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Determine the Assignment’s Thinking and Writing Objectives


After you receive the assignment from your faculty instructor, your first step is to define its primary intellectual and writing tasks. Although it should be obvious, the main thinking and writing tasks implied by a given prompt are often vague or buried. 

Look again at the examples we discussed on the previous page. Example #1, for example, says “analyze,” but it’s really asking for a comparison. And it’s difficult to determine the main focus of Example #2. By contrast, Example #3 is clearly asking for the definition of a concept, namely feminism.

Although not every assignment will call for these skills, the following master list of intellectual and writing skills is useful. Thinking through them can help your students understand the work ahead of them and assist you in evaluating their performance.

      Does your assignment expect students to:

          • introduce a topic or material to less knowledgeable readers?
          • present results of an experiment, survey, observations, study?
          • describe or explain an idea, theory, or phenomenon?
          • summarize an argument or text?
          • define a concept?
          • synthesize material?
          • argue a position?
          • analyze a text (written, visual, musical, or object)?
          • solve a problem?
          •  apply a theory to new data or texts?
          • evaluate or critique an argument, object, or phenomenon?
          • compare/contrast texts, experiences, theories?

      Adapted from Cynthia Merrill’s UCLA Writing II TA handbook.


Now that you’ve established the assignment’s primary intellectual task, let’s think about why your students are writing.


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