Understanding Your Assignment

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Understanding the Assignment

Before you do anything else, be sure to understand your assignment!

Read the assignment carefully as soon as you receive it.

Check with your instructor if there is anything about the assignment that you do not understand.

Here are a few other things to consider:



Writing Center

Make an appointment with the Writing Center through the Academic Center for Excellence for help with organizing and writing the assignment.


Context of the Assignment

Think about how your assignment relates to your course and your interests. Refer to your class syllabus for the course description and the assigned readings. When combined with the assignment itself, you may begin to understand the plan, purpose, or approach to the subject matter your instructor has set for you. If you still aren’t sure of the assignment’s goals, ask the instructor.



Although your instructor will read and grade your assignment, typically your instructor is not your audience. Ask your instructor who is the intended audience. Use appropriate evidence and language for that audience.


Technical Details

Ask about details such as font size and style, margins, length of assignment, number of pages/slides, type and number of sources. For a research assignment, you will be told to follow a specific style guide, e.g. MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.


Due Dates

Pay attention! Does the assignment have a single due date or multiple deadlines, e.g. topic selection, bibliography, first draft, and final paper? Failure to adhere to due dates normally results in a lower grade.

What did he say?

Key Terms You Might See

Here are some terms you might see in your assignment, along with explanations and examples.

Information Words ask you to demonstrate your knowledge of the subject.

Examples: Define, Explain, Illustrate, Summarize, Trace, Research


Relation Words ask you to demonstrate how things are connected.

Examples: Compare, Contrast, Apply, Cause, Relate


Interpretation Words ask you to defend ideas of your own about the subject. This requires opinion that is supported by concrete evidence. Remember examples, principles, definitions, or concepts from class or research and use them in your interpretation.

Examples: Assess, Prove, Justify, Evaluate, Respond, Support, Synthesize, Analyze, Argue