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Undergraduate Student Support: Writing an Assignment

This library guide strives to provide e-support for undergraduate students at the NWU.

Steps to Follow when Writing your Assignment

10 steps to writing assignements
  1. Topic analysis
  2. Do required (prescribed) reading
  3. Identify points to discuss & outline preliminary framework
  4. Search for supplementary information
  5. Read/study supplementary information
  6. Take notes
  7. Outline final framework & write draft essay
  8. Edit & proofread
  9. Re-write & include required sections
  10. Check source-list and submit the assignment
Topic analysis

Step 1: Topic analysis

  • Theme, subject, point or focus of the assignment
  • Identify and formulate research question (onion peel - layers)
    • Understand the question (point/focus)
    • What do you know?
    • What do you need to know?
  • What is the scope or extent of paper? (Lecturer's instructions)
  • Identify theme words (words or concepts that reflect the key theme of assignment)
  • Identify action words (verbs in the topic that tells you what to do e.g. analyze, evaluate, examine, discuss, describe, formulate...
  • Identify context words (the specific context to which your paper is limited)
  • Identify exclusion words (ideas that should not be included in the paper)
  • Identify specification words (ideas that should be included).

The success of your literature search will depend on how well you defined your topic (i.e. identified synonyms and alternative spelling of words).


Basic reading

Step 2: Do the required (prescribed) reading

Basic reading:

  • Prescribed: Sources that must be used
  • Recommended: Additional sources to consult

This gives a better idea:

  • of how to plan the structure of essay
  • of gaps to fill with supplementary information sources


Identify points

Step 3: Identify points to discuss & outline the preliminary framework

It might help to answer the following:

  • What do I need to know to write the assignment?
  • What do I already know about the topic?
  • What main points should be included for discussion?
  • What aspects do I need more information on?
  • What types of sources do I need for the required information?

What is your search strategy?  Use mind maps, lists etc. to plan your framework.

Supplementary information


Step 4: Search for supplementary information (literature review)

  • Consider the meaning of each word as well as the context of the assignment.
  • When you have a clear idea of what you need to "get" out of your reading, you are more likely to choose the appropriate text or database.
  • Use national and international information.

Library's catalogue

  • Books
    • Textbooks, handbooks, manuals
  • Reference works
    • Encyclopedias (Summary or background information)
    • Dictionaries (meanings, definitions, translations)
    • Yearbooks, directories, maps, atlases

Online databases

  • Periodicals (peer reviewed journal articles) e.g. OneSearch
  • Newspapers e.g. SA Media
  • Other:
    • Conference proceedings, diaries, reports, theses and dissertations, government publications

A sufficient and inclusive number of information resources

Quality resources:  relevant, current, accurate, reliable, reputable, authoritative

Peer reviewed information

Read/study supplementary information

Step 5: Read/Study supplementary information

Preview:  Start with sources that gives the best overview

  • Select the right text for your purpose
  • Not necessarily the whole text:
    • scan certain areas
    • read others in depth
  • Read widely
  • Do not rely to heavily on two or three sources
  • Question the text

Overview:  Narrow the text down, get a general idea and decide if the article is applicable to your topic.

"Inview":  Read the text carefully, in detail to get a proper understanding of the meaning of the text.  Check facts, connect the dots, check for contradictions, understand the author's interpretations and conclusions.


Take notes

Step 6: Take notes:  Build your discussion of the research topic by collecting information from various sources and integrate them critically into a logical, comprehensive and original paper of your own.

  • Follow a questioning approach
  • Reflect your understanding
  • Report factual information correctly
  • Interpret the meaning of the authors' words accurately
  • Compare information from different sources
  • Formulate your own