Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Instructor: Dudley Reynolds
Art History
Survey for Assessing Students’ Motivation, Confidence, and Goals for Writing


I was a consultant to an Art History professor at a large, urban university in the United States. The professor was concerned about the quality of writing in a large, introductory survey course that he was teaching. He had asked the writing center to identify students who could benefit from a tutoring session before completing the first writing assignment. We designed a diagnostic writing task that would build a profile of the students’ writing, but we also wanted to expand our understanding of the students as writers by giving the students a survey.


We developed a brief, seven-item survey that asked students to gauge their confidence, motivation, and goals for writing and to report their major and previous experiences with the English language. Students were asked to complete the survey before completing the diagnostic writing task; the survey was administered at the beginning of the second class meeting.


Responses using a Likert-like scale were reported as mean scores with standard deviations. Responses to the other closed questions were tabulated. The professor received a report that provided a profile of the class, which helped him to understand his students’ backgrounds better and to frame his discussions of the writing assignment. The report was also shared with writing center staff who would be working with students from the class.


Writing is often discussed as a skill or a set of abilities, but affective traits like motivation and expectations for achievement can greatly impact a student’s writing. This survey reminds both faculty and students of this fact. The writing center staff also benefited from knowing the number of students who considered themselves non-native speakers of English.

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