Typical Assignments

The descriptions and examples below illustrate some of the most common writing assignments that students receive at HGSE. However, we want to stress that the most important sources of information regarding any written assignment in your classes are your course syllabus and your teaching team. You are encouraged to always carefully read your syllabus or writing assignment prompts to make sure that you fully understand what is expected. You are also encouraged to ask questions and seek clarification from your teaching team before beginning to write. 

Academic Papers

Many midterm or final assignments can be considered “academic papers.” These assignmentsask students to integrate the learning from the course as they answer a critical question. The papers require students to put the readings from the course (and sometimes additional research literature) in conversation in the service of a well-argued thesis. Students may be asked to answer a broad question about the themes of the course, analyze conflicting ideas in important research. As academic papers, these papers are expected to be properly formatted, using APA. They are also expected to adhere to conventional academic paper structure: 

  • An introduction that begins by setting the broad context and narrows to a clear thesis, and (if applicable), a road map for how the paper will proceed. 

  • Body paragraphs that provide the elaboration of the thesis that is grounded in readings from the course. 

  • A conclusion that directs the reader towards broader implications of the paper’s argument or directions for future consideration. 

Case Analyses

Cases provide students with “stories from real life contexts” where usually a case protagonist (a person or an organization) encounters a problem or challenge of practice. The case lays out the many details and issues that surround the problem. Most case analyses assignments ask students to do four things: 

  • Diagnose the key problem(s) or challenge(s) in the case. 

  • Consider multiple possible solutions. 

  • Offer what you think is the best solutions to the problem, and offer your rationale for that choice.

  • Support your arguments (both about what the problem is, and how to solve it) with evidence from the case and from the course readings.  

Journals, Memos and Reflective Papers 

To help students synthesize the readings in the course in a gradual, consistent manner, manyfaculty ask students to complete written assignments that reflect on them, or on aspects of the course. These may be called journals, memos or reflections, and typically: 

  • Provide students the opportunity to “make sense” of what they are reading and learning. 

  • Do not require a formal academic format. 

  • Should still be well-argued, well-organized and well written (and properly cited) essays. 

Literature Reviews

A literature review is a survey of scholarly work on a specific topic. It should provide an overview of current knowledge, including relevant theories and methods. It should also identify gaps in the existing literature. A literature review should be more than a summary of existing research; it should include an explicit thesis and argument. The steps of a literature review are as follows:  

  • Research what has been written on a given topic (requires citations) 

  • Evaluate the sources 

  • Synthesize the research (not just annotated bibliography) 

  • Critique the literature 

  • Identify areas for future research 

Policy Memos

In these assignments, students are required to identify a policy problem and argue for a specific policy response. They should offer their rationale for that choice and contrast with other potential options. Policy memos are often characterized by the following features:  

  • Short, clear, and to the point, 1-5 pages 

  • Summarize and analyze ideas 

  • Make recommendations 

  • Role play position 

  • May allow use of bullet points to group ideas 

  • Little outside research 

Research Projects

These assignments will typically be semester long and serve as a final project. Students may be expected to design and conduct a small study and then report on their findings. Faculty may scaffold the elements of the final assignment by requiring students to submit portions (i.e. literature review, methods, etc.) throughout the semester. Elements of a research paper include:    

  • Introduction with research questions 

  • Review of the literature 

  • Hypotheses and methods 

  • Presentation of findings 

  • Discuss implications of the findings (e.g. areas for future research, policy implications)