Design and Sequencing of Assignments

This page contains guidelines for designing writing assignments and sample sequence of assignments for ENG 331, 332, and 333.

Guidelines for Designing Writing Assignments

Sequence: Assignments in a professional writing course should be sequenced in some way. They can build on each other, moving from less difficult and more familiar to more difficult and less familiar forms, types, and situations, or simpler to more complex audiences. They can survey a range of document-types and writer-roles that students will encounter in the workplace. They can be sequenced on the basis of process: from single-authored first drafts, to collaborative, multiple-draft or multiple-part assignments. They can be sequenced on the basis of medium, incorporating increasingly complex combinations of text, visuals, and oral supplements.

Criteria: The evaluation criteria should reflect the place of the assignment in semester sequence and the specific goals of the assignment, as distinct from other assignments.

Rhetorical situation: A good assignment lets the student understand and (insofar as possible) experience a realistic rhetorical situation, including a writer-role, audience(s), issue or exigence, genre or format expectations, and external constraints. In professional writing courses, the rhetorical situations should be relevant to the workplaces in which students are likely to find themselves, as shown by published research or by your teacher-research based on experience with students in these courses.

Part of what we have to teach in these courses is how professional writing differs from academic or student writing because of the differing rhetorical situations. Another part is how students can analyze and adapt to new and unfamiliar situations. Consequently, a sound progression of assignments should first explicitly support students in understanding situations and later require them to construct and/or analyze situations on their own. Students should occasionally be asked to reflect and comment on their understanding of such situations, including their ethical dimensions, as well as to explain and justify their strategies in addressing them.

Process: Writing assignments should be designed to assist students not only in producing professional texts but also in learning how to work well as writers, both individually and in collaborative situations. Assignments should incorporate ways for the student to become aware of and responsible for a variety of approaches to the writing process: heuristic aids, drafts, peer review, and the like.

Sample Sequence of Assignments: ENG 331

The assignments in ENG 331 should be designed to familiarize students with the types of communication situations they may encounter as technical professionals in industry or government.

At the beginning of the semester, students may consider how to obtain a job through written and oral methods, for example, addressing a narrow, focused audience as they develop a specific application letter and targeted resume.

In later projects, students may practice various professional genres, such as feasibility studies, analytical reports, proposals, and instructions, as they learn to analyze varying and complex communication situations.

The sequence of assignments should be designed to provide the students with the abilities to address multiple audiences with differing professional backgrounds and roles.

The following typical assignment sequence for ENG 331 illustrates how students become equipped throughout the course to analyze and communicate in various communication media and situations:

Genre Audience
1. Application letter and resume One potential employer
2. Procedure memo Narrow set of instruction users
3. Proposal memo Homogeneous readers in one organization
4. Formal collaborative research report Multiple readers with varying purposes and information needs
5. Feasibility study or recommendation Heterogeneous audience composed of positive, neutral, and negative readers
6. Oral presentation Public or management audience

Sample Sequence of Assignments: ENG 332

ENG 332 can begin with a resume and letter of application, documents that have a single purpose and are directed to a relatively simple audience. While working on these early assignments, students learn the process for planning and revising effective documents, stylistic features, format conventions, and the principles of effective layout.

Students should then move on to more complex situations, sometimes writing from cases, sometimes creating their own scenarios derived either from personal work experience or from cases studied in their own disciplines. These reports are usually directed to multiple audiences with different responsibilities and authority.

One of the last assignments is often a formal report based on a situation of the student’s choosing, such as a marketing report, a proposal, or a business plan. In addition, students may give two oral presentations tied to the written assignments.

Genre Audience
1. Application letter and resume One potential employer
2. Memo/letter from a case problem Homogeneous readers in one organization
3. Short, informal report Several readers with different needs
4. Negative news, in-class External reader
5. Formal report Multiple readers with varying purposes and information needs
6. Oral presentation based on report Internal or external (client) audience

Sample Sequence of Assignments: ENG 333

ENG 333 is designed for juniors and seniors who intend to go on to graduate school in science or into other scientific research settings. In early projects, students should analyze sample texts and gather information from their respective disciplines to learn the conventions of research writing in general and the specific conventions of their particular fields.

They can build on this knowledge throughout the rest of the course as they practice the most common scientific genres: the research report, conference presentation, and research proposal. The final unit of the course typically includes an opportunity to write for a public audience.

Thus, the sequence of major writing projects moves from writing for specialized disciplinary communities in the research report and conference presentation, to a somewhat broader scientific audience in the research proposal, and finally to an audience outside the profession. A typical assignment sequence is as follows:

Genre Audience
1. Profile of research community Class (mixed science backgrounds)
2. Analysis of research report Class
3. Research report Specific research journal
4. Conference presentation or poster Conference in the relevant field
5. Research proposal General science community; a specific funding agency
6. Scientific essay Public audience (newspaper, hobby or general interest magazine)