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Understanding the question Preparing assignments

The first and most important thing to do is pay close attention to what the module assignment guide says you have to do. It gives you the assignment question and extra things that might help such as notes on the writing style and the format you should adopt.

Make sure you know what type of assignment is needed. Is an essay required? Do you have to write a report or a series of short answers to questions?

Check the word limit and keep to it.

Eulina's advice on starting an assignment


Eulina: I really do try and stress to analyse the essay title or the assignment title. Just for 15 minutes, don't even start working, just have the title in front of you and maybe pick out the words that are telling you what to do. If it's to compare and contrast? Is it to outline? Is it to explain a theme? What are they asking of me? What are they looking for? If you get that right, you're halfway through into writing your assignment. And then from that you can write your essay plan.

Now people write essay plans in all different ways, in like a box, flow diagram, or in linear. And your essay plan should just be key words, or key themes that will then trigger off other, issues or other notes. So when you begin to write your essay you've got a plan in front of you, know exactly where to go for the information, you know exactly what information you're going for and I think if you work within that structure it becomes less confusing.

All assignment questions have key words or phrases that indicate how and what you should write. There are two types of key words to be aware of.

  1. Content words
  2. Process words

You'll be able to focus your ideas much more clearly if you identify the content and process words in the question or title of your assignment.

Content words

These tell you what topics the question requires you to focus on. For example, look at this assignment question.

Compare your own education to date with that of one of your parents, one of your children (if you have any) or a friend from a different generation. Which points of comparison seem important to you and why?

The content words are in bold and tend to be nouns. There are plenty of content words there. The question asks you to choose between three groups of people against whom you should compare your education. The key word 'important' indicates that you must pick out a number of main points of comparison (not everything you can think of).

Content word activity

Identify the content words in the assignment question in the following activity: Content words activity. There is also a Word version (DOC, 158KB) available.

Process words and phrases

Process words and phrases tell you what to do with your material and are often expressed as imperatives: 'Assess the impact of ...' or 'Explain the importance of ...' So, in the example question above, the key words 'Compare' and 'why' are process words (rather than content words). The word 'why' indicates that you must give reasons for selecting particular points of similarity and difference.

In the assignment question below, the process words are in bold.

With particular reference to Reading A of Chapter 9, English: history, diversity and change, discuss and evaluate the grounds on which judgements are made about ‘correctness’ in English.

Process word activity

Identify the meanings of these process words in the following activity: Process words activity. There is also a Word version (DOC, 195KB) available. Once you feel confident that you've identified what you are being asked to do for your assignment, you can turn to finding the relevant books, etc.

Last updated 1 year ago