Home » Writing Up an Assignment and Using Rubrics

Writing Up an Assignment and Using Rubrics

This module covers how to write up an assignment so that students can most clearly understand the tasks they need to do to successfully complete an assignment and explains the role that rubrics can play in setting expectations and providing feedback on Assignments.

Writing Up an Assignment

  • The essential building blocks of an assignment you need to include
  • Diagram—anatomy of an assignment
  • Points to keep in mind

A common student complaint is that students have difficulty understanding the instructions or the implications of a class assignment. Writing clear and coherent instructions for assignments is a surprisingly challenging task for any faculty member. Faculty already know what they are looking for but need to find a way to communicate to students who may or may not have experience with the type of assignment, know which elements might be expected, or understand the best way and order in which to proceed with tackling an assignment.

Before faculty write up the instructions for an assignment, they need to:

  • Be able to anticipate how their students will understand the assignment and actions they are asked to take.
  • Be able to reproduce the steps and logical sequence and grouping of tasks associated with the assignment.

While writing the instructions for an assignment, instructors should consider the following, although some categories might be combined:

Descriptive, Introductory, and Contextual Portion

Provides the details that students need to know before they embark on an assignment and sets out the situation or main job that students are expected to accomplish. For example, “Having read chapter 10 and engaged in discussion on the early American history, you are being asked to write a research paper on a major event of the period 1789-1812 so as to further explore the implications of the issues covered in your text.” It may or may not include details that could be included in the main instructions. For example, “You will select a topic from the list posted below.” Or, “Due April 10th, this paper is worth 20% of your grade and will be evaluated using the rubric posted with the syllabus and other course documents.”

Instructions–main tasks or elements

Lays out the assignment and explains the elements or tasks that must be completed and how/where the assignment is to be submitted, along with a due date(s).

In cases where multiple tasks are involved or when tasks must be completed in a particular order, a numbered list is helpful. Bulleted points often serve to clarify elements and tasks, and indented sections or notes can provide more information about an element or task. You might also use indents to differentiate additional info from the main instructions.

For example, here’s a list of elements that are not dependent on order of tasks:

  • Paper length must be 1000-1500 words, not including your reference list
  • Include at least 10 sources, with 7 of those being from peer-reviewed articles. Please review the definition of a peer-reviewed article at this website __ before conducting your research.
  • Use APA citation and documentation throughout. Refer to the APA guide at __ if you need to refresh your knowledge of APA.

The following is a task list that needs to be done in a certain order. Your assignment might include both types of tasks:

Your paper is divided into a series of smaller assignments, due as indicated: 1. Select a paper topic and email the instructor by week 2; 2. Write an outline of your paper and submit it by week 4; 3. Submit a reference list of your 10 sources by week 6, using APA format; 4. Submit the final paper by week 8 via the Blackboard Assignments area.

Students need to know how and where to submit the assignment and the due date or dates (for incremental assignments). For example, “Due __ by submitting to the Assignment area in Blackboard, this paper is worth 20% of your grade and will be evaluated using the rubric posted with the syllabus and other course documents.” If the assignment is submitted online but not through an assignment link, you will need to be more explicit. For example, “Submit by posting to the ‘Debate Prep’ discussion forum, creating a new thread and placing your topic name in the subject line.”

Assessment criteria

This can be, at its simplest, a list of required elements, or if some elements are worth more than others, that can be stated or provided via a fully formed rubric. The total number of grade points or percentage of the grade should be stated as well and any late policy. It may be that you have already included some of this information in your syllabus but you should either repeat it or refer students to the more detailed version.

For example, “The essay is worth 25 points of your total grade and will be graded on the following elements:

  • Clarity and organization of essay or video presentation—4 pts
  • Persuasive and logical argument—7 pts
  • Selection of reliable sources—5 pts
  • Evidence of research into the issues—5 pts
  • Quality of comments on classmates’ essays or presentations—4 pts

Late papers will be docked total points at the rate of 1 point for every day late. No papers or presentations will be accepted after the end of week 5.”

Discussion, notes, or cautionaries

Underscores the importance of something, or warns of a typical shortcoming. These can be included in the most appropriate area of the assignment description or instructions, or might be offered at the end. For example:

  • Make sure you receive the instructor’s approval before embarking on your topic.
  • Spell check and proofread your final paper before submitting.
  • Note that the topics are very specific and focused—make sure that you adhere to the topics as described and not venture into more generalized and broader subjects.

Faculty need to provide information at the right juncture so that students do not get off on the wrong foot. For example, the following note should appear early on in the assignment: “Non-peer reviewed sources must be from a reliable source. Wikipedia is not permitted as one of your ten required sources.”

Concerning multiple options for an assignment

This is a case in which students are provided with a choice in how they will achieve the assignment’s learning objective. Including multiple options for an assignment works well when:

  • Options represent a range of different perspectives or approaches from which to choose
  • Options present different levels of challenges although all result in meeting the learning outcomes
  • Options are all doable with the pacing and time limits for the assignment
  • Criteria for fulfilling each option are clearly communicated
  • Options that are vastly different in scale or degree of difficulty are provided with different evaluation schema or even different number of grade points—i.e., as in “extra credit. “

Anatomy of a Sample Assignment Write-up

See an annotated version of a sample essay prompt: Anatomy of a Sample Assignment

Points to Consider for a New or Revised Assignment Write-up

Student Learning Outcome(s) for Assignment

  • Can you identify which program and/or course student learning outcome(s) this assignment fulfills? Are there any additional learning outcomes for the assignment?
  • What words are used to convey this information to your student? Can just be a statement of the SLOs.

