Tips for approaching your written assignment

Once you’ve prepared and gathered your information, it’s time to write your assignment.

While there are different types of written assignments, most academic writing has a similar structure comprising an introduction, body and conclusion.

We also have pointers for specific types of written assignments such as literature reviews, reports and reflective writing.

If you are seeking feedback on your writing, you can access our free online tutoring service, Smarthinking.

Structure your assignment

An introduction acts as a roadmap to your reader. It helps them to understand where you’re going in your assignment, how you will get there and what they will see along the way.

There are several distinct parts to an introduction:

  • Introduce the topic or subject area, and the most important concepts relevant to answering the question.
  • Indicate the aim or purpose of the assignment
  • Signal how you will present information in the assignment, in order the key points will appear
  • Mention any limits of your assignment. What will you emphasise? Will you be intentionally leaving anything out?
  • Clearly identify your argument or thesis statement. Some useful ways to signal your argument include: ‘This paper argues that…’; This essay contends that…’; ‘It will be argued that…’.

The body is where you make points to support your argument. It consists of paragraphs structured to reflect your critical thinking about the question and the chosen order for presenting your argument.

Each paragraph should have a topic sentence, a body, and a concluding sentence. Start each paragraph with a topic sentence. This is just a sentence that expresses the main idea of the paragraph. The body of the paragraph contains explanations, evidence and examples to support the key point of the paragraph. Supporting evidence is used to justify, explain or develop your argument.

A concluding sentence links the main idea of the paragraph back to your argument and to the assignment topic.

The conclusion is a summary of all the main points discussed in the assignment. It is also where recommendations may be made, your argument is evaluated, or future patterns of change are forecast.

Importantly, your conclusion should:

  • contain no new ideas or information
  • briefly list your key points
  • relate key points directly back to the question or argument.

Writing the perfect assignment

Griffith University student Azaria Bell takes you through how to write the perfect assignment. She talks about writing the first draft, staying on track and the importance of editing your work.

LITERATURE REVIEWS

You may be required to write a literature review as part of your university studies.

Literature reviews can be used alone or in research projects, reports, articles and theses.

They are a way of bringing together, analysing and evaluating a range of sources in relation to a particular topic or research question.

Follow the below steps to write a literature review.

Steps for writing a literature review

If you have a set research topic, problem, or question to analyse, it is important to take time to clarify what is expected of you before you start researching and writing. If you’re not sure where to start, our preparing for your assignment information can guide you through the process of formulating key questions to focus your research.

If you are developing your own research topic and question, try to:

  • define the general topic area
  • identify the particular problem or issue you are interested in investigating
  • turn the problem into questions. For example, why does this happen? How can we solve this problem? What are the main features of this issue?
  • brainstorm ideas and key points.

Once you have questions to guide your searching, you are ready to start locating relevant literature. To locate relevant research, you will need a search strategy.

A search strategy is a structured organisation of terms used to search an online research tool, such as a library database or catalogue. The search strategy shows how these terms combine in order to retrieve the best results.

Online research tools work in different ways so you need to adapt your search strategy for each one.

To develop a search strategy:

  1. Identify the keywords in your assessment topic.
  2. Identify any related words (use a dictionary, encyclopaedia or provided readings).
  3. Combine your keywords and related words into a search strategy using the terms AND, OR and NOT.

Once you have developed a search strategy, head to the Library Catalogue. The Library Catalogue shows you what is in the library and where you can find items.

You will also need to identify other research tools to help you with your literature review. The Library has databases and other research tools that can be used to find highly specialised information.

In a literature review, you are not simply recounting what each author says about a topic. You need to critically evaluate and discuss the literature, and convince the reader of its relevance to your own work.

To do this, you need to question each item you read to assess its:

  • reliability—are the facts accurate?
  • credibility—is the author an authority?
  • perspective—is there bias or opinion?
  • purpose—does the information inform, explain or persuade?
  • evidence—does the author use facts, examples, statistics, expert testimony?

There are many ways to sort and classify the literature that you are reading. Literature can be classified by:

  • thesis chapters (if applicable)
  • your own categories
  • theoretical perspective (for example, ‘Marxist’, ‘behaviourist’ or ‘post-modernist’)
  • categories in your discipline
  • whether it supports, or conflicts with, your thesis or central argument
  • reliability.

