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

A Sequence of Informal and Formal Writing Assignments in a Psychology of Religion Syllabus

Colleen Moore, Psychology of Religion, UW-Madison
As her students work toward a 10-15 page research paper, Professor Colleen Moore assigns 8 shorter papers that build from informal to formal writing and simple to complex rhetorical tasks, enabling her students to practice and build their writing skills.

Psychology of Religion 411

This course examines religions and religious phenomena from the point of view of empirical psychology. This is a Level III (Advanced) Psychology course that assumes some sophisticated background in either psychology or religious studies.


Sequenced Graded And Ungraded Writing Assignments In A Writing-Intensive Literature Syllabus

Lynn Keller, English, UW-Madison
This sample syllabus shows how Professor Lynn Keller assigns ungraded, low-stakes journal writing in her writing-intensive literature course to let her students develop their ideas before they turn them into a high-stakes, graded essay.  

Modern American Literature Since 1914


Time and Place: 2:30‑3:45 110 Noland
Office hours: Tuesday 1:00‑3:00 and by appointment
7131 Helen C. White Hall, 263‑3794


Course Description:

Sequencing Formal and Informal Writing Assignments To Support a Discussion-Oriented History Course

Professor Susan Johnson, History and Chican@ & Latin@ Studies, UW-Madison
In this sample syllabus, Professor Susan Johnson leads her students through a sequence of writing assignments that balance formal and informal writing tasks. One formal assignment, a review essay, is included.

The U.S. Southwest: “The Middle Place,” El Norte,” or “The Southwest”?

History 600, Seminar 7

Chican@ & Latin@ Studies 330

5245 Humanities

Sample Student Self-Critique (Cover Sheet) for a Paper

Professor Deborah Brandt, English Department, UW-Madison
To encourage students to think critically about their writing and to encourage students to develop as writers over the semester, some instructors find it very effective to ask students to write a cover sheet (or memo or letter) for each paper, responding to questions like these.  You can, of course, adapt the questions you ask to reinforce the key elements of a particular assignment or genre.  You can use students' self-critiques as a starting point for personalizing your feedback on their work.

Self-Evaluation Cover Sheet


Sample Feedback (End Comment) on a Research Paper in an Introductory Writing Course

Anne Clark, English Department, UW-Madison
In this end comment on a student's revised draft of a research paper, notice how effectively the instructor addresses the student-writer personally, acknowledges improvement from the previous draft, reinforces important general principles about effective writing, poses questions to guide further revisions and to deepen thinking, and offers encouragement.  After the sample comment, the instructor explains her approach to commenting.


Student-Generated Evaluation Criteria

Beth Godbee, WAC Program, UW-Madison
Some instructors are very successful having students work collaboratively to develop evaluation criteria for papers--an alternative to instructos giving students rubrics or criteria.  Beth Godbee offers a persuasive argument about how much students learn from developing evaluation criteria and offers detailed advice about how to do this.

Student-Generated Evaluation Criteria


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:



Syndicate content