Every university course is different and some include assignments where you have to write essays, reports, dissertations, empirical projects, and other things. Through what I have written in my courses, I have gained some experience in what to do and what not to do. They will not always be relevant and these are only my opinions, but below are my 5 top tips that can help with writing an assignment.
1. Reference as you write
My first and biggest time-saving tip is to reference as you write. The first university assignment I ever wrote ended with me late on a Sunday night trying to remember where I got all my quotes from and looking through all of the books I had used. I wasn’t the only one on my course that did that, and not the only one even in my halls flat, so I think this is something that is quite common to do. You have so many ideas when you’re writing, it can be a bit ‘stop-start’ if you keep stopping to add an item to your references list. However, I would really recommend you do. Since that first assignment, as soon as I quote something or use something in what I am writing, I add it to the references list. Not only do I then not have to worry about doing this later on, when there is a recommended number of references to use (most courses have a guide somewhere for how many to use) it can make you feel positive that you are adding to your list. Many times I have had a conversation after an assignment has been handed in that started with “how many references did you use”, so by keeping track of the number from the start, this can help push you to find more to give your assignment some variety.
2. Start early
The second tip I have is to start the assignment early. At the beginning of a term/semester (whatever your institution calls it), you will probably be given dates for assignments that may be ‘week 10’ or some date a couple of months away. They sound like ages away. They are not. I don’t recommend doing the assignment in the first week, especially if it requires you to learn some things through the lectures or course material you will be getting as the weeks go by, but I really recommend not leaving it until the last minute. Some people work at their best under pressure, which I can understand, but I don’t think that pressure is hours before an assignment is due in. This then leads onto my next tip.
My third tip is to plan an assignment in advance. You may not actually be able to write an assignment until nearer the hand in date, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do some reading for it or write parts of it. Reports, for example, contain lots of different sections, which may include literature reviews. In my experience, different sections of reports can be written at different times. If you are doing a write up for a Psychology experiment, for example, you could write about other research that has been carried out in the area before you carry out the experiment. You could also work out what you will say and where you will say it depending on what results you find. Even if you are limited to what you can write weeks in advance, you can always write a plan for managing your time. Working out how much time you will spend on doing each part of what you need to write can help not only with working out what you need to do, but it can also be good for managing stress levels. You may think you only have, say, two weeks, but that is fourteen days you have to use to split up what you need to do.
4. Use different text colours
My fourth tip is something I have started to use when writing assignments over the years that helps me to keep track of what I am writing. I only write something in black when it is final and I won’t change it. I am someone who writes notes on their assignment with what I need to do, which could include instructions for what I need to research, thoughts about what I could write, or a draft of what I am writing that I don’t think is complete yet. I use different colours for these so I can order my thoughts on the page in front of me. Blue could be used for instructions of what I will write, and red could be what I have written but I haven’t decided I’m going to use it. Some people may write their thoughts down on paper, but I like seeing what I’m writing on the page, even if it may not be used in my final copy.
5. Ask questions
My final tip is to keep calm, do your best, and ask questions, especially if you haven’t written a specific type of assignment before. You can only ever do your best, and there are lots of ‘how to’ guides on different areas available to use. The institution you are learning with should also provide guides with information on how to write, especially in terms of referencing. In my experience, there should also be a few opportunities to ask questions to your academic supervisors on the assignments, which could be in a formal time in class that is put aside for questions from the students, or with the ability to ask via email. I know some universities also have forums where students can ask questions and tutors answer them online, so the answers benefit everyone. I don’t think there is ever anything wrong in asking a question – it’s your grade that it affects after all.
So these are my 5 top tips for writing an assignment based on my experience. Are there any tips that you have? Do you agree with mine? Let me know in the comments section.