When you’re undertaking tertiary study there are often a lot of assignments and writing to do, which can be daunting at first. The most important thing to remember is to start – and start early.
If you give yourself enough time to plan, do your research, write and revise your assignment you won’t have to rush to meet your deadline. Once you’ve started, you’ll also have something down on paper or on screen that you can improve on.
Step 1: Plan
Planning your assignment will help you get focused and keep you on track.
- Check how much your assignment is worth and what percentage of the final mark it is. This will help you decide how much time to spend on it.
- Check the marking schedule to see what your tutor will be looking for when they mark your work and how the marks will be assigned. This will help you know what to focus on. If there is no marking schedule check the assignment question to see if the information is there.
- Think about what you need to do to complete your assignment (for example, what research, writing drafts, reference checking, reviewing and editing, etc). Break these up into a list of tasks to do.
- Give each task a deadline, working backwards from your assignment due date.
Step 2: Analyse the question
Before you can answer a question, you need to know what it means. Read it slowly and carefully, and try to understand what’s expected of you. Ask yourself:
- What’s the question about? What’s the topic?
- What does the question mean?
- What do I have to do?
To help you understand the question, try rewriting it using your own words using the format below:
‘This assignment is about ______________________ I have to___________________ ’
When you are analysing the question:
- Look for words that tell you what to do (instructional words). For example, analyse, compare, contrast, etc.
- Check the meaning of the words used.
- Look for topic words, which tell you what you have to write about.
- Look for restricting words, which limit the topic and make it more specific.
You can also check for additional information about the assignment and what’s expected of you in the course materials or on your course page or forums.
Tip: When you find something about the assignment on a course page or in a forum save a copy of it. If you save all the information you gather about the assignment in one file you will have all the information in one place when you start writing.
More about instruction words:
List of instruction words – Otago University website (opens in new window)
Question wording quiz – Language and Learning Online, Monash University website (opens in new window)
Step 3: Draft an outline
Drafting an outline will give you a structure to follow when it comes to writing your assignment. The type of assignment you are doing will give you a broad structure, but you should also check the question and marking schedule, as they will help you understand how the lecturer expects the topic to be structured, what must be included, and which sections are worth the most marks.
From there you can create your outline, using headings and gaps for the information you have to fill in.
Types of Assignments
Most of the assignments you will have to do are essays, which generally follow the same basic structure:
- Introduction (+ 10% of the assignment) – This is where you introduce the topic and the main points, and briefly explain the purpose of the assignment and your intended outcome or findings. It is a good idea to write the introduction last, so that you know what to include.
- Discussion (+ 80% of the assignment) – This section is divided into a number of paragraphs. Decide what points you want to discuss and include a new paragraph for each main point. A paragraph usually starts with a topic sentence stating the main idea, followed by supporting evidence and examples. In your outline try and include draft topic sentences and a few ideas outlining what you want to include in each section.
- Conclusion (+ 10% of the assignment) – Conclusions briefly restate your main argument, evaluate your ideas and summarise your conclusions. They don’t introduce any new information.
Step 4: Find information
Before you start writing, you need to research your topic and find relevant and reliable information. You will find some in your course materials and recommended readings, but you can also try:
- the Open Polytechnic Library.
- your local public library.
- talking to experts.
- online sources.
Once you have found information, the next step will be to evaluate it to ensure it is right for your assignment. For more on how to researching and evaluating information go to:
- How to research
- Research using the internet
- Thinking critically and evaluating information
Step 5: Write
Once you’ve found the information you need it’s time to bring it altogether and write your assignment.
Write your first draft
- Use your outline and fill in the gaps, writing your main points for each section.
- Write freely, getting as much down as you can without worrying about the wording being 100% right.
- You may find it easiest to start with the conclusion so that you know which direction your writing is heading, or the background.
- The introduction is often the hardest to write, so leave that till last.
- Don’t spend too much time trying to make this draft perfect as it will change!
- Revise your first draft, and check that it makes sense and includes everything it needs to.
- Fine tune the wording, and make sure your writing flows well.
- Make sure you keep different copies of your drafts as you may want to go back to them.
- Leave the writing for a day, read it, and fine tune again.
- Compile your bibliography or reference list.
How to use APA referencing
Step 6: Edit and proofread
Once you’ve written your assignment, you can improve it by editing and proofreading, but before you do take a break. Even a short break helps you to get some distance from your work so that you can check your assignment with a fresh eye.
Look at the big picture
- Have you answered the question you were set? Check your assignment against the marking schedule as well as the question.
- Is the structure correct?
- Have you included all relevant parts? For example, the title page, introduction, conclusion, reference list?
- Is the content logically arranged?
- Does your assignment read well, with each section flowing smoothly on to the next? A good way to check this is to read it aloud.
- Have you used your own words and acknowledged all your sources?
- Is your assignment well presented?
Check the details
- Have you used academic English (if required)?
- Check the grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Don’t just use a spell checker (it won’t pick everything up).
- Check your referencing – have you acknowledged all work that isn’t your own? Is your APA referencing correct?
- Are your pages numbered?
- Have you included your name, student ID, the assignment details and the date on each page?
Tip: If possible, ask a friend or family member to proofread your assignment, as it can be difficult to see mistakes in your own work.
More about editing and proofreading:
Editing and proofreading – Massey University website (opens in new window)
Editing and proofreading – The Writing Center, University of North Carolina website
Before you submit your assignment, print it out and check it one last time. It’s often easier to spot errors in print than on screen.
Once you’re happy, submit your assignment.