Understanding Assignments

Throughout college, you will receive many different kinds of writing prompts for various courses. How do you go about understanding a writing prompt from an instructor?

  • Read the assignment carefully all the way through.
  • Underline key terms that jump out to you. You should make note of vocabulary that you recognize from course readings and lectures: make sure that you understand what these key terms mean in context.
  • Determine what your instructor wants you to achieve in this assignment. The verbs that the assignment includes will be key to determining what you need to do. Are you demonstrating your understanding of a concept? Are you applying a theory to a text? Are you telling a personal story?
  • Determine whether the assignment involves a single task or multiple tasks. For example, your instructor might ask you to summarize and analyze a text in the same writing assignment; to complete only one of these tasks would mean you’ve only done half of what is required of you. If the prompt includes multiple questions or tasks to address, prioritize their importance.
  • Identify the assignment requirements. In particular, you should look for guidelines about page-length or word count, about whether you need to refer to specific texts or incorporate sources into your response, and about any stylistic or citation conventions that your instructor wants you to make use of.
  • Talk to your instructor. Once you have reviewed the prompt and your class notes, if you are still confused by any element of an assignment, you should ask your instructor for clarification.
  • Visit the Writers Workshop! If you would like assistance getting started with your writing assignment, feel free to make an appointment or drop in to the Writers Workshop. Writers Workshop consultants are able to assist you at any point in the writing process, including brainstorming, drafting, and revising.

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