1.1 Understanding Your Assignment Requirements
The first thing you need to do when you are about to start working on an assignment is read the question very carefully. This might sound obvious, but many students lose marks unnecessarily because they don’t pay enough attention to what the assignment question is asking them to do. To get the maximum marks for the effort you put in, you need to answer the question that is asked. As well as reading the question you also need to analyse the question. Assignment questions usually have a lot of information in them and you can use this information to help you with your answer. The information in this guide will help you to interpret what your assignment questions are asking you to do.
Assignment questions usually have quite a lot of information in them about both what you need to be writing about and how you should structure your assignment.The words which tell you the topic of what the assignment should be about are commonly called content words. The content words tell you what.
For example, the content words for the following topic include:
|Traditionally in many societies mothers are expected to stay at home and take care of their children. However, the financial pressures of modern life have forced many mothers to find jobs outside the home and rely on childcare for their children. With reference to one particular type of childcare facility discuss whether this arrangement is damaging for children or not.|
These words tell you that the content of your assignment should relate to the effect of working mothers placing their children in childcare. Sometimes you will not be given any content words and you will be required to develop your own research question. We will discuss this later in this module.
The words which tell you how to go about answering the question are commonly called instruction words. Instruction words tell you how.
The instruction words give you information on what type of assignment you need to write. For example, are you being asked to discuss, argue, describe, explain, report or compare and contrast? Each of these instruction words tells you that you need to write a different type of response to the question. For example, in a description you are asked to focus on what something is like or what happened. On the other hand, if you are asked to explain, you will need to focus on how something happens or happened.
The following is a brief outline of instruction words you may find in your assignment. You need to understand the instruction words to satisfy the requirements of your assignment.
|Instruction Words||What They Mean|
|Analyse||Examine in close detail. Identify important points and chief features.|
|Comment on||Identify and write about the main issues. Base what you write on what you have read or heard in lectures. Avoid purely personal opinion.|
|Compare||Show how two or more things are similar. Indicate the relevance or consequences of these similarities.|
|Contrast||The opposite of compare. Point out what is different. Indicate whether or not the differences are significant. If appropriate, give reasons why one item or argument might be preferable.|
|Critically Evaluate||Examine arguments for and against something, assessing the strength of the evidence on both sides. Use your research to guide your assessment of which opinions, theories, models or items are preferable.|
|Discuss||Similar to critically evaluate. Give arguments and evidence for and against something and make some judgment.|
|Summarise||Similar to outline. Draw out the main points only. Leave out details or examples.|
|To what extent||Consider how far or how much something is true, or contributes to a final outcome. The answer is usually somewhere between ‘completely’ and ‘not at all’. Follow the order of different stages in an event or process.|
For additional content words, look at the follow Common Instruction Words list from Southern Cross University.
Reading Your Assignment for Understanding
To learn to read your assignment question for both content and instruction, watch the following video.
(Textual content is derived from the Assignment Navigator by Southern Cross University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.)
(YouTube video created by The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License).