Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing: Assignment Sequence Ideas

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An Insider's Guide to Academic Writing: A Rhetoric and Reader, 2016  MLA Update EditionI’ve received a few questions from faculty interested in using An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing about recommended assignment sequences, so I would like to discuss two possible plans I believe might work well in First-Year Writing.


Assignment Sequence #1

The assignment sequence I currently use emphasizes a rhetorically-based approach to writing, reading, and research with a central focus on active learning. It asks students to engage in primary resource data collection (quantitative and qualitative) appropriate to their intended academic majors.  

  1. Literacy Narrative
  2. Research Topic Proposal
  3. Primary Research Logbook
  4. Academic Poster
  5. Portfolio Reflection

Assignments 2, 3, 4 scaffold, building from one to the next. That is, in Project 2, students propose a research topic they would like to investigate, and they begin to brainstorm a research design they might use to answer their research question. Project 3 then follows, and students collect primary resource data appropriate to their academic major in order to support or refute their hypotheses based on their proposed research questions. Project 4, the academic poster, then gives students a context for thinking critically about their methods, results, and their results’ meaning from Project 3 in order to represent their findings in a poster.


Assignment Sequence #2

Another possible assignment sequence I’ve begun to draft that might work well for faculty using An Insider’s Guide emphasizes a rhetorically-based approach but doesn’t engage as deeply with primary research methods. As a result, it be more suitable for someone teaching a WID-based curriculum for the very first time.

  1. Literacy Narrative
  2. Project Assignment Sheet Analysis
  3. Faculty Interviews
  4. Comparison/Contrast of Interviews
  5. Portfolio Reflection

This assignment sequence emphasizes reflection in Projects 1 and 5. Project 2 would be an analysis of a project assignment sheet that the students have from a different course. It could be an assignment sheet from a course the student is presently taking or from a course they have previously taken. I would ask the student to perform a rhetorical analysis of the assignment sheet, assessing the sheet’s rhetorical context (specifically focusing on purpose and topic).

Project 3 asks students to engage in qualitative research by interviewing two to three faculty members in their academic majors. These interviews could be written or multimodal (perhaps asking students to use video, audio, or some other technology). I propose asking students to focus their interview questions on the types of writing and research faculty in their academic majors engage in and the expectations faculty have for student writing. Project 4 would then follow up by asking students to perform a content analysis of the interviews and describe the results of their analyses in the form of a comparison and contrast paper assessing the interviewees’ responses from Project 3.

What I like about this assignment sequence is that it asks students to begin to investigate the kinds of writing and research that might be expected of them in their academic majors. The Project 2 Assignment Sheet Analysis paper serves a practical purpose of encouraging students to read closely the sheets they might have for another course. It also serves the purpose of giving the instructor a sense of the kinds of writing students may be required to do for other courses, which has the potential to improve transfer of skills and create a dialogue about disciplinarity and discourse across the university.

Perhaps you have another assignment idea that could work well in asking students to engage in qualitative or quantitative data collection for the very first time. As always, if you have comments, feedback, or suggestions, I would love to hear from you in the comments section below!

About the Author
Stacey Cochran is a Lecturer teaching academic writing at the University of Arizona. Before that, he taught for nine years in the First-Year Writing Program at North Carolina State University. He has also taught academic and creative writing at East Carolina University and Mesa Community College (AZ). He earned his M.A. in English from East Carolina University in 2001 with a concentration in Creative Writing. He was finalist for the 1998 Dell Magazines Award, a 2004 finalist for the St. Martin's Press/PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Contest, and finalist for the 2011 James Hurst Prize for fiction. He is an experienced videographer and interviewer who was the host of The Artist's Craft, a television show in Raleigh which featured interviews with many bestselling authors and literary scholars.