Teaching & Training Tips: Successful assignment briefs

Good for you. You started your course or program by telling everyone what they need to know about the course, and where to find that information when they need it. Now it’s time to talk about assignment briefs.

Assignment briefs document everything students need to know about the assignment.

A brief should be a complete, concise and clear description of what you want, why, and when. Incoherent or incomplete briefs lead to confusion and possibly unfair representations of students’ abilities. (They also lead to you getting a headache from answering 200 questions, or worse, the same question 200 times.)

A brief is an action document; students should clearly understand what to do. You know what you want; give students all the details they need.

Don’t play games or be obscure. If you prefer to give minimal information, tell your learners what you’re doing and why: “I’m leaving this brief vague to encourage your investigative skills” or “The final deliverable is your choice: essay, animation or interpretive dance.” Except in special cases, briefs should be written and available in a permanent location. (Ephemeral briefs will cause problems—give your students resources they can refer to later.)

Include a marking matrix. You have certain criteria in mind; students need to know them. I usually include a marking sheet that describes the criteria and their weighting. I’ve posted a sample here.

Assignment Briefs—what to include:

  1. Course Name (Yours may not be the only course they’re taking)
  2. Assignment Name
  3. Due Date (and time if applicable)
  4. Due Dates for any milestones or other deliverables
  5. Assignment Overview—Including context, topics, methods (Keep it short and simple)
  6. Rationale—What purpose does this assignment serve? (Shows respect for students and helps them understand the assignment)
  7. Deliverables—What artifacts do you want/expect?
  8. Submission or Presentation Instructions—For example: essays must be 1735-2000 words long (not including the Reference List) and have a cover page; videos must be posted to this location; presentations must be 10-15 minutes long.
  9. Grading Matrix—a breakdown of the total mark (sample here)
  10. Procedure for asking questions about the assignment (Email, visit during office hours, etc)

Check your brief:

  • Does it clearly state what is to be delivered and when? (Clarity is especially important for international and lower-literacy students.)
  • Have you included enough and not too much information? Did you use lists where appropriate?
  • Could anyone understand exactly what you want? Test it—ask someone unfamiliar with the course how they would respond to this brief.

Iteration Tip: Document the questions most commonly asked about this assignment and include the answers next time you use this brief.

Pro Tip: Ensure that learners can access course resources, including assignment briefs, online.