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Step 1: Understanding your assignment

Selecting your topic

  • This may seem like an obvious choice, but you really do need to choose your topic carefully. It is essential to select a topic you are interested in and that you understand. Think about how much you already know and consider what interests you the most.
  • Do not simply select a topic because it seems easy to write about: a writer simply going through the motions is immediately obvious to the reader, and if you aren’t interested you may find it difficult to motivate yourself to complete the assignment. Conversely, if you are interested in the subject matter, it will shine through your work and make completing the assignment much easier.
  • Before you start doing any research, it can help to lightly investigate the topic using Google to ensure you have a basic knowledge of the topic and the possible issues surrounding it. This can also highlight key debates in the area, or areas of discussion you might not have initially considered.
  • If there are any survey texts or edited collections concerning your potential topic area, you might quickly glance at them at this stage to see if they have useful material that is relevant for the topic you have selected
  • When you are choosing your topic, make sure you bear in mind what is expected of you. Sometimes we are tempted to choose a topic area that is far too large or far too narrow for the actual assignment! Consider what you can actually write in the word count or in the confines of the assignment, and ask yourself whether you can manage a proper discussion in light of those limitations.
  • Read the brief carefully to see what is required of you, and take note of criteria such as the due date, word limit, referencing style and required sources, formatting/ submission instructions and the writing style.

Understanding your Assignment

  • When you are writing an assignment, it is important to answer the question being asked and not just the one you want to answer. One of the biggest challenges that students face both in assignments and exams is understanding the question that is actually being asked. You would think that this would be the easiest part, but this is where most students make mistakes.
  • The first step to making sure that you offer an appropriate, well-rounded response is fully understanding the assignment question. Ensuring that your assignment remains on target is important, as you will lose marks for content that doesn’t address the question properly.
  • When approaching an assignment, the first thing to do is read the question fully.
  • Then, reread it looking for the following parts: topic words, directional words, the focus of the question and the limiting scope.
  • The topic words tell you what the question is about, while the directional words tell you what you need to do.
  • The focus of the question is the specific angle or lens that the question takes with regards to the subject matter, and it may also be an opinion, a theory, or a specific viewpoint.
  • Finally, the limiting scope limits the focus of the question, e.g. to a particular time period, theory, place, or number.
  • Breaking down and highlighting these key areas will ensure you fully understand what is being asked, and will allow you to plan your answer in a clear and succinct way


Skills Centre

Q -1 (Q minus 1), Boole Library,