If you’re the kind of person that only has to hear the word “assignment” and immediately has flashbacks to stuffy classrooms, ticking clocks and staring a blank page for hours….DON’T PANIC.
Our 15 foolproof tips for writing a great assignment will guide you to success.
Before you start…
1. Do your reading
Your course or module will have a reading list; make sure you actually use it! Your tutors choose texts to specifically help with your assignments and modules, and you’ll gain some valuable insights into the topic that are sure to make writing your assignment easier.
Expert tip: If you have the time, do some reading from other sources not on your list to back up your argument.
2. Check the deadline
There’s nothing worse than scheduling time to sit down and write then glancing at the calendar and realising you’ve only got a few days left. Double-checking the deadline means you’ll have no nasty surprises.
Expert tip: There are many apps out there that can add a ‘countdown’ to your phone or tablet. Use these to keep your assignment deadline front of mind.
3. Plan your time
Finding time to write is easier said than done, but if you break your time down into manageable chunks you’ll find it’s much easier to keep on top of your workload. Try scheduling mini-deadlines along the way (e.g. aim to have the first section done by a certain day) to keep your momentum going.
Expert tip: Be realistic about the time you have spare, and the time you’re willing to give up. If you schedule a writing session at 9 p.m. on Friday evening when you’d rather be relaxing, chances are you won’t get anything done.
4. Ask for help (if you need it)
If there’s any doubt in your mind about the question or the requirements of the assignment, ask your tutor. It’s better to start right than have to re-write in the last few days.
Expert tip: Remember, your tutor wants you to do well. He or she will not be annoyed if you need to ask a few questions.
5. Plan your assignment structure
Before you start, it can help to create a basic assignment structure. This can be as detailed as you like but the basic structure should contain your introduction points, your key arguments and points, and your planned conclusion.
Expert tip: Try writing out your plan on sticky notes. These will allow you to rearrange your arguments and points easily as your plan develops.
As you’re writing…
You wouldn’t start a conversation without introducing yourself; your assignment is the same. Your first paragraph should introduce your key argument, add a bit of context and the key issues of the question, and then go on to explain how you plan to answer it.
Expert tip: Some people find it easier to write their introduction after they’ve finished the rest of their assignment. Give it a try!
7. Structure your argument
As you write the body of your assignment, make sure that each point you make has some supporting evidence. Use statistics or quotes you gathered during your reading to support your argument, or even as something to argue against.
Expert tip: If you’re using a lot of different sources, it’s easy to forget to add them to your reference list. Make things easier for yourself by writing it as you go along.
Your conclusion is your final chance to summarise your argument and leave a lasting impression with your reader. Make sure you recap the key points and arguments you made in your assignment, including supporting evidence if needed.
Expert tip: Make sure that you don’t introduce any new ideas in your conclusion; this section is purely for summarising your previous arguments.
9. Getting over writer’s block
Struggling to write? There’s nothing more frustrating than putting aside time to write and then just staring at a blank page. Luckily, there are lots of thing to try to get you inspired: a change of scenery, putting on some music, writing another section of the essay or just taking a short break.
Expert tip: If you find yourself unable to write, try to use your time to read ahead or re-read what you’ve already written.
10. Make sure you use your ‘essay voice’
While each university, school or each college will probably have its own style guide, you should always use a neutral and professional tone when writing an assignment. Try to avoid slang, overly-familiar phrases and definitely don’t use text-speak!
Expert tip: If you’re not sure about a phrase or word, search for it online to see what other publications use it. If it’s in a dictionary or used by a national newspaper it’s probably OK to use in your assignment.
After you finish…
11. Get a little distance
If you’ve got time (and you should have if you managed to stick to your schedule!), put your first draft aside for a day or two before re-reading it. This will give you time to step back and read your assignment objectively, making it easier to spot mistakes and issues.
Expert tip: If you find it easier to review on paper, print out your assignment with double-line spacing to accommodate your notes and corrections.
12. Make sure you’ve answered the question
As you’re reading through your first draft of your assignment, check that all your points are relevant to the original question. It’s easy to drift off on a tangent when you’re in mid-flow.
Expert tip: Read each paragraph and consider it on its own merit as to whether it answers the question, and also to check that it contributes to your overall argument.
13. Don’t be afraid to cut text out
Sometimes, when you’ve struggled to reach a word count it can be hard to remove text that you’ve slaved over. But if a piece of text isn’t supporting your argument then it doesn’t have a place in your assignment.
Expert tip: With word processing software, the ‘Track Changes’ feature allows you to edit text without losing it forever. And if you realise later that you’ve made a mistake, just reject the change.
14. Check and double-check your spelling
Nothing can give a bad impression as quickly as a spelling mistake. Errors are distracting, look unprofessional and in the worst case they can undermine your argument. If you’re unsure about the correct use of a word, look it up online or use an alternative that you’re more comfortable with.
Expert tip: While you’re running your spell-checker, check your word count too. You’re usually allowed to deviate by 10% above or below the assignment word count, but check with your institution’s guidelines.
15. Cite your sources
References and creating a bibliography are key skills that you unfortunately have to master when writing an assignment. Check your institution’s guidelines before you start to make sure you’re including all the information you need.
Expert tip: Some eBooks have a citation feature that automatically collates all the information you need for your bibliography.