Understanding the Assignment

If you want to do well on any assignment, you need to understand what your professor expects. Some assignments may require you to conduct specific research or write in a particular way that is new to you. 

For each assignment, therefore, give careful attention to the course syllabus and any additional assignment descriptions provided by the professor. A common reason for poor grades on assignments is that the writer did not read the assignment description carefully. 

Consult your professor about the details of any assignment.Never hesitate to contact the professor directly with any questions. There is no better person to talk to if you want to find out whether you’re on the right track. 

In order to understand your assignment, make sure you do the following:

  • Go to class on the first day. Your professor may spend significant class time discussing the syllabus and expectations for assignments. Resist the temptation to skip out on this introductory material. Instead, use this time to get a clear idea of what will be required.
  • Make notes of specific requirements for writing assignments. Notes recorded on your syllabus will be helpful reminders when you are ready to write. If you have a choice between different types of assignments, make notes as the professor discusses each type. Circle or underline page limits, due dates, formatting requirements, and other important stipulations for easy reference later. If you have ideas for how you will complete the assignment or topics you are interested in, write these down right away.
  • Consider the professor’s purpose in assigning the project. Every writing project is assigned with an educational goal in mind for the student. For instance, the purpose of the introductory apologetics paper is to familiarize students with the transcendental approach. Therefore, your paper should focus less on creative arguments for God’s existence and more on demonstrating the transcendental approach in essay form.
  • Emphasize material or methods the professor emphasizes. Professors repeat things that are important. If you notice that your professor emphasizes a certain aspect of a subject or has particular concerns about how a subject is discussed, your paper should reflect your awareness of these emphases. For instance, if your biblical studies professor emphasizes the difference between Jewish understandings of the Old Testament before Christ and the new understanding of the Scriptures brought by faith in Jesus, your paper should illuminate this distinction. Acknowedging the professor's emphases, however, does not mean that you must always agree with him.
  • Talk to your fellow students. A conversation with your classmate might enhance your understanding of how you will go about completing your assignment. 
  • Review sample papers. Some professors point you to sample papers that typify the kind of work they expect. You may also benefit from reading papers written by students who have taken the class before you and done well. Though this can be time-consuming, it can shed important light on what your professor seeks from you. Also, don't assume that your paper must look exactly like the samples--this assumption will limit your creative and critical thinking. Instead, see the sample papers as possible successful approaches, and then let your own creativity lead you to your unique finished product!
  • Review the "Theological Writing—What to Expect' section of this website. If you think you would benefit from additional help, contact the Center for Theological Writing.


Other "Planning Your Project" topics:

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Time Management

Creating a Writing Schedule

Becoming a Better Writer Home Page

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