How you organise your review will depend on what information you have gathered and how your discipline arranges them. But, you could organise it this way:

  1. Introduction—including your topic, aim, main ideas, overall plan, limits, and scope.
  2. Body—including your research (where applicable); discussion of evidence, theories, concepts, and relationships between different literatures.
  3. Conclusion—where you bring together the key issues, trends, common threads, major gaps, and/or agreements and disagreements in the literature.

REPORT WRITING

Report writing is an essential skill in many disciplines. You should develop effective report writing skills at university because it’s highly likely you’ll be writing reports in the workplace.

A report is formal written document used to provide concise information on a specific subject. It can be used to communicate the results of an experiment, inform on the progress of a project or to make recommendations.

An effective report is an accurate presentation of information. It should be objective, concise and structured to guide the reader through the main points.

How to write a report

The sections contained in a report will depend on the report type and specific task requirements. It’s your responsibility to find out what to include in your report. A basic report could include the following sections:

  • Title page and acknowledgements. The title page should include the title of the report, who commissioned the report (or for the purposes of university your lecturer, course code, and student number) and the date.
  • Executive summary or abstract. The abstract (or executive summary) provides a summary of the main points of the report. It briefly covers the aims, objectives, research methods and the findings of the report. It also identifies what action is required. Although the abstract is located at the beginning of the report, it is usually written last as it is a summary of the whole report.
  • Table of contents. This shows the structure of the report.
  • Introduction. Capture the reader’s attention. State the aims and objectives of the report, the problem or situation that prompted the report and identify what the report intends to achieve. You should also include definitions, research methods and background history (if relevant).
  • Methodology. The methodology explains what you did and how you did it. It could be the materials used in an experiment, the subjects involved in a survey, or the steps you took in a project.
  • Results or findings. This is where you present the findings from your experiment, survey, or research project.
  • Discussion. This is where the facts or evidence are presented and discussed.
  • Conclusions. Provide implications from the content of the report.
  • Recommendations. Describe a clear course of action. The recommendations should demonstrate your professional competence in a specific situation and be clearly aligned with your conclusions.
  • References. This is where you acknowledge all the sources used in the report. For further information, see the referencing section.
  • Appendices. The Appendices contains additional graphical, statistical or other supplementary material. Each item should be clearly labelled (for example, Appendix 1) and referred to in the report.

REFLECTIVE WRITING

Assignments at university involve a lot more than writing a traditional research essay.

You may be asked to think about, or reflect upon, a situation or event that has occurred and document your feelings and reactions. For example, you may be asked to write a reflective essay on a work placement experience.

Reflective writing requires you to make a link between your experience and the course content. It’s a way of clarifying the relationship between theory and practice.

Taking time to reflect allows you to become more aware of your own values and belief system and any assumptions you may hold to support those.

Steps for reflective writing

This is the easy part. You simply document the facts. What happened? When did it happen? How did it happen?

Let’s say you had to write a reflective essay on a work placement experience. You would have to document what tasks you completed and when. Did you have to update the company website on your first day? How did you go about it? How long did it take? Why did it need updating? Record all these details.

Now, tell us what you think about the event or experience. You will need to dig deep and get in touch with your feelings. What emotions did you experience? Do you have any new insights? Can you make a connection with other things you know or concepts in the course? What were the (or your) strengths and weaknesses of the concept, process, event or procedure?

You will need to identify what you have learnt from the experience. Did it change your thinking or shift your values, assumptions, or opinions about the event? What else could you have done in the situation or event? Are there any actions that could have helped or hindered the situation? How will you use this information in the future?

Get writing feedback

Smarthinking is a free online tutoring service available to all Griffith students seeking advice on improving their writing skills.

You can use this service for up to 3 hours per trimester.

You can submit your writing for detailed review, request an appointment or submit questions offline.

A tutor will respond within 24 hours.

You can access Smarthinking via Learning@Griffith.

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Access Smarthinking

  1. Login to Learning@Griffith using your student username and password.
  2. Click on the Organisations tab, at the top right of the screen.
  3. In the Organisation Search box on the left, type 'Smarthinking’ and click Go (see Troubleshooting below).
  4. Hover your mouse cursor over this Organisation ID 'SMARTHINKING', until you see a small arrow appear.
  5. Click the small arrow, and click on the word Enrol in the drop down box.
  6. Check that the details onscreen reflect those of the Organisation you want to enrol in.
  7. Click the Submit button.
  8. Click on the Smarthinking Login link.

Go further

See tips for studying, exams, referencing and more