Writing tip: Determining writing expectations
It can be daunting to write for a new audience, especially when that audience is an instructor who will be grading the work. Instructors have a clear idea of what content they want from students' writing, but students may find it challenging to determine what approach, style and formatting an instructor prefers. In particular, students may find it difficult to identify differences in expectations between instructors. The list below presents questions students often ask the Writing Centre when they are writing for someone new, and students are welcome to use the questions as a starting point for conversations with instructors about writing expectations. The list isn't intended to be exhaustive, so please use and/or adapt any information that is relevant to your writing process.
A. Audience: Should students write specifically with the instructor in mind and therefore they do not need to explain course content in detail, or should they write so that a broader academic audience could understand the discussion (see "Audience Awareness")?
B. Tone: What are the expectations regarding the formality of language in different types of assignments?
- E.g., Should a personal, reflective essay be written using a formal tone, or is a more informal tone appropriate (e.g., using idiomatic language, metaphors, contractions)?
C. Personal experience: May students refer to their own experiences in an assignment, or should the focus exclusively be on information gathered from research literature?
D. First person voice: May students use the first-person voice when describing their own experiences (see “Can I use the first person voice in my academic writing?”)?
E. Title page:
- Should assignments include a title page?
- What information should students include on title pages?
- Should page numbering start at “1” on the title page (APA Style) or on page two at “2” (academic convention)?
- What information, other than the title of the work, should be provided on the title page? E.g., student’s name, date of submission, course name, program name, author note?
- Does the instructor have a sample title page that shows the desired formatting?
F. Table of contents: Should essays include a table of contents? If it depends on the number of pages, what is the minimum number of pages that qualifies for a table of contents?
G. Section headings: Should students use section headings? If so, should the headings be formatted per the APA Style rules (see "What are the APA rules for section headings?")?
H. Paragraphs: Should each body paragraph provide one main argument and follow the typical analytical structure of an academic paragraph (e.g., topic sentence with a claim, evidence, analysis, conclusion, and transition), or should paragraphs have more of a report style with shorter, descriptive paragraphs that do not need transitions?
I. Word count: How closely should students adhere to word count limits? E.g., exactly the word count, +/- 10%?
J. APA Style rules: Should the student adhere to the following APA Style rules, or does the instructor prefer exceptions? Instructor preference takes precedence.
- Present the title of the work in title case, not bolded, at the top of the first page of body text; see #3 in the APA Style Formatting Checklist and the title of this document.
- Omit an “Introduction” heading; see #4 in the APA Style Formatting Checklist.
- Double space the entire text, including block quotations and references (see #5 in the APA Style Formatting Checklist).
- Use the past tense verb to describe an author’s action in signal phrases that introduce quotations or paraphrases (e.g., Author (2010) argued; see Should I use present or past tense when introducing quotations or paraphrases in my text?).
- Authors may provide page or paragraph numbers in citations to paraphrases, as long as the approach is applied consistently throughout a work; see #3 in the APA Style Citations Checklist.
- Use serial commas in lists with more than two items (see “What is the serial comma in APA Style?”).
- Bulleted lists are acceptable when an author needs to “create a list that stands out from the text without the implied chronology or order of importance that a numbered list might convey” (McAdoo, 2010, para. 3).
- “References” should not be bolded because it is a page title, not a section heading; see #2 in the APA Style References Checklist and the reference in this document.
If you have any questions related to this writing tip, please contact the Writing Centre.
Manager, Blended Learning Success
McAdoo, T. (2010, March 2). Lists, part 5: Bulleted lists [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2010/03/lists-part-5-bulleted-lists.html