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Academic Writing


As obvious as it sounds, the first step of any academic assignment is to read the question carefully. By correctly identifying the key words in the question, we can work out what is expected from us. 

Assignment questions will typically use key phrases such as identify, justify or describe. The key words are telling you exactly what kind of answer you should provide. 

Assignment questions feel less intimidating when they are broken down into smaller sections. 


Let’s break down a few key words commonly used in assignment questions to get more of an idea of what they are asking from you. 


Make a detailed examination or investigation into something.


Investigate or examine by argument, give reasons for and against.

Compare and Contrast

Look at the similarities and differences, highlight the main differences.


Make a judgement about the value/importance/worth of something.


Give your opinion about the theories you have covered, back your opinion up with supporting evidence.


“To what extent” - asks you to weigh the evidence for and against something: to state ‘how far’ something is valid.


Give a detailed account. 


Show adequate grounds for decisions or conclusions.

  • Keep your audience in mind as you write - who is going to read it? 

  • Keep sentences short and make sure that your paragraphs are not too long. 

  • Only use quotations if they are relevant and help you to explain the point you are trying to make.

  • Don’t include irrelevant material, no matter how interesting. Stick to the question. When you read back your draft, make sure every point relates to the question and delete if not. 

Writing the Assignment

  • Make sure that you understand what is being asked of you. 

  • Break down the question. 

  • Identify the key areas and topics you need to cover. 

  • Read and take notes in classes. 

  • Carry out follow up reading to aid your understanding of each topic. 

  • Begin to develop arguments with different points of view.

  • Begin to develop your main point. 

  • Return back to the question.  

  • Remember, it doesn’t matter how bad you think your draft is as long as you have written something. You can always come back to it later and starting from a rough draft is always easier than starting from scratch!

  • Organise your notes and arguments. 
    Divide the assignment into smaller sections; eg. Introduction, Point 1, Point 2, Conclusion etc. 
    Work through each section one at a time. 
    Keep note of all of the bibliographic information as you go, organise it later. 

  • Reread and rewrite as many times as you need to!

Note Taking

  • Don’t try to write down everything you hear, you will stress yourself out! Just write down the main points. 

  • Most people have to stop listening to write, so be selective about when you decide to write. 

  • Use diagrams, if appropriate, to aid understanding. 

  • If you are writing your notes by hand, make sure to leave room for further information should your teacher decide to come back to the topic later. If you are typing, you can always fit in more notes together. 

  • Use questions marks to query any information that you don’t understand to show that you should return to that at a later time. 

  • If you have any questions about a topic, write them down so you don’t forget them. If you have the opportunity to ask your teacher then do so, if not you now have a list of questions to look up during your independent research. 

  • Make notes that will aid your understanding and help you to review and revise what you have read.

  • Don’t copy big chunks of text from your book or journal. Read the relevant sections and make a few brief notes in your own words.

  • If you come across a useful quotation, write it down exactly, word-for-word. Mark it as a quotation and take note of all the bibliographical details.

  • Organise your notes as soon as you start taking them. 

  • Start each new lecture with a new page. In the top corner of the page make note of the date, teacher, course and topic. This will make it easy for you to quickly sort through your notes later. 

  • Summarise the main points of each lecture at the end of your notes. File your notes and summaries together with related topics. 

  • Follow up each lecture with additional reading that will help you to clarify points. File your background reading notes with your lecture notes to keep the topics together. 

  • These tips can apply to both written and typed notes. Keeping hand written notes organised in a ring binder can be compared to keeping typed notes in organised folders. 

If you are taking your notes digitally, don’t get distracted by checking your emails, social media or playing games!

If your teacher provides you with example answers to assignment questions, this is a good place to start thinking about how to approach your own assignment. As you read through the example, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How has the assignment been written?

  • What information has been included?

  • How has the author structured their argument?

  • What technical jargon has been used?

  • How much knowledge of the subject does the reader require to understand the writing?

  • Do you understand what has been written?

What can we do to fix it?
  • Get up and move around!

  • Move to a different place to write, a change of scenery can give you a new point of view. 

  • Take a break and come back to your work when you feel refreshed. 

  • Divide your workload into smaller chunks to feel less overwhelmed with it as a whole. 

  • Write down ideas for each section of your assignment as a list and return to it when you feel more comfortable. 

  • Use mind maps, index cards or voice recordings to organise your ideas. 

  • Sometimes it helps to discuss ideas with a friend or relative.

  • Don’t be afraid to write in the wrong order. If you are struggling with one part, move on to something else. 

  • Put together your bibliography or references if you are unable to write any other section of your assignment. 

  • Write up a draft, however bad you think it is. You can rewrite it at a later stage!



Sometimes it is useful to take a few days (if you have the time) before you read your work back with a fresh mindset. It can also be helpful to get someone else to read through it. 

If a friend or relative can understand your work without having studied the subject themselves then you have explained your points clearly. 

It can also be helpful to swap drafts with a classmate to read through as it can be easier to spot mistakes in other’s work than your own. 

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