You’ve just been given an assignment and now have to figure out what to do with it.
The difference between earning an A or a C can depend on how well you have read and understand the assignment sheet.
This tutorial is going to give you a set of basic assignment components to look for as well as a few tips to help you succeed in completing an assignment without any surprises.
The first step is to look at the basic requirements. When first reading the assignment, circle or make notes in the margin as you read, use these notes as a checklist later. The basics are: due date, this will give you an idea of how to organize your time to finish the assignment; length, how long of a paper it should take to address the question, idea, or topic; style and formatting, is this a writing and citation style you’ve used before, does it require double-spaced or a certain font; and sources, will you need to do any research and/or visit a library.
Many assignments set the stage with some context or background information. In this example, the assignment begins with a brief summary of the class lecture about the endangered species status of the Lesser Antillean Iguana. Take a moment to read this example.
Since assignments are generally based on concepts or information introduced in class, it’s a great idea to identify the assignment topic then look through your notes for additional related information.
Other common parts of an assignment sheet include prompts from your instructor to focus your writing and direct questions to be answered. Take a moment to read through this example:
In this example, the first two questions are not intended to be directly answered in your essay; they provide a framework for the overall theme of the assignment. The third sentence, the assignment itself, is to build a well-researched and compelling argument. This indicates that the essay must be argumentative and use quality resources.
It is important to understand the assignment and your role in completing it. If your roommate or friend were to ask you “what’s this assignment about?” could you tell them?
As a rule of thumb, after you first read an assignment sheet, ask yourself to fill in the blanks to this prompt: “The purpose of my essay is to ___ in order to ___.” If you applied this to our example assignment, you might say “The purpose of my essay is to build a strong and convincing argument for the best solution to save the Lesser Antillean Iguana in order to receive the largest amount of available conservation funds.”
Let’s take a look at the major parts of the research and writing process. Each blue block represents a chunk of that process, the larger the chunk, the more time it will usually take, the smaller the chunk, the less time it will take.
Start by examining the assignment. Then plan a timeline to complete the assignment by the due date. Next you should explore the topic in more detail by identifying sources and reading them and taking notes. Now you are ready to write a rough draft. You should leave yourself enough time to reflect on the draft and revise it, and then reflect and revise one last time. The last step is turning in your assignment on time.
At some point in your assignment you will probably need evidence beyond the exploratory stage. It could be as simple as your textbook or as complex as a few dozen scholarly articles. In planning for this assignment, look closely at what types of resources you need to use (computer, software, books, databases, people),
or places you will need to go to use them (libraries, archives, quiet time at home),
and what types of time constraints may be in place. If you do need to go to the library, check to be sure it is open at a time you can go outside of class or work. Do you know the best places to find the sources you need?
You may want to speak to a librarian first for help in formulating a search strategy and identifying appropriate tools and resources for your search. Always bring your assignment sheet with you when asking for help.
Ask your instructor to clarify any uncertainties or questions early on to avoid stress and rushed work later. They will thank you for doing this instead of turning in an incomplete or misunderstood assignment. When you get a final draft of the assignment finished, leave some time to reflect on your work. State the purpose of the assignment out loud to yourself, did you accomplish it? This is also a good time to check with your instructor if your paper doesn’t seem quite right and you need some guidance.
Have more questions about understanding an assignment?
Contact Caroline in academic support or Seth in the library. We can help you with these questions.
Check out your academic support and library websites for hours and contact info.