Most college writing consists of assignments tailored to help you think about the subjects you are learning, learn about and explore new subjects, discover what your ideas are, and demonstrate what you have learned. In other words, your assignments are opportunities for you to pose probing questions that your writing will answer. In learning to pose the questions and answer them, you will discover how writing serves as a thinking tool.
Many students think of writing as what they produce after they have thought through the assignment or the question at hand. In general, if they study the material, students don't have much difficulty writing about the content of the courses. Student writing problems usually originate from misunderstanding the ways in which writing can be used to think through a problem, task, or question. By understanding that you can use writing to explore and discover ideas for your assignments, you can generate ideas, discover what you think about your topic, explore approaches to it, and demonstrate critical thinking about it, all of which constitute what your teacher hopes to accomplish in assigning writing tasks.
Assignments usually embody certain learning objectives called cognitive objectives. Table 3.1 shows cognitive objectives in relation to the types of assignments you may receive. Just knowing what learning objective is intended for an assignment can head you in the right direction.
|Assignment uses the following directive wording:||When your teacher expects you to do the following:||Cognitive
|Define, label, list, name, repeat, order, arrange, memorize||Memorize, recall, or present information||Knowledge
|Describe, indicate, restate, explain, review, summarize, classify||Interpret information in your own words||Comprehension|
|Apply, illustrate, prepare, solve, use, sketch, operate, practice, calculate||Apply knowledge to new situations||Application|
|Analyze, categorize, compare, test, distinguish, examine, contrast||Break down knowledge into parts and show relationships among them||Analysis|
|Arrange, compose, formulate, organize, plan, assemble, construct||Bring together parts of knowledge to form a whole; build relationships for new situations||Synthesis|
|Appraise, evaluate, conclude, judge, predict, compare, score||Make judgments based on criteria; support or confirm preferences; be persuasive||Evaluation|
|Use supporting examples, cite passages from the text, paraphrase, summarize||Quote or paraphrase to support what you have written; be persuasive||Support
|Provide corroborating evidence, reference other works, research, cite examples from case studies||Use outside research to support your thesis or hypothesis; be persuasive||Support by research|
In the first three levels of cognitive objectives, you are expected to demonstrate your knowledge and mastery of course information. You show that you remember facts and can recall them (knowledge recall), comprehend the information by being able to interpret and present it in your own words (comprehension), and apply what you are learning to new situations (application). The remaining cognitive objectives—analysis, synthesis, and evaluation—are more complex and represent the kinds of learning objectives fostered in the college experience. The last two mentioned in the table, supporting by allusion, example, and research, describe using evidence to explain or support your arguments.