Arts and Humanities

Informal Writing Assignments

Brad Hughes, Martin Nystrand, Paige Byam, and Tom Curtis
The assignments below are generally short, informal, perhaps ungraded writing assignments that instructors might consider adapting to their classes. Students often appreciate the opportunity to explore their thoughts on paper in such a way that relieves the pressure of a longer, more formal writing assignment.

The Question Box

Sample Evaluation Criteria for Papers in a Philosophy Course

Jocelyn Johnson, Philosophy Department, UW-Madison
This kind of rubric, from an undergraduate philosophy course on contemporary moral issues, not only emphasizes the traits of successful papers but also, with its continuum for each trait, gives students a quick visual sense of strengths and of areas to improve.  Notice that the instructor gives open-ended comments as well.  And notice the excellent explanations of the evaluation criteria--some terms, like "orginality," need explanining within the context of a particular course and particular assignment.

Sample Paper Evaluation Sheet in Philosophy



Name:_________________________________  Topic:_______________________________________________




Sample Rubric for a Research Proposal: Intermediate Composition

Matthew Pearson, English Department, UW-Madison
This rubric reinforces the key components of an effective research proposal, starting with larger rhetorical concerns and moving to language, editing, and proofreading.

English 201—Section Eight

Instructor: Matthew Pearson


Final Paper Grading Rubric—Research Proposal in a Writing Course



Sample Evaluation Criteria for Papers in History

Professor Stephen Kantrowitz, History Department, UW-Madison
Giving students explicit evaluation criteria, tailored to a particular assignment, helps students meet your expecations and helps instructors be consistent in their evaluation.  Here's a sample from the TAs and professor in a history course.

We will grade your papers on the following criteria:



Student Guidelines for Peer Review: History and Jewish Studies

Professor David Sorkin, History and Jewish Studies, UW-Madison
In this carefully designed peer-review process, students do their reviews in class, reading their drafts out loud in a small review group.  Notice how the professor asks students  to offer responses rather than judgments.  And notice that when students submit their revised papers to the professor, they need to include a reflection on what they found helpful in the peer-review process and how they used the feedback as they revised.

Instructions: Please read this sheet carefully in order to know how you are to help your peers.


Bring 3 copies of your paper to class.


Student Guidelines for Peer Review: Intermediate Composition

Janelle Schwartz, English Department, UW-Madison
Especially in introductory and intermediate courses, students do more effective peer reviews when instructors give them explicit guidelines for what to focus on when they read and comment on a draft.  One of the key goals here is to help students internalize these expectations for their own papers.

This is to give you an idea of the type of things you should be looking for and accomplishing in both your own paper and that of your peer(s). Use what follows as a kind of checklist for determining what is working effectively in a paper and what is not.



Student Guidelines for Peer Review: Art Issues Research Paper

Jo Ortel, Art Department, UW-Madison
Here's a sample of guiidlines distributed to students doing peer reviews in a writing-intensive art course.

Art 236


Answer all the following questions for each paper. Write on a separate sheet, not on the draft itself. Include your name and phone number (or e-mail address) on your evaluation. Don’t worry about “surface errors” (spelling, punctuation, etc.); let the author do her own proofreading. Your job is to spot more important problems.


Putting Together Peer Review Groups

Most instructors agree that it pays off to put some thought into grouping students for peer review.  There's no magic number of students per group, but most instructors make groups of three or four students--large enough to have some variety in the feedback but small enough so that no one student has too many drafts to read and critique.  Here's some advice about setting up groups, writtten for instructors in English 100, a first-year writing course.

There's little consensus among instructors as to what kind of student combinations make for the best peer workshop groups. Some instructors have found it helpful not to place two or more men and one woman in a group, or one student of color in an all‑white group.

Preparing Students for Conferences

Professor Steve Stern, Department of History, UW-Madison
Many instructors find that conferences are more effective when they ask students to come prepared to discuss particular aspects of a paper.  The questions in this example help students prepare for a conference and to give a progress report about their research in class.

History 574:  "Sharing Exercise":  for Presentation of Paper Themes on 10 Nov. 20__, and for Office Hour Discussions of Papers.


1.     If I had to summarize the theme of my historical essay in no more than two or three sentences, I would state:



Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Reverse Outlining . . . But Didn't Know to Ask

Rebecca Nowacek, WAC Program, UW-Madison
To help students improve the organization of their papers, it's helpful to have them outline the draft they've written (a "reverse" or "after-the-fact" outline, done not before writing a draft but after)--so they can get an aerial view of the sequence of topics in their draft.  In this handout for students in an introductory literature course, the instructor, Rebecca Nowacek, explains how to create a reverse outline and how to use it while revising.

What is a reverse outline?

If a regular outline is something you write before you draft out your paper, a reverse outline is something you do after you write a draft.

Why should I reverse outline?

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