Backwards design challenges us to design with the product or goal in mind, working backwards until we identify the first step to take. Education professionals, including instructors, use backwards design to help you learn. You can use the same ideas to support your work on long-term writing projects! Read on for how to use this method to improve your assignments.
Identify your goal or final product
The first step in backwards design is identifying your ideal final product. There are many ways to do this, but we suggest finding measurable, achievable goals, which we will explain more in the next step. Regardless of the goal or final product you choose, make it something that matters to you. This will motivate you through long assignments.
Some examples of goals or final products include, but are not limited to:
- A particular grade or improvement on previous grades, such as getting a B when you typically get Cs
- A feeling of confidence when submitting the assignment
- A new skill or knowledge
- A final product you want for a graduate school portfolio
- A paper with no spelling, formatting, or grammar errors
Feeling uninspired? Picture you, at the end of the term, satisfied and even proud. What needs to be true for you to feel that way? Those are potential goals!
Define your goal as specifically as you can
Using your own experience, assignment instructions, rubric points, and any other information you have, specify your final product or goal. This will likely give you a list of priorities.
Let’s say your initial goal is to get an A on your project. If that is your goal, you should probably start with what the assignment instructions, syllabus, and rubric describe as important. Does your instructor ask for a specific citation style? Having perfect formatting should be a priority. Does your assignment ask for a specific number of examples or citations? Set aside time to identify these and plan to include them in your work. Will you incorporate
Plan how to achieve your goal
Break down your goal into actions you might take to reach it. Start with the last step you’ll take before submitting the assignment and work backwards, identifying as many steps as possible between your goal and your present work. Include specific details such as dates/times, texts to review, etc. Creating deadlines helps you space out your work, preventing a “cramming” style of writing.
As you create this plan, you will likely notice that some tasks feel easier to do and others feel more challenging; try to break down the challenging ones into achievable steps you can take.
Move through the plan with flexibility
Everyone encounters obstacles in their schoolwork. By building thoughtful and flexible plans, you increase your odds of overcoming these obstacles. Rather than trying to prevent all mistakes or delays, we find it helpful to start by assuming there could be delays and making time for them where possible.
One way to alleviate the undue stress of rushed work is to add flex days or weeks, or even to plan to finish assignments early. If something comes up—a brief family emergency, an obstacle in your research, an exam that takes up your time, a cold—you can rest easy knowing that you planned for extra time.
You should also consider reaching out for support when you struggle—of even before the struggle begins. Many students suffer in silence or seek out random answers online, which can be unreliable. As you plan for your work, consider scheduling an appointment with your instructor, a librarian, or a Writing Coach—or all three! Building opportunities for feedback can also help you revise your plan, if needed.