How to Prepare and Write an Assignment

Writing good assignments does not come naturally to many. Most of us can always use a guide to help create a well-written assignment. A good written assignment will get the message across of what you want to say in a simple manner, which is crucial to the examiner marking your work.

Preparing for the Question

There is no 'one-way' for assignment writing, but one good way is to be organised. Not just with your research, but with your thinking. Before you begin to write, you need to understand what the assignment is asking you to do.

Here are some common principles to help keep you on track.

  • Ask yourself: what do I need to focus on?
  • Schedule enough time to find research materials
  • Write down the question on a piece of paper to keep you on focus
  • Allow time for brainstorming and mapping your thoughts

What is the question asking?

The words in the question can be a guide. We call this 'process words': these words can tell you where to focus on the subject matter. For example, analysing a theory is quite different to explaining it. The most common process words are below.

Writing the Assignment

What you say and how you say it are key factors in your assignment. You want the examiner to understand what you are communicating. Using paragraphs and linking words are a great way to ensure you message is clear and consistent.

Paragraphs

Using paragraphs helps you divide your major points into stages. The best rule to follow is 'one idea per paragraph'. Sentences in the paragraph should contribute to that main idea. A new paragraph indicates a new idea.

Linking words

To make your argument flow well, linking words can be helpful. Words like 'such as', 'nevertheless', and 'furthermore' can link ideas in a sentence, and help you link paragraphs.

Choosing a writing style

When writing for academia, the tone is more formal than most writing styles. Follow your course materials as an example. Keep in mind writing tone and style will depend on the topic, for example if it's an arts or medical theme.

Here are a few tips for academic writing:

-          Ensure you sentences are not too long, otherwise your examiner may find it difficult to follow your thoughts.

-          Make your writing concise by cutting out needless words. For example, 'very surprising' can be just 'surprising'. 'The great majority of' can be just 'the majority of'.

-          Avoid personal pronouns. For example, say 'it is thought that' instead of 'I think that'.

-          Avoid any vague words or phrases: ensure that your reader knows who or what you are referring to when you use words such as 'it' and 'they'.

-          Use simple words. Your goal is to communicate your ideas, not to impress the reader.

-          The use of a thesaurus can help avoid using the same words.

 

Improve Your English

Many students worry about writing in university, especially if English isn't your first language. Writing for academia can take time and practice; it is something you learn by doing again and again. After reading course materials, and understanding your subject, you will get better. The most important thing is to be easy on yourself, and be patient.

Grammar, spelling and punctuation

Resources are available if you are concerned about your grammar and spelling. The spell check on your computer can be beneficial, but do not rely solely on it. Most libraries offer resources on writing for academic assignments, and have beginner guides to writing and sentence structure. If this is an area you need to spend time on, be sure to schedule that time as a part of your assignment preparation.

Use feedback

Assignment feedback is crucial to progression in your writing skills. Do use comments and learn from the advice given to you. If you know what your 'pain points' are, use this to your advantage on hone those skills.  

To summarise...

  To do well in your assignment, you need to communicate your thoughts on the assignment question. By being more aware of what you      write, and by using guides, your ideas will be understood more easily by the examiner. Clear written communication is key to any successful    assignment.

   For further tips on writing and preparing assignments, read the PDF booklet we have prepared.

             Browse all online degrees and courses available at The Open University

Updated 
4 July, 2014 - 13:49