Assignment – Student Nightmare or How to Make it Success!?

Assignment 2

"…Basically, I have only done 2000 words of my 10,000-word assignments and it is due in 4 days. I am freaking out a bit. What should I do - stay up all night? Cheat? My flatmate has offered me this 'smart drug' and it actually looks like it might help. Has anyone got any experience of this? Or ANY advice would be much appreciated, thanks!"

Are you in the same situation? Have a look at these several steps to success in assignments.

First, take some time and do a quick plan. Collect all the information you need and write a more detailed plan. Now you are ready to start J. If you’re finding it hard to start writing your assignments, break your tasks down into small chunks. Look at your plan and see what you need to do – do you need a paragraph that explains a theory, or a section that discusses a particular author's work?

Don't forget your introduction. Always start your essay or report properly by including an introduction. Your introduction lets the reader know where the assignment is heading, so you might choose to start with something like “The purpose of this report is to…” or you could start by defining a key term from the title of the assignment.  Some people find it easiest to write the introduction first, whereas others leave it until the end. The introduction might be up to around 10% of the word count - up to 200 words for a 2000 word assignment.

Don’t forget your conclusion. At the end of the assignment, you need to summarise the key points you’ve made. You won’t be introducing any new material here, but you might be effectively answering the original question and stating why the evidence has led to that answer. You may need to refer back to some of the most important sources you have discussed in the assignment, so there will probably be a few references. Your conclusion could be up to 10% of the word count for the assignment - 200 words for a 2000-word assignment.

Use other authors’ work. You are rarely asked to write about your own opinions in your assignments. The most common exception to this is in reflective writing, which is covered in another Study Basics guide. In most cases, you are expected to research other authors’ work and to present their arguments, studies and theories in your essay or report. You will, therefore, need to look for themes, similarities and differences – do some authors agree with each other? Do others disagree? Why? Have two authors carried out the same experiment but claim to have found different results?

Academic writing style

There are a number of things to be aware of when writing academic assignments. The most common issues are shown here.

  • Don’t use shortened versions or contractions such as “don’t” and “won’t” in academic writing. Always write the full version, “do not” or “will not”.
  • Don’t use slang. To get used to the kinds of language you need to use, try reading some journal articles and looking at the way the authors write.
  • Don’t use “I”, “we”, “you” and so on – unless you have been specifically told you can. (You are allowed to use these words in reflective essays, and in some subject areas you may be told that you can use “I” when specifically asked for your opinion, but in the majority of academic writing you will not be permitted to use the first person). You can still get your opinion across in your essay or report, by discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the studies you are discussing.

Get your draft assignment written. Once you’ve written a draft or first version of your essay/report, it’s best to stop working on it for a while. Then come back to it and read it through

Proofread your draft. You’ll find it easiest to proofread your draft if you print it out or use a handwritten version. It is very difficult for most people to proofread accurately whilst using a computer screen.

Tips for proofreading your assignments

  • Read your assignments out loud, either to someone else or just to yourself.
  • Ask someone else to read it through for you. It’s best not to ask another student
    from your course to do this.
  • If you’ve managed to leave enough time between finishing writing the draft and proofreading it, you might find that extra points have occurred to you which
    you now want to add.
  • Don’t ignore this stage of the assignment-writing process! You must read through your work before you
    hand it in.

The final edit

After proofreading your assignments, you might want to make a few additions or changes, move sections around, or even completely rewrite parts of the assignments. Before you hand it in, have one final look through it and make sure to check the following:

  • Your grammar
  • Your spelling (try the F7 key if using Microsoft Word – make sure it is set to UK English and don’t rely on it to pick everything up correctly as it is not a substitute for proofreading, but it is a useful tool).
  • Have you answered the question or done what you were asked to do?
  • Are the assignments the right length?
  • Have you used the correct font size and style, line spacing, and so on (check whether you have been given instructions about this – not all Schools have the same rules).
  • When you’ve checked all this, the assignment is finished. Don’t worry about it anymore and hand it in – it’ll probably never be absolutely perfect, so don’t keep adding and changing unnecessarily.

Don’t ignore your feedback. Have a look at our Referencing and Critical Analysis leaflets and e-learning packages.

Some "process words" or "action words" you might encounter

  • Compare - Look for similarities and differences between two given themes. You could reach a conclusion about which is preferable and justify this clearly.
  • Contrast - Set two things in opposition to bringing out the differences.
  • Criticise - Judge the merits of a theory or opinion on a given subject. Always back this up with evidence or reasoning.
  • Describe - Give a detailed account of something.
  • Discuss - Explain an issue and then give both sides and consider any implications.
  • Explain - Give details about why and how something is.
  • Evaluate - Make an appraisal of the value or effectiveness of something.  Has it proved useful to the discussion or argument?
  • Justify - Showgrounds for decisions or conclusions you have made and answer any objections likely to be made about them.
  • Outline - Give the main features or general principles of a subject, omitting minor details and emphasizing structure and arrangement.
  • Summarise - Give a concise, clear explanation of something, presenting the chief factors and leaving out minor details.

Finally, don’t forget to tell the person reading your assignments where each piece of information originally came from – see our Referencing Guidance for more details on how to do this correctly or contact us for advice.

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