Skip to main content
Research Guides

Teaching & Learning: Assignment Design

The Teaching & Learning Guide provides information to help you with your needs as an instructor including class materials, statistics and assessment information, important reminders, and readings and resources.

Assignment Dos and Don'ts

The Odegaard Writing and Research Center presented a poster at the Teaching and Learning conference in 2012.

Note the following in this example of an excellent assignment prompt:

  • Clear emphasis on key assignment tasks
  • Examples provided when students must choose topics or sources
  • Consistent use of terms
  • End product is stated clearly

Note the following problems in this example of an assignment prompt:

  • Ambiguous language
  • The primary writing task is unclear
  • The multiple parts of the assignment are not organized in a logical way

This image describes the process of assignment development and the pitfalls that can occur at any stage. 

  • Assessment's alignment with course goals
  • Students preparation for the demands of the assignment (prior knowledge/understanding of coursework)
  • The process does not end with students turning in an assignment

General Assignment Advice

Know your students 

Many students don't know the library, especially a research library, nor library online resources, such as subscription journals. Many students will rely on the open web for research.


Clarity of the assignment

Describe the specifics of the assignment in writing. Let students know the purpose of the assignment. Define any terminology you use in the assignment.


Try your assignment

Put yourself in your student's shoes and do your assignment. Is the assignment feasible? Is the time frame reasonable for the amount of work? Is the assignment pitched at the appropriate level (i.e. 100 vs. 400 level course)



  • Scavenger hunts: Roaming around a library looking for trivia is often seen as meaningless busy work
  • Incorrect directions: Students get frustrated with inaccurate citations and unclear directions
  • Limited resources: Material that is in high demand for an assignment is stressful if not on reserve