Regardless of the writing assignment, topic or class, understanding the assignment and knowing what questions to ask affects your ability to meet expectations and write an effective paper or essay. Keep in mind that most academic assignments are asking you to make an argument, even when the argument is not specifically asked for in the instructions. Making a convincing argument is the goal of most academic writing assignments.
The first step in understanding is reading instructions or prompts carefully and asking questions about anything you do not understand. Next, there are several questions to ask to know what is required or expected in several areas. Throughout the entire process of reading, understanding and asking questions, make notes of important aspects of the assignment.
Any time you are given a writing assignment, the very first thing you should do is read through the instructions. This should be done immediately; the sooner you know and understand what is expected, the sooner you can begin writing. A majority of writing assignments given to you by an instructor follow a general format:
While all writing assignment instructions do not follow this format exactly or do not present the information in the same order, most sets of instructions include this information. Reading carefully and understanding expectations helps you write effectively.
There are a few additional questions to ask that help shed light on what is expected of you. Asking these questions makes forming your approach, generating ideas and focusing your writing assignment much easier.
While any assignment, in part, is to show your understanding and provide a way in which to give you a grade, there is also an additional purpose behind the it as well: to facilitate a learning experience. If you can identify what your instructor expects you to learn—the purpose, plan or approach—your understanding of what is expected is much greater. Questions you might ask include the following:
Identifying action verbs can help you answer these questions. Common words you may encounter are listed below along with what is probably expected.
While it is easy to view your instructor as the audience, this is not the best way to approach an assignment. Your instruction is going to read what you write, but the way in which it is read focuses on your understanding of the assignment or material and your ability to write coherently and effectively about it. In most cases, you want to think of your audience as someone who can follow and understand a logical argument but does not possess expert knowledge on the topic and scope of your writing assignment.
Writing a paper to a specific audience involves determining your tone and the level of information you provide. When choosing the tone, decide if a conversational or more formal tone is appropriate . From there, focus on using the right words without forcing bigger words into the content simply because you think they sound more intellectual. For the level of information, think about what your audience already knows and what it does not know. From this, you can focus on the details you need to make your argument or point.
Some writing assignments might have clear instructions about what is expected of you when it comes to research – how many sources, types of sources, documentation style to follow—but sometimes this is not expressly stated. The focus and scope of the assignment helps you determine if research is necessary. If it is, make a plan for conducting research, and determine how you intend to find valuable sources of information.
Once you have a pretty good understanding of a writing assignment, you can start preparing to write it. Make sure to follow the steps below to make writing your paper or essay a smoother process.
In addition to asking your instructor questions and the five steps listed above, know where you can go for additional help with meeting assignment requirements or with your writing in general. For example, if your school has a writing lab, you should know when and how to utilize it.
When you can break down an assignment to understand what is expected of you through knowing which questions to ask, your final paper is much better. It also allows you to formulate a plan to tackle each step in the writing process in a timely manner to assure you meet deadlines for turning in your assignments.