Common Writing Assignments

Once you have acquired a sound understanding of the (recursive) process you must go through to complete a school writing assignment successfully, you need to match this knowledge with the conventions of the writing assignments your teachers will require you to complete, as there are a wide variety.

Your biology teacher might ask you to explain in writing the process of photosynthesis. Your history teacher might ask you to write an essay about the causes and effects of the Vietnam War. Your English teacher might ask you to compare and contrast the themes and style of two poems or short stories. Your economics teacher might ask for an extended definition of deflation. Your business teacher might ask for a paper summarizing examples of successful fast-food marketing campaigns. Most of your teachers, and certainly college instructors, will ask for a written argument in which you support your views on an issue relevant to course content.

In this chapter, you will learn about the nature of the content and the organizational structure of writing assignments common in high school and college courses. They are the common types or genres of written discourse. They are also referred to as the rhetorical modes of written expression. They are:

  • The narrative essay
  • The examples essay
  • The extended definition essay
  • The process (“how to”) essay
  • The cause/effect essay
  • The compare/contrast essay
  • The argument essay

Note that there is often overlap among these rhetorical modes. An extended definition essay and a cause/effect could certainly include examples; a compare/contrast essay might embed an argument; a narrative anecdote might enrich an assignment in any rhetorical mode; a process essay might need key terms defined. Usually one rhetorical mode will dominate a writing assignment, but other modes are often present as well.


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Composition and Literature Copyright © 2019 by James Sexton and Derek Soles is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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