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Online Guide to Writing and Research

The Writing Process


Understanding Your Assignment

“What is expected of me?” Writing a strong paper requires that you fully understand your assignment, and answering this question is the first crucial step in the academic writing process. What is your professor asking of you? The suggestions below will assist you as you determine what is expected of you.

Assignment Comprehension Tips

Click on the tabs below for tips on how to fully understand what is expected of you.

Read the instructions line-by-line to familiarize yourself initially. Reading them aloud helps too.

Print out the instructions if necessary and highlight key information, such as the due date, word count, format, or citation style. Print and study the rubric, if available. The rubric reveals how you will be graded for each part of your essay and will give you clues on how exactly to structure your writing.

Plug the due date into your smartphone calendar and request a reminder notification. In addition, work backward from the due date and schedule specific weeks for planning, prewriting, researching, writing, getting feedback, and rewriting. 

Circle any key phrases that can guide your actions.

Keep your assignment instructions next to you as you work on informal prewriting exercises and planning so you avoid getting off track.

When in doubt, ask your professor. Your professors want you to succeed and welcome any remaining questions about assignment expectations.

Finding Purpose and Meaning

The purpose of the preparative steps above is to create a foundation for nuanced writing. Some additional questions can help you reach a deeper understanding of the assignment. Ask yourself the following questions:

Table 2.1 below shows you how to identify keywords and expectations from the directive wording of the assignment. These key phrases are often associated with essay questions, as well as informal and formal papers. As a note, the table is based on Benjamin Bloom’s cognitive objectives.

Table 2.1
Assignment Wording and Expectations

Assignment uses the following directive wording:When your instructor expects you to do the following:
Define, label, list, name, repeat, order, arrange, memorizeMemorize, recall, and present information
Describe, indicate, restate, explain, review, summarize, classifyInterpret information in your own words
Apply, illustrate, prepare, solve, use, sketch, operate, practice, calculateApply knowledge to new situations
Analyze, categorize, compare, test, distinguish, examine, contrastBreak down knowledge into parts and show relationships among parts
Arrange, compose, formulate, organize, plan, assemble, constructBring together parts of knowledge to form a whole; build relationships for new situations
Appraise, evaluate, conclude, judge, predict, compare, scoreMake judgments based on criteria; support, confirm preferences
Use supporting examples, cite passages from the text, paraphrase, summarizeQuote or paraphrase to support what you have written
Provide corroborating evidence, reference other works, research, cite examples from case studiesUse outside research to support your thesis or hypothesis

Once you understand your assignment and decide on what approach to take, you can move on to identifying and targeting your audience.

Key Takeaways

  • If you take the steps to retain, plan, and understand the meaning behind your writing assignment, you will increase your confidence and success as a writer.

  • Focusing on key words and phrases will provide clues on what actions to take while planning the structure and content of your essay. 


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Table of Contents: Online Guide to Writing