In most assignments, the writer is usually required to demonstrate that they have applied themselves to their studies and understood their course materials, and that they have thought things through for themselves. It is commonplace for questions that are not covered in detail in a classroom to be used as writing assignments. Luckily, if you have studied your course materials or devoted time to familiarizing yourself with them, it is likely you have started thinking about them. The following is some sound advice to bear in mind when answering assignment questions:

  • Be careful not to stray from the point. This applies particularly when you are working on the draft since the “analysis” and “discussion” on a topic can take you from one interesting area into different ones. It is possible you will end up digressing in different directions and get “lost.” To ensure this does not happen, you should pause from time to time and read back over what you have written. This should remind you of the purpose of your assignment.
  • Think about your assignment in terms of assignments you have done in the past and ones that are likely to come up in the future. Are there any aspects of this assignment that are new? Assignments are often built so that they become increasingly complex. Therefore, understanding where your assignment fits into this level of progression can help you stay focused on any new or particular challenges you need to address.

The task can also be made easier if you understand some of the key terms and phrases that are often used in assignments. So, to help you in this respect, let us look at these two common instructions: “analyze” and “discuss.”

Analyze two of the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer to include one not covered in class in terms of their literary value and as analogues or sources.

At first glance, the term “analyze” may imply the need to have very advanced or even esoteric skills, possibly of the variety usually possessed by scientists and/or mathematicians. Luckily, it refers to the type of mental application that people use on a daily basis. In an assignment or essay prompt, the term “analyze” signifies two requirements:

  • Firstly, the tales you choose need to be divided by various elements, features, or parts. It can help to begin with an approach that is fairly basic i.e. by examining the works in terms of how they begin, progress, and conclude. If this structural approach appears extremely simple, it can produce quite surprising results upon close examination.

Or you may want to undertake a more complex analysis. You could, for instance, look for and differentiate between different types of humor, raucous jokes, satire, banter, wordplays, and so on in the tales 

  • Secondly, you might want to critically evaluate both tales to arrive at some conclusions on the sources of the tales and where they were derived from i.e. their analogue or source. When writing your assignment, you may want to explore the author’s wider view of his sources, whereby his attitude varies between the strict and the playful. A complex or in-depth analysis of Chaucer’s humor may expose various views of masculinity and femininity between the author and the sources of his literature, or this may involve some significant distinction of a cultural nature.

Discuss how gender played a part in Revolutionary France

It can be easy to misinterpret the term “discuss” because it is commonly associated with the spoken form of communication. Indeed, it implies conversation, which is mostly unguided and casual. However, in terms of a written assignment, discussing something means adhering to a specific and well-defined task. It means building an argument that takes into account and deals with an array of materials. Discussion in respect of an assignment means building a wide-ranging argument about particular materials covered in your studies. This can be done in the following ways:  

  • Examining evidence and identifying any consistencies and/or inconsistencies.
  • Assessing a variety of claims about gender-related causes.
  • Drawing attention to any identified consistencies and inconsistencies and their implications, e.g., those that might suggest gender played a significant or limited role in causing the French Revolution.
  • Questioning the advantages and disadvantages of focusing on gender-related events, icons, and/or symbols.

If the discussion in your essay is weak, it might merely name a few key aspects or symbols of the French Revolution e.g. the excesses of Marie Antoinette, the execution of both she and the King, the yearning for liberty and the cries of “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite!” It might comment separately on how each of these elements are gender-related and therefore carry significant political weight. The thesis in an essay like this would simply restate the assignment’s question rather than being original, e.g., it might say, “gender played a significant or insignificant part in causing the Revolution.”

If the discussion in your essay is to be considered strong, the thesis would do much more than repeat the central question. You might, for instance, test any likenesses or differences in the evidence. It is possible you would even produce some new or surprising evidence from an intriguing text that was only covered briefly in your lectures.  

A Few Final Words of Advice

If you are still feeling confused after reading your assignment’s instructions, you should not be afraid to ask your instructor for clarification. They will probably be happy to explain the prompt or question and/or even give you some sample answers. Understanding what is expected from a particular assignment is a great benefit if or when you find the instructions perplexing. Likewise, if you are thinking about taking an unusual approach, it can help to understand an assignment’s boundaries. In any case, it always helps to circle, underline, or make a list of the parts of an assignment you are not sure about before consulting your tutor or course instructor.

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