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Students need to know specific criteria with which to complete assignments and understand that the same criteria will be used to evaluate and grade that assignment. Criteria for an assignment can be set up and reviewed with the students when the assignment is given. Grading standards, checklists for evaluating writing, and anonymous samples of good and bad writing from previous semesters in response to the same or a similar assignment can give students a better idea of what works and what doesn't.

Assignment Writing (Christopher Thaiss)
A. Assignments should be given in writing, to allow the teacher to think about criteria, to revise, and to allow for greater understanding by the student.

B. Assignments should be written fully enough to eliminate most guesswork by students about criteria. Perfect clarity is not possible, but most questions can be answered by the teacher's attending to the following issues in developing the assignment:

  1. Task and Purpose-Clarify what kind of task is expected: problem/solution, thesis/support, question, summary/evaluation; what should the writer attempt to accomplish? Use as much detail as necessary to clarify. Pay special attention to words such as: describe, analyze, compare, define.
  2. Format-Number of words, directions for typing, documentation style, headings, importance of correct grammar and spelling, organizational pattern
  3. Audience-what reader is being addressed in the paper? Is it peers? Is it the teacher? Is it another group? How knowledgeable is this reader? Does this reader have a particular bias that the student needs to know about?
  4. Process-Is the project being written in stages? (if so, describe) Is the student to write more than one draft? Will revisions be expected after feedback? If so, how do the criteria for the draft differ from those for the final version? What needs to be handed in-notes, works cited, photocopies of source?
  5. Criteria for Evaluation-what grading standards will be used? checklists? grids?
C. Like any other writing, assignments can be improved through revision based on feedback from appropriate readers-colleagues and students.

Assignments: Context, Purpose, and Audience Considerations (Toby Fulwiler)

  1. It is important to prepare a context for each assignment, relating to course subject matter. Students might do preliminary freewriting or journal entries about aspects of topic, which can be the basis of class discussion. Informal writing can pave the way for a steady flow of ideas-a necessary complement to all good writing.
  2. If possible, assignments should approximate real communications situations, where the writer communicates something to a reader who wants to learn more about it. This kind of writing goes beyond the "test" situation where an examiner already knows the answers. In an out-of-class paper assignment, students can be encouraged to explore ideas and use resources in order to teach their peers and the instructor something new.
  3. When appropriate, students should be invited to write to a variety of audiences. Students can write to each other, to professionals in their field by letter or report, and for publication. Playing with different audiences can prepare students for writing in the real world.

Essay Keywords (Christopher Thaiss)
We cannot assume that students understand the terms we use. Here are some keywords with definitions that may help students accomplish the kind of writing that the professor expects:

Analyze-Break something down into its parts: for example, a theory into its components, a process into its stages, an event into its causes. Analysis involves characterizing the whole, identifying the parts, and showing how the parts relate to each other to make the whole.

Assess/Criticize/Evaluate-Determine the importance or value of something. Assessing requires you to develop clearly stated criteria of judgment and to comment on the elements that meet or fail to meet those criteria.

Classify-Sort something into main categories and thereby pigeonhole its parts.

Compare/Contrast-Identify the important similarities and differences between two elements in order to reveal something significant about them. Emphasize similarities if the command is to compare, and differences if it is to contrast.

Define/Identify-Give the special characteristics by which a concept, thing, event, can be recognized; that is, say what it is and what it is not. Place it in its general class and then differentiate it from other members of that class.

Describe-Give an account of and present the characteristics by which an object, action, person, or concept can be recognized or an event or process can be visualized.

Discuss/Examine-You are given room to analyze, and/or evaluate a particular topic. You must decide on your own question concerning the things to be discussed. Instructors usually expect you to go beyond summary.

Explain/Justify-Make clear the reasons for, or the basic principles of something; make it intelligible. Explanation may involve relating the unfamiliar to the more familiar.

List/Enumerate-Give essential points one by one in a logical order.

Interpret/Explain-Write about what the author of a quotation means (not what you mean).

Illustrate-Use a concrete example to explain or clarify the essential attributes of a problem or concept.

Outline/Trace/Review/State-Organize a description under main points and subordinate points, omitting minor details and stressing the classification of the elements of the problem or the main points in the development of an event or issue.

Prove/Validate-Establish that something is true by citing factual evidence or giving clear, logical reasons for believing the truth of something.

Example of Essay Questions from Hell (Christopher Thaiss)
History-describe the history of the papacy from its origins to the present day, concentrating especially but not exclusively, on its social, political, religious and philosophical aspects and impact on Europe, Asia, America, and Africa. Be brief, concise and specific.

Philosophy-sketch the development of human thought and estimate its significance. Compare with developments of any other kinds of thought.

Biology-create life. Estimate the differences in the subsequent human culture if this form of life had been created 500million years ago. Pay special attention to its probable effect on the English parliamentary system. Prove your thesis.

Physics-explain the nature of matter. Include an evaluation of the impact of mathematics on science.


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