Title for Assignment

  • Does the assignment have a title?
  • Does the title closely correlate to the actual assignment type? Examples: Research paper, Reflective essay, Video interview project, Review of the literature, Group project, Case study response, etc.
  • Does the title also describe the assignment specifically? Example: “Research Paper on Super PACs”
  • What words are used to convey this information to your students?

Descriptive, Introductory, and Contextual Portion

  • Does this section contain everything you would want to tell students about the context of the assignment, what the assignment is about, what it is based on, etc.?
  • For scaffolded/incremental assignments, is there an overview or summary listing of all related parts and/or the connections between these explained before each is individually detailed?
  • If you are creating a short audio or video to provide the introduction or the context for an assignment, do you also provide a text version?
  • What words (and/or media) convey this information to your students?


  • Are the directions or steps for how students should proceed laid out in a logical, easy to follow manner?
  • Are the resources (any written, web, or media sources) students are required or permitted to use listed?
  • Is where and how to submit the assignment stated clearly? If there are options for other types of delivery such as video presentation or Prezi, are the options for delivery stipulated?
  • Are due dates stated clearly?
  • Is there a second step for submitting the assignment such as posting to share with the class? If so, state how and where and by when this will take place.
  • What words are used to convey this information to your students:

Assessment Criteria or Required Elements

  • Are assessment criteria and required elements clearly stated in bulleted format, or is the rubric for the assignment attached?
  • If different elements are graded proportionately (percentage, points, etc.), is that explained?
  • Is your policy on late assignments explained? (Even if it’s stated elsewhere, as on the syllabus, you may want to include a reference to that with the individual assignment write-up.)
  • What words are used to convey this information to your students:

Remedial Plan, If Any

  • If there is a remedial plan for the assignment (example: if students are able to retake a quiz or resubmit after feedback on a draft), is it explained clearly?
  • What words are used to convey this information to your students?


  • What is a rubric?
  • Why should I use a rubric?
  • Creating an effective rubric
  • Best practices for using the Rubrics tool on Blackboard
  • Samples/additional resources?

What is a rubric?

Rubrics are useful pedagogical and evaluative tools that list the criteria and point distribution you use to evaluate student work. While you probably have a mental set of guidelines and criteria that guide your assessment of student work, creating and posting a rubric makes these internal criteria more explicit and thus the grading process more transparent, benefiting both you and your students. The student knows what to expect and uses the rubric as a guide in completing assignments, while you will be able to grade more efficiently and consistently and will also find fewer questions from and challenges by students.

Why should I use a rubric?

It is possible to create a rubric for almost any sort of online course activity. That said, you don’t need a formal rubric for every assignment; adequately detailed, clearly stated criteria can be sufficient. But a rubric is often helpful in communicating more detailed assignment expectations, as well as expectations about what a quality submission may include.

Creating an effective rubric

An effective rubric should be detailed enough to cover the complexity of an assignment, as well as its requirements, but simple enough that an instructor can easily distinguish between the higher and lower parts of the grading range. We recommend keeping rubrics to no more than five or six different scoring categories. This will help ensure that you have an efficient process that avoids unnecessary hair-splitting and time-consuming deliberations. You may overlay a late policy onto your rubric (for example, deduct one or a partial point from the total score when postings are made within specific number of days after the due date) or build your late policy into the rubric itself.

In writing rubrics for assignments, you should also address some general expectations about what constitutes quality work for undergraduate or graduate students, including coherent and largely error-free writing, adequate documentation, and the policy on plagiarism. Although writing a good rubric requires some initial investment of time, you may find that the process of constructing one, by requiring thoroughness and attention to each aspect of the assignment, helps produce a more carefully considered and effective assessment of student work.

Best practices for using a rubric on Blackboard

You can create your own rubric from scratch, but there are many educational websites that offer rubrics you can use as a template for developing your own rubrics (see the Find and Create Rubrics section below). Ask your Academic Director if there are standard rubrics recommended by your program for particular assignments, or if they have any effective examples used by other instructors of your course or courses like yours. For more specific step-by-step information on the Rubrics tool in Blackboard, please see “Creating & Using Rubrics in Blackboard.”

  • Create your rubric as a table first in Word. This allows you to cut and paste the content into the Rubrics tool on Blackboard. You can also post the original document (as a .pdf or, preferably for accessibility purposes, as a Word document) on your course site as a reference for students. It’s a good idea to create a Rubrics folder on your course site—Course Information, for example—to collect all rubrics so that students can have easy access to them at any time.
  • Link your rubrics with its respective assignment(s) on your course site. Once created, associating your rubric with the appropriate assessment will allow you to use the rubric for grading. Once a rubric is created, it can be reused by multiple assignments. So, for example, a rubric for discussion boards
  • Make your linked rubrics visible for students. This is optional, but is highly recommended as it permits students to view the rubrics associated with each assessment before they embark on it. Also, when reviewing grading feedback reference to the rubric allows them to understand how they were graded for each assignment and in what areas they may need to improve.

For examples of rubrics, please see the “Resources > Sample Rubrics & Rubrics in Bb” area of the PTO site.


SPS Resources

Other Resources on Understanding the Types of Rubrics and Evaluating Rubrics

Find and Create Rubrics

Things to Think About

  • Do you have an assignment that students often seem to misunderstand? What particular points seem to trip them up or where do they often go astray?
  • What concerns, if any, do you have about using a rubric as a primary grading tool?

Things to Do

  • Following up upon #1 in “Things to Think About,” identify a problem assignment—one in which students do not perform to standards—and compare it to the “Anatomy of an Assignment” structure or see which questions in “Points to Consider for a New or Revised Assignment Write Up” seem to apply.
  • Take a look at some of the rubric resources provided here. Identify a general category or specific example that might be useful for one of your own assignments.
  • Practice building out a rubric in Blackboard. (You do not have to associate it with an assignment at this point.)
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