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When approaching an assignment it is important to clearly understand exactly what is expected of you. Otherwise you may spend a great of time and effort, but not fulfil the lecturer's requirements. This tutorial will guide you through the process. You need to consider:

Identify the type of assignment

Firstly establish what kind of assignment you are expected to submit. Is it an essay, report, annotated bibliography, literature review, case study or something else? You should be able to tell by the wording of the task.


Activity

Do you understand what is required in different assignment types? Drag the correct assignment type, listed at the bottom of this activity, onto the appropriate definition.

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Check the instructions

Next, look at the instruction (directive) words in the task. Are you being asked to analyse, discuss, evaluate, explain or something else?

There are many different instruction words - check the precise meaning of those in your assignment.


Instruction words in assignments

Ask yourself what these instruction words expect you to do, then click on each one to check:

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Establish the topic

Identify the content words. These will help you establish the topic of the assignment.

Identify and interpret key words and phrases

After working out the main thrust of the assignment, look for key words and phrases that identify each element of the topic.

Key words are linked to instruction words by telling you what to discuss, evaluate, compare, etc.

After identifying the key words, make sure you know precisely what they mean. Every field of study has its own specific vocabulary and some words may have different meanings from everyday usage.

Look for the meanings of, and synonyms for, keywords that might be included in books or articles on your topic.


Activity

Do you agree with these statements about the key words and phrases in this topic?

Examine the role of human activity in bringing about climate change. Identify some alternative explanations for extreme weather events suggested by climate change ‘deniers’. Are their arguments credible? Refer to two or three current theories put forward by either business or political lobby groups within Australia.

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Clarify the scope

Next, see if there are any words in the question determining the scope of the task.

Phrases such as ‘focus on’, ‘confine your discussion to’ or ‘refer to three examples’ provide boundaries for your writing and should help you stay within the word limit. The question may specify a date range or geographical area.

The word limit gives you a good idea of the amount of detail to include. If the limit is low, 150 words for example, you can only provide an overview of the topic. If you are asked to write 2000 words, an in-depth analysis is expected.


Activity

Find the phrases in this assignment which limit its scope. Click on them to check.

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Summing up

To sum up how these five steps in analysing a task apply to our climate change example, let’s look at the assignment one last time.


‘Examine the role of human activity in bringing about climate change. Identify some alternative explanations for extreme weather events suggested by climate change ‘deniers’. Are their arguments credible? Refer to two or three current theories put forward by either business or political lobby groups within Australia.’

This essay task is asking you to weigh up conflicting arguments about the causes of climate change. You need to assess the human contribution and consider the merits of arguments promoting other interpretations. Your discussion will evaluate theories currently being put forward by either political or  business  interests.