The Writing Center RealWriting™ Handouts Decoding Assignment Sheets

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The Writing Center

RealWriting™ Handouts

Decoding Assignment Sheets

There is so much to think about when working on a writing assignment or project for a college class that many students overlook a valuable resource— the assignment sheet handed out by their professor. In these assignment sheets, instructors include important tips on how to do the assignment and what they are looking for. But sometimes the language and organization of the assignment sheets can be difficult to follow. Completing the 5 simple steps on this handout will help you unlock all the secrets your assignment sheets hold.

Step 1: Read It.

Though some assignment sheets may be long, it’s important to be aware of the guidelines and where they are located so you can double check them as you work. As you read, be sure to have a highlighter in hand and highlight sparingly—only mark key words, phrases, and requirements. If you’re not sure what to highlight at this point, step two will help you identify the most important elements of your assignment.

Step 2: Identify the Parts.

(Especially the “main task” section.)

Usually an instructor will include any (or all) of the following sections in an assignment sheet. Locating these parts can help you figure out what sections to focus on at each stage of your assignment.

This could be background on the topic, or reminders discussions/ issues from class.

This is the most important part of your assignment sheet. Typically, assignment sheets will have 1-2 sentences that tell you what you need to do when you write the paper. It is very important that your thesis statement and your paper address this main task in order to stay on topic.

Sometimes professors will give you direct questions to answer, but often this will be written as a command that uses strategic verbs. (Step 3 will give you more tips on finding and understanding these verbs.)

(Step 2 continued…)

  • Additional material to help you plan or brainstorm.

Here you might find some questions or ideas you could use as a starting point as you begin thinking about the assignment. Sometimes this section seems like it’s the main task; it might also present questions or instructions related to the topic. However, this section will typically have more specific suggestions or questions that are developing the main task, and they could be loosely or closely related to each other.

It is not mandatory that you address all these ideas or questions. Instead, your professor included these elements to help you brainstorm and get ideas. You may integrate some or none of them ideas into your paper; it all depends on what you have to say about your topic.

  • Requirements and Style tips.

This is where your instructor might comment on his or her expectations for you writing or presentation.

  • Technical details.

These instructions usually explain format rules and guidelines.

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