. The article should be abstracted and then the student should clearly show how the research relates to the theoretical position(s) stated earlier, in particular, and to the socialization issue chosen in general. Be sure the subjects used, methodology, and assumptions can be reasonably extended to your concern.

Third:   On the third page, the student will present a policy guideline (for example, the Colorado courts should be required to include, on the child's behalf, a child development specialist's testimony at all custody hearings) that can be supported by the information gained and presented in the first two pages. My advice is that you picture a specific audience and the final purpose or use of such a policy guideline. For example, perhaps as a child development specialist you have been requested to present an informed opinion to a federal or state committee whose charge is to develop a particular type of human development program or service. Be specific about your hypothetical situation and this will help you write a realistic policy guideline.

Sample papers will be available in the department reading room.

SP3XX Short Essay Grading Criteria

A (90-100): Thesis is clearly presented in first paragraph. Every subsequent paragraph contributes significantly to the development of the thesis. Final paragraph "pulls together" the body of the essay and demonstrates how the essay as a whole has supported the thesis. In terms of both style and content, the essay is a pleasure to read; ideas are brought forth with clarity and follow each other logically and effortlessly. Essay is virtually free of misspellings, sentence fragments, fused sentences, comma splices, semicolon errors, wrong word choices, and paragraphing errors.

B (80-89): Thesis is clearly presented in first paragraph. Every subsequent paragraph contributes significantly to the development of the thesis. Final paragraph "pulls together" the body of the essay and demonstrates how the essay as a whole has supported the thesis. In terms of style and content, the essay is still clear and progresses logically, but the essay is somewhat weaker due to awkward word choice, sentence structure, or organization. Essay may have a few (approximately 3) instances of misspellings, sentence fragments, fused sentences, comma splices, semicolon errors, wrong word choices, and paragraphing errors.

C (70-79): There is a thesis, but the reader may have to hunt for it a bit. All the paragraphs contribute to the thesis, but the organization of these paragraphs is less than clear. Final paragraph simply summarizes essay without successfully integrating the ideas presented into a unified support for thesis. In terms of style and content, the reader is able to discern the intent of the essay and the support for the thesis, but some amount of mental gymnastics and "reading between the lines" is necessary; the essay is not easy to read, but it still has said some important things. Essay may have instances (approximately 6) of misspellings, sentence fragments, fused sentences, comma splices, semicolon errors, wrong word choices, and paragraphing errors.

D (60-69): Thesis is not clear. Individual paragraphs may have interesting insights, but the paragraphs do not work together well in support of the thesis. In terms of style and content, the essay is difficult to read and to understand, but the reader can see there was a (less than successful) effort to engage a meaningful subject. Essay may have several instances (approximately 6) of misspellings, sentence fragments, fused sentences, comma splices, semicolon errors, wrong word choices, and paragraphing errors.

Teacher Comments

Patrick Fitzhorn, Mechanical Engineering: My expectations for freshman are relatively high. I'm jaded with the seniors, who keep disappointing me. Often, we don't agree on the grading criteria.

There's three parts to our writing in engineering. The first part, is the assignment itself.

The four types: lab reports, technical papers, design reports, and proposals. The other part is expectations in terms of a growth of writing style at each level in our curriculum and an understanding of that from students so they understand that high school writing is not acceptable as a senior in college. Third, is how we transform our expectations into justifiable grades that have real feedback for the students.

To the freshman, I might give a page to a page and one half to here's how I want the design report. To the seniors it was three pages long. We try to capture how our expectations change from freshman to senior. I bet the structure is almost identical...

We always give them pretty rigorous outlines. Often times, the way students write is to take the outline we give them and students write that chunk. Virtually every writing assignment we give, we provide a writing outline of the writing style we want. These patterns are then used in industry. One organization style works for each of the writing styles. Between faculty, some minute details may change with organization, but there is a standard for writers to follow.

Interviewer: How do students determine purpose

Ken Reardon, Chemical Engineerin: Students usually respond to an assignment. That tells them what the purpose is. . . . I think it's something they infer from the assignment sheet.

Interviewer What types of purposes are there?

