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How do I write an assignment?

Academic writing can be a challenge if you are new to university or returning to study. One of the key things to remember is that there are distinct stages for any writing task whether it is an essay, report, reflective essay or some other form of academic writing. By following this process, you will be much more confident in approaching and successfully completing your assignment writing task. This can also be a time-saver, and help you avoid procrastination because you don’t know how to start.

Click on each of the sections in the flowchart to know more.

Analyse the question

You need to identify directive, topic and limiting words in the assignment question. These important words help you figure out how to research and write the assignment.

Directive words: Words such as examine, analyse or compare tell you how to approach the assignment. If you’re not sure what the directive word is asking you to do, look it up in a dictionary or consult this handy Definition of Directive Words from California Polytechnic State University.

Topic words: Topic words identify the major concepts in your task. These will come in handy when you are looking for resources and help you stay focused on your topic.

Limiting words: Limiting words help narrow the scope of your assignment. They set boundaries for you and are often dates, locations or populations.

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Once you understand what you are being asked to do, it’s time to break down the task into mini questions. Having a series of questions to answer will help you focus your research and writing. The assignment task itself may contain mini questions. It may have a primary question and a number of secondary questions. The answer to the primary question is your overall argument.

Concept maps, lists, scribbles on paper, post it notes: there are lots of different ways to plan. Find the method that suits you, start planning early and return to, review and revise as needed.

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From your brainstorming lists, diagrams, maps etc. of the topic, next decide what research you need to do?

Do a timeline working back from when your assignment is due.

Read any rubrics or marking criteria to get an idea what areas are important, to focus on in your research and writing. Write these down.

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Revisit your keywords from step 1. Your topic and limiting words are key to finding the right information to answer your assignment question. There are a few tips to keep in mind when you are searching for information.

  • Keep on track and don’t get distracted by information that is not relevant to your assignment question.
  • All information is not ‘equal’ in quality. Try to find information that is credible, reliable and accurate. Use the library catalogue and library databases, instead of general internet searches. Limit to date if you want to find more current information.
  • Look for evidence-based information, not purely opinion. Are there references provided? Check that there is an author, not anonymous.
  • Keep a record of your sources for later referencing when you write up your assignment.

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Now it’s time to start writing.

Like any good story, you should have a beginning, middle and end:

  • Beginning (introduction): Introduce the topic and clearly state your position or argument; give an overview of the key points to be covered.
  • Middle (body): Develop the argument in a logical structure, supported by your research.
  • End (conclusion): Summary of all your key points, reinforcing your argument and may include recommendations or further areas of research.

Remember to include citations and references for all sources you have used.

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Read and re-read your paper checking against your assignment question and the marking criteria to ensure you have hit the mark.

Correct any spelling and grammar mistakes and make your sentences short and concise.

Are there any gaps in your argument? You may need to return to step 4 (research) or maybe you have too much information and need to reduce and refine.

Get a second opinion. Ask someone else to read your paper and provide feedback.

Be mindful of word count.

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Final draft

Congratulations, now you have your final polished paper to submit!

Adapted from: Solent University. Succeed@Solent.

Succeed@Solent by Solent University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.