The Skidmore College
The first step to a successful paper is a thoughtful, well-crafted assignment. Students need a written assignment that they can take with them, ponder, read and re-read. Oral assignments invite misunderstanding and deprive students of a useful prompt.
An assignment should be clear (explaining the task precisely), complete (telling the student the length, due date, sources required or recommended, and criteria by which the paper will be evaluated), and concise (an assignment much longer than two paragraph may produce a paper that is a mere checklist of responses to the various questions you asked in the assignment).
Before you write an assignment, you may want to think about the following questions:
What are the main intellectual tasks that will engage students as they write the paper? Are they going to summarize readings? Synthesize material from several sources? Compare two or more sources? Argue with someone else's conclusion? Do a close reading? Formulate questions? Pose solutions? Why do I want them to fulfill these tasks at this time?