Research has suggested that students have difficulty completing content area writing assignments if the teacher's written instructions are not clear. Students' written work is more likely to be of higher quality if teachers specify the assignment's audience and purpose and offer prewriting instruction. Controversy exists over how explicit the instructions should be--whether they should contain an outline of the writing process, or whether this should be implicit in the assignment--but there is some consensus that instructors should balance open-endedness with strategic directions or cues in the instructions. A study of instructors' writing assignments at the University of Texas at Austin revealed that instructors did offer the most crucial rhetorical cues, as well as other related ones, in their writing assignments. A content analysis of the writing assignments of 35 faculty members showed that two rhetorical dimensions, topic and specific task, appeared most frequently. Almost all of the 130 assignments contained topics, and those that did not were elaborated upon in class. Less popular were references to style, organization, purpose, and audience. Two thirds, however, contained imprecise language and mixed messages. Teachers must remember that student experiences grow out of instructions, and evaluation of the final written product is a response to the connection between an assignment and the product. (Thirty references are included.) (JC)
Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Council of Teachers of English (77th, Los Angeles, CA, November 20-25, 1987).