Understand the Assignment

Writing assignments vary greatly in the type and quantity details that instructors include. Some assignments may be short, and others may be so long that they explain each step of the writing process. No matter how much or how little information you are given, you need to understand these aspects of the assignment:

The first aspect of an assignment—what you are asked to do—is most related to topic, audience, and purpose. The assignment usually defines a general writing situation, which you must make your own by narrowing the topic, determining a more specific audience, and refining a purpose. One way to read an assignment is to look for the key nouns (remember nouns?) and verbs (remember verbs?). The nouns relate to your topic and help you know what kinds of material you need to cover. The verbs relate to your purpose.

The second aspect—due dates—will help you plan your writing process. The deadlines for a project often limit the amount of research you can do, so keep the timeline in mind as you narrow your topic.

The third aspect—criteria—matter most at the end of the writing process as you put the final touches on your formatting. Yet, start with the end in mind. If the assignment specifies 300-500 words with two sources cited using MLA style, you will be need to find a topic that can be fully discussed in no more than 500 words using only two sources.