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1 August 2016

Avoid assignment delays: get moving with effective preparation

So you’ve settled into the start of semester and have discovered all the assignment tasks you’ll need to complete in the next couple of months. Sometimes it can feel like you just don’t know where to start, or need to keep reading before you can start writing, or maybe you just start writing straight away on whatever you can think of. Don’t fall into these traps - good assignment writing needs good preparation. Here are some tips to get you pumping out your assignments effectively from Learning Skills Adviser, Emma Price.




  1. Analyse your task

The first step in any assignment is to make sure you clearly understand what it is asking you to do. You may think you’ve got the idea from a quick read over, but you could miss out on some important details or misunderstand the question if you don’t spend a bit of time on task analysis. Comprehensively covering what is asked will usually add more marks onto your grade. Here’s some pointers to get you started: 

  • Think about whether or not you understand all of the terms involved - what might you need to look up?
  • You should highlight or scribble on the task itself for words or phrases that give you direction (what you need to do), content (topic or context) and limits (to set the required scope).

As you complete your assignment, you should always return to the task to make sure you are answering the topic and sticking to what was asked.

  1. Brainstorm and plan

Now that you understand what you need to do, a good next step is to spend a bit of time brainstorming. You might like to try creating a mindmap or just jotting down your thoughts on a page to record your ideas as you go.

  • What do you already know about this topic? What knowledge gaps will you need research?
  • How does this task fit into what you’ve covered in class?
  • What is your initial position towards the task? How will you approach what it is asking you to do?

This brainstorm is a great way to develop a plan. With your task analysis and initial thoughts on the topic, you can plot out how you will complete the assignment. This could be a skeleton structure outline noting down what the main sections or paragraphs should cover, or just some broad headings and subheadings of the areas you want to find out more about. You may want to write your approach or argument at the top of the page to keep you on track in your plan. Remember: this plan is not set in stone and you should adapt it as you do more research and start writing - but always make sure you are answering what the task is asking you to do!

You may also want to plot out a timeline between now and the due date to keep you on track with your research and writing.

  1. Research

Using your thoughts from your brainstorm and initial plan, it should now be pretty clear where you are headed and what you need to research for your assignment. Remember: 

  • Google is not the answer.
  • You should use the enormous amount of materials available to you through the Library. This way you get informed, credible and useful resources to help you in your assignment.
  • Try your faculty Library guide for some starting points on databases or key resources.
  • Your textbook or unit readings might help give you some background knowledge or starting points to expand your research.

From this, you can add in more ideas to your plan and get a better picture of how you will write your assignment. Keep on track by knowing your focus in the assignment and sticking to relevant reading - don’t get too lost in unhelpful tangents that will just use up precious time!

Remember to note down all the details for any sources you use for your referencing. And don’t get caught thinking you have to read more before you can start writing - you can always research as you write if you find there are some gaps to fill or you don’t have a good example for a particular part of your assignment.

By following these steps to get you started, you should have a really strong sense of your assignment. Use your expanded plan to avoid any writing procrastination - you know what you want to say and have the research notes to help you say it! Some students find sitting in front a blank screen and starting with their introduction makes their brain go blank. If this is the case for you, why not try starting at the next paragraph to get you going. You can always return after you have got your main argument paragraphs on the page, and this might help you write a clear and relevant introduction in the end anyway!

Don’t forget the friendly Librarians and Learning Skills Advisers at the Research and Learning Point! Drop-ins are available if you have any questions on how to get started on your assignment writing or research.


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