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To help students claim authority over the choices they make in their writing, students should also be made responsible for assessing their writing, for articulating the rationales behind their writing choices, and for responding independently to the feedback of others.

One of the best ways to help students assess their writing is to require cover memos to their readers on work-in-progress and on final papers. You can build this requirement into your assignment sheets. Below, find some sample language to work with.

For a cover memo on a draft

When you hand in your draft to me, please include a cover memo that explains your experience writing the early version of this assignment: what went smoothly for you? what was more difficult? Please also help me understand some of the major decisions you made; e.g., why you settled on this research question, selected the sources you did, or appealed to feeling in conclusion. Also let me know what you feel happy about with your draft and where you need the most help.

For a cover memo on a final paper

After you have finished your revision, write me a cover memo of 250 words or so. Here you reflect on your rhetoric: the decisions you made as you composed your essay.

Your memo can be informal, but still clear and well-organized.  It will be more persuasive if it points me to details in your draft, peer feedback, and revision and if it touches on some of the following:

  • Your use of discipline-specific strategies [these should be named specifically and align with the assignment goals]
  • ·Your use of evidence and reasoning;
  • Your awareness of the paper’s rhetorical situation;
  • How peer review, conferencing, or a writing center appointment affected your revision decisions;
  • Your overall experience in writing the essay; how does it compare and contrast with your work in previous writing classes? With how you previously approached writing?

You may end your memo by setting a goal for your next paper or by giving me some direction. What do you want me to notice in your revision?  What do you still need help with?

As you can see cover memos are also helpful to readers, suggesting how they might prioritize their feedback and why. But they are most valuable to student writers because reflection in writing makes visible their thinking and learning and increases the likelihood of transfer of writing knowledge to new communication contexts.