Shorter is Better

The more words there are in an assignment sheet a student is anxiously studying at their writing desk, the more possibility there is for the student to misinterpret or hyperfocus on certain aspects of the document, and to overlook or forget others. Confusion that arises while navigating multi-page assignment sheets is one of the most common issues students report when they come to the writing center. Assignment sheets that are brief and to the point usually provide students with a sense of confidence that they are focusing on the right tasks.

Address Student Questions First

Like teachers, students lead busy lives. When they sit down to write, their first questions are almost always practical: When is this due, how long does it need to be, what is my main goal or purpose, and how does the teacher suggest I achieve that? Assignment sheets that lead with this practical information are read most accurately, and are therefore most helpful to students.

Be Clear About What Students Should Do

Writers often perform best when clear on the main goal of a piece of writing. If you tell students you are hoping their writing will provide evidence they did the reading in the course, they will know to focus on writing accurate summaries. If you tell students you would like to see them make their own argument about a topic, they will focus on being persuasive. If they are not sure what the goal of the piece of writing is, it's possible they will summarize when you wanted them to persuade, or that they will persuade when you wanted them to summarize. Clarity about which writing skills you want students to employ can help them turn in a project that has the qualities you hoped for.