Introduction and denitions In our recent research into writing in over 35 departments at 12 universities, we have found that between 77 and 100 per cent of undergraduate courses at universities require some kind of writing assignment, and virtually every course requires an assignment, a written exam, or both. Across every field of study, students write assignments and exams for a host of reasons: to demonstrate their knowledge, synthesize ideas, or present new research. What gets written has changed across time and cultures, and today both L1 and L2 students face a wide variety of writing assignments as they move from one discipline of study to the next. As writing in one form or another has become more central to the contemporary academic experience, research on writing assignments has attracted more and more attention. To understand some of the motivations behind this surge of research, we begin with a history of writing assignments in university. We then highlight the critical issues affecting writing assignments and showcase recent developments in writing pedagogy.