Writing Tips 101: Understanding Assignment Instructions

Writing Tips 101: Understanding Assignment Instructions

Writing Tips 101: Understanding Assignment Instructions banner

As the Student Writing Specialist for JWU Online, professors often tell me that their students struggle with understanding assignment instructions.

Here’s how to tackle the sometimes frustrating process of following complex or lengthy directions.

1. Read all assignment instructions carefully as soon as you receive them.

This will save you time and stress later on! If there is something you do not understand, be sure to reach out to your instructor as soon as you are able, as this is when their feedback will be most useful.

2. Circle or highlight all portions of the assignment that you absolutely must know in advance.

This includes due dates, length, source requirements, and formatting (APA, MLA, font type, etc.).

3. Be sure to highlight key vocabulary in both the overview and the actual task.

This includes these directives: argue, criticize, define, evaluate, reflect on, compare and contrast, and summarize. The five “reporter’s questions” (how, what, when, where, and why) will help guide your attention to specific information and tell you what kind of tasks/s your instructor expects you to perform.

4. Be sure to also note all other course-specific terms.

If you are unsure of their meaning, check them against a reliable dictionary. Course-specific terms might include “corporate culture,” “autocratic behaviors,” and “mixed-methods study.”

5. Think about how you will address the assignment.

Look closely at your instructor’s comments about writing expectations (i.e., “be concise,” “write effectively,” or “argue furiously”). Remember that instructions always contain clues as to how you should approach them; these clues may appear in questions, bulleted information, or in the wording of the prompt itself. Think about every idea and number them – that way, you will be sure to address each.

A good rule of thumb for starting out (i.e., during the drafting process): Restate the question being asked, or begin your introduction with, “The purpose of this research study is to…”

Once you have begun, keep the following questions in mind. What is the purpose of this assignment? Why did my instructor ask me to perform this particular task? (To provide information? To construct an original argument based on current research? To form a counterargument to the research?) Who is my audience? What are their needs and expectations? What resources do I need? How many sources are required? What kind of writing style is acceptable?

I hope these guidelines will serve you well when it comes time to address your next assignment!

For even more tips and strategies, please visit my Student Writing Support website.

To learn more about the Johnson & Wales University College of Online Education and how one of our degree programs can help further your career, complete the “Request Info” form on this page or call 855-JWU-1881 or email [email protected].

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