Frequently asked questions - assignment writing
What is meant by summarising and paraphrasing?
In a summary you shorten a text, identifying just the main points and using your own words. A paraphrase is a restatement in your own words of a short stretch of text conveying all the detail but changing the sentence structure and vocabulary. Summarising and paraphrasing are very useful skills because the process of identifying main points and rephrasing passages helps you to better understand what you are reading.
Should I just summarise authors when I write?
This is certainly a part of academic writing but not the main focus. You need to be able to plan your response to an assignment question and argue your position using academic references to support your argument. So it is important that you make your voice 'loud' enough so that your thinking and analysing of information and points of view are clear to the reader and that the paper is not just chunks from sources put together in a superficial way.
What is meant by an argument?
In the arts and social sciences it is assumed that you will make a decision about the question asked and present a case that 'argues' a position. This means that you must build a case for your position by providing academic evidence for the points you make in your paper. In the introduction you need to ensure that you state your position explicitly and that it is clearly argued through your paper.
How do I construct an argument?
After detailed note taking, draw up a plan or a list of points that you want to make in your paper. Try to be clear on what position you are going to take on the question. You will be exploring complex issues, where there is no clear right or wrong, black or white. The position you take may be that you cannot take a categorical position! This is entirely acceptable. However, you must provide evidence to support your position on the complexity of the issues and the many factors involved.
Write each paragraph so that it contains one main point and is relevant to the question asked. Connect the paragraphs in a coherent way. This means that each paragraph will follow on logically from the one before it and flow logically to the next. Within paragraphs sentences should flow logically as well. Make sure your conclusion reiterates the position you have taken on the question, and is consistent with your introduction.
Why is logic so important in assignment writing?
University training encompasses many skills and attributes. However, across the board it is training students in logical thinking, whether this be in the sciences, technology or the arts areas. Assignment writing requires logical thinking. Written assignments are set in order to develop higher levels of thinking in students so that they are capable of taking on high level jobs in the workforce or doing research.
How do I know when I have read enough?
There is no fixed number of sources you need to have read before you start writing your assignment. In fact, being very clear about what the question is asking and skim reading should help you reduce the amount of intensive reading you need to do before beginning to write. When you have done enough reading to write a plan of the main points you want to make, you should begin writing, always remembering that you can do more research if you need to during the writing of your first draft.
In some units of study the assignment criteria may suggest a certain number of texts or journal articles, and the prescribed length of the assignment will also be a guide as to how much reading you will need to do. Generally, the longer the assignment the more reading you will need to do. Remember the marker is expecting that you will have read widely enough to present a well-researched answer.
Is it better to read books or journal articles for my assignment?
In general, it is a good idea to use a variety of sources when researching a topic. It can be helpful to start with more general information, which may be found in your lecture notes or set textbook, and then read more widely. More recent information or studies will be found in journal articles and it is vital to use these. Your choice of reading will be guided by the assignment topic, and the information you need to find to help you clarify or illustrate the point you're making in your paper.
What is expected from my assignments?
One important expectation is that your assignment actually answers the question being asked, so it is important to understand the question. Also, the reader needs to be able to see a 'clear line' of argument throughout the paper. That is, the paragraphs or points being made in your paper should all be relevant to the argument, and follow in a logical sequence. It is also expected that these points will be set out in the main body of your assignment, and that you will include an introduction and a conclusion.
Your paper needs to be well presented; typed, double spaced and use correct spelling, punctuation and sentence structure.
What does it mean to 'critically analyse'?
To critically analyse means to ask questions of a text in order to judge the contribution it makes to the issues or debate at hand. You should consider how recent the text is, the assumptions the author makes, the arguments presented, the supporting evidence provided and where this work sits in the wider debate.
How important are spelling and punctuation in an assignment?
In writing an assignment you are presenting your views as a 'professional or academic' in-training. As such, it is very important that your writing is free of spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors.
back to top