Written assignments are one of the most common methods (after exams) used to assess students in many university courses. The type of written assignment set will vary according to a number of factors:
1. The discipline area (e.g. is it the School of Drama or School of Biology).
2. The study topic (e.g. ENGL 1003)
3. The specific theme and title of the essay question (e.g. Discuss the use of colour in Postmodernist art in Europe).
An assignment could be an essay, a report, a literature review or a film critique, to name just a few. Thus, not un expectantly, different writing styles and approaches may be required to meet the assignment requirements. Even the wording of the assignment question could indicate that a certain approach is required. As the essay is the most common type of written assignment, this web page will focus primarily on the approach required to answer an essay question, BUT, the approach taken could be easily adapted to almost all other types of written assignment.
So perhaps the first thing we need to consider is what approach is required for a particular assignment as determined by the study topic or discipline. You can do this in several ways.
• Make sure you read carefully any instructions given to you about the assignment, for example, in the Topic Handbook
• When reading reference materials (books, journals etc.) in the particular discipline, try to notice the way they are written as well as the way the content is structured and used.
• Talk to other students and see how they interpret the question and/or instructions
• Discuss with your tutor approaches to an essay which you are working on.
• If you tutors are willing, show them a draft attempt for their comments.
Particularly during the first year of study, most students will have to spend some time finding out what the usual requirements are for a particular school/department. Some things to take note of:
• To what extent can you venture personal opinions or feelings.
• How much evidence must be provided to support your analysis and argument.
• Sentences that are simple and clear to read are better than complex but confusing sentences. Do not try to impress by the use of (big) words and jargon with which you may not be familiar.
• However, you may also need to use some terminology and expressions used to express views and ideas common to a particular discipline
• If you are uncertain about your expression, get feedback from someone skilled in the use of English.
• Keep your style consistent and avoid slang or colloquialisms.
• Check whether abbreviations such as are permitted (e.g., i.e., et al)
• Try to write in a way that when read back aloud sounds like the formal language used by text books and journal articles.
Find out what you know by writing it
An essay draft is like a rough sketch for the final product. It is a quick, first attempt at writing the essay by jotting down the essential ideas and then trying to arrange them in a suitable order. These ideas then form the backbone of the essay. Most essays go through several draft stages, with each successive draft being a refinement of the previous.
Many students like to begin their writing at the section where they feel most confident. This could be any part of the essay. There could be many benefits for example, in writing the introduction last.
If possible, wait a day or so before rewriting, so that you will approach the task refreshed.
On most questions there is a range of opinion. Do not spend unnecessary energy searching for the right answer. A satisfactory answer to an essay question is one in which opinions are supported by evidence; contrary evidence is recognised and if appropriate, criticised; and a case is argued in a logical fashion.
Parts of the essay
• The introduction clarifies the topic by giving it meaning and context, and also outlines the main point of view that you are taking. It serves to catch the reader\'s interest and lead into the main body of the essay.
• Each paragraph in the main body of the essay should contain one point which is then proved, developed or illustrated with evidence.
• In the conclusion, summarise all the points made in your essay, putting a special emphasis on your main conclusion to give a strong finish.
• Draw up a bibliography and/or reference list. If required, include a preface, synopsis, abstract or table of contents.
• The title page should contain: your name, name of course and subject, full title of the essay, and name of lecturer (spelt correctly!).
Once you have written a draft that you are confident contains most or all of the essential ideas and evidence, it is time to start polishing the essay.
• Before rewriting, read the assignment topic and check that your draft is dealing with it.
• Observe course requirements regarding type of paper, size of margin, neat hand-writing or typing (double-spaced).
• Count the number of words you fit onto one page, and so calculate the number of pages you will need for the essay (approximately).
• All paragraphs except the first are indented or separated by a double space.
• If you cannot prove that something is true in every case, then do not use generalisations, such as all, always, none or never in your point, but use instead words such as most, often, some, sometimes.
• When you finish writing a major section of your essay help your reader by writing a brief summary of the section before moving to the next section.
• The use of suitable and varied joining words will ensure that the paragraphs flow smoothly from one to another.
• Remember to use the appropriate referencing system required.
Consider your reader
Using language in the most precise and acceptable way is an art that develops with practice and makes a difference to the reader\'s impression.
Apply the finishing touches to the appearance and accuracy of the essay.
• Check for spelling, punctuation, grammar and expression mistakes by careful proofreading. One method of doing this is to place a ruler under each line of writing as you check it word by word.
• If you are aware of the mistakes you usually make, look for these mistakes first.
• If you are unsure, ask someone else to double-check for you.
• Number each page and staple or pin the essay pages firmly together at the top left hand corner.
• Make a photocopy of the essay before handing it up. This ensures that your hard work will not be wasted should the essay somehow go astray.
Keeping within the deadline is part of the discipline of essay writing. However, should you find that, due to exceptional circumstances, you will not be able to get an essay in on time, then you need to ask for an extension before the deadline.
Anderson, J & Poole, M 2001. Thesis and assignment writing. 3rd edn. Wiley & Sons, Milton.
Burdess, N 1991.The Handbook of Student Skills. Prentice Hall, New York.
Clanchy, J & Ballard, B 1991. Essay writing for students. 2nd edn. Longman Chesire, Melbourne.
Hay, I, Bochner, D & Dungey, C 2002. Making the grade. 2nd edn. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Zeegers, P 1998. An Introduction to the Study of Science at University. 4th. edn., Flinders Press, Adelaide.
© Copyright for this article belongs to Flinders University
This document was re-printed with the kind permission of Dr. Peter Zeegers. Original Source of the article is located here: http://www.flinders.edu.au/SLC/writing.html
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