If the assignment is written out for you on the syllabus or on an assignment sheet, the following procedure should help.
1. Read the assignment more than once.
Highlight or underline key assignment words such as:
Such words tell you what kind of tasks your instructor expects you to perform.
Then highlight all other key technical terms that are course-specific or discipline-specific. Check these words in a good dictionary, even if you think you know what they mean. Some words have multiple meanings and special discipline-related meanings that you may not know.
2. Consider suggestions for topics given by the assignment itself.
Sometimes instructors structure topics or assignments to reflect one possible approach to the paper. Occasionally the assignment will tell you, directly or indirectly, what topics or aspects to consider and in what order. If your assignment does this, use the assignment to make a topic outline for your paper.
3. Consider which concepts or methods the assignment asks you to use.
Are you being asked to argue a point, to compare similarities and differences, or to explore your own reactions to an event, text, or idea? Does the topic ask you to go into depth about some material already covered? Does it ask you to evaluate a theory or model by applying it to a real-world example? Does it ask you to use research?
Essay assignments usually ask you to use the concepts, techniques, and ways of thinking that are featured in the course. Use these to ask yourself questions about the topics. Look also for controversies within the material studied.
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