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Quantitative writing (QW) requires students to grapple with numbers in a real world context, to describe observations using numbers, and to use the numbers in their own analyses and arguments. Good quantitative writing assignments ask students to do more than compute an answer. In addition they ask students to draw conclusions based on numerical or other quantitative evidence, which is either supplied or which the students must develop.

Characteristics of Quantitative Writing Assignments:

Quantitative writing assignments differ both from writing assignments that lack a quantitative dimension, and from "story problems" in math courses.

Types of Quantitative Writing Assignments

Quantitative Writing doesn't have to mean writing a research paper. In fact, the majority of QW assignments are less ambitious than that. QW assignments can be designed in a variety of forms as indicated below.

Example of a Quantitative Writing Assignment
Baby Salmon

The following contains the core sentences from a representative QW assignment.

"Over the last century, the number of salmon that return to California rivers has been decreasing. Is this a serious problem? Should anything be done in response to this situation? You will investigate questions like this in your essay. The table below gives data for the number of Chinook salmon (in thousands) from 1986 to 2000."

This challenging assignment asks students to create an argument about salmon based on tabular data that students must analyze and interpret. To do the assignment, students must make inferences from the table, do calculations, convert tabular data to bar or line graphs, and then use the data meaningfully in their own arguments. The quantitative methods required are only moderately complex, but the questions posed "Is this a serious problem? Should anything be done?" make clear that this is an ill-structured problem. In the complete assignment, note how the instructors (Michael Burke and Jean Mach of the College of San Mateo) include intermediate steps that help guide students through their analysis of the data.

The salmon problem is just one example of the dozens of ways that instructors can create engaging quantitative writing assignments.

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