Editor's note: The following article is part of an ongoing resource collection called Assignments of Note, in which we showcase innovative assignments featured in scholarly articles.
Daniel, F., Gaze, C. M., & Braasch, J. L. G. (2015). Writing cover letters that address instructor feedback improves final papers in a research methods course. Teaching of Psychology, 42(1), 64–68. https://doi.org/10.1177/0098628314562680
The main assignment is a traditional research paper, in this case one for a psychology research methods course. Drafts of each of the paper’s four main sections are due separately and returned with teacher feedback. The final version of the paper is submitted with a cover letter that addresses how the student responded to instructor-provided feedback on the various paper sections.
Each of the four sections in this paper are submitted during the course, graded, and returned with instructor feedback provided in five areas relevant to research papers in psychology.
Instructions for writing the cover letter are provided. Students are to synthesize instructor feedback on the four sections and then share “detailed explanations” of how that feedback was “incorporated” (p. 65) in the final draft. They are also given examples of good and bad cover letters. The cover letter is graded separately, and not as part of the final paper.
The authors note that using cover letters like these “is a relatively easy addition to any course that requires writing” (p. 67). They see it as an assignment that validates the time and effort it takes teachers to provide students with detailed feedback.
Thirty-two students prepared and submitted cover letters; 36 students (the control group) wrote the research paper in sections, got feedback, and wrote a final draft of the paper but without the cover letter. A combined percentage score was calculated for the graded draft sections so it could be compared with the final paper percentage grade. A quality check of the instructor’s final paper grade was provided by another instructor who assessed the papers, blind to whether a cover letter had been written or not. The results showed that students who wrote cover letters “tended to have higher improvement scores than students who did not write the cover letters” (p. 66).
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