Ken Reardon: Persuading is the case with proposals. And informing with progress and the final results. Informing is to just "Here are the results of analysis; here's the answer to the question." It's presenting information. Persuasion is analyzing some information and coming to a conclusion. More of the writing I've seen engineers do is a soft version of persuasion, where they're not trying to sell. "Here's my analysis, here's how I interpreted those results and so here's what I think is worthwhile." Justifying.

Interviewer: Why do students need to be aware of this concept?

Ken Reardon: It helps to tell the reader what they're reading. Without it, readers don't know how to read.

Kiefer, Kate. (1997). Designing Writing Assignments. Writing@CSU . Colorado State University. https://writing.colostate.edu/teaching/guide.cfm?guideid=101

Logo for Open Oregon Educational Resources

CH 7 Assignment: Instructions

Your task is to write a set of instructions related to your major/discipline or career. Please choose something at which you are an expert (or nearly one) and something that most people would not know how to do. Consider your audience to be intelligent but likely unfamiliar with the process.

The main purpose of this assignment is to give you practice in writing instructions, one of the most common types of workplace technical writing. Whether working with office staff, technicians, managers, or executives, technical communicators are frequently called upon to write instructions, such as specific office procedures, training manuals, and safety protocols.

Feel free to look at the sample sets of instructions in this textbook as well as ones found online to help you pick a format and structure—but, of course, your instructions must be your own.

An important aspect of instructional writing is the use of graphics and design: good instructions contain visuals and are designed to be easy to read and understand. Therefore, another important aspect of this assignment is to improve your skills in the use of visuals in technical documents.

*NOTE: Visuals should work to illustrate the writing rather than replacing it; in other words, don’t instruct the reader to complete the step in Figure 1 without also explaining the step in writing.

Your instructions should include both of the following:

  • A brief reflective memo :
  • Briefly summarize your process of developing and researching your instructions.
  • Briefly summarize your audience and purpose .
  • Discuss how you assessed your audience’s needs before writing your instructions. What did they already know? What did you have to explain and why?
  • Describe your formatting and visuals choices.
  • A complete set of printed instructions, including:
  • A clear introduction
  • Caution, warning, safety notices
  • Clear formatting with steps, sections, and subheadings
  • Visuals where appropriate (*be sure to properly cite your visuals)
  • A conclusion

Technical Writing at LBCC Copyright © 2020 by Will Fleming is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

Module 5: Instructions and Process Description

Instructions for assignment #6.

You have an option for this assignment. Choose either A (Set of Instructions) or B (Process Description).


A) Writing Instructions Assignment

Write a set of instructions for a procedure related to your portfolio to help someone new learn how to do something ( no recipes, tire changes or oil changes ). Do not use a general set of instructions (such as how to program a computer file or how to give a dog a bath). Your instructions should be specfically written for people within your organization, not for everyone. It should not be a process you can find on any given number of web sites.

1. Choose a procedure which can be explained in one or two typed pages.

2. Write for a beginner.

…..-spell out details

…..-use imperative voice (simple commands)

…..-define unfamiliar terms

3. Pay attention to format.

…..-short sentences and paragraphs

…..-adequate spacing

…..-headings and numbers

4. Include and necessary  graphics  and  callouts.

5. Follow this outline:

….. Introduction-  general description of procedure with motivation, tools and materials needed.

…. .Body – step-by-step procedures with sub-steps grouped under major steps.

….. Conclusion – reemphasize the advantage of doing this process.

Remember to make cautions obvious and to provide reasons for crucial steps. Include simple graphics, if possible.

(B) Process Description Assignment

Write an explanation of a process you are familiar with for an audience in your organization. Make sure you organize your description to provide your reader with  understanding.  This is not a set of instructions or how-to-do-it paper.

Follow this outline:

….. Introduction

……….name the process

……….identify its significance and purpose

……….show the overall process by giving major steps

…. .Body

……….step-by-step description of major parts of the process

……….one paragraph per step:

……………-topic sentence explains what takes place in each step

……………-support with details as necessary

……….use headings

……….follow order of introduction

….. Conclusion

……….summary of steps or additional comments


Turn to “Instructions/Process Description” to submit this assignment. Remember, you need to submit a prewriting Cover Sheet as well.

  • Eng 235. Authored by : Jeff Meyers. Provided by : Clinton Community College. License : CC BY: Attribution

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