Understanding the question
The first and most important thing to do is pay close attention to what the 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.
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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.
- Content words
- 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.
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. There is also a Word version (DOC, 158KB) of this activity
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. There is also a Word version (DOC, 195KB) of this activity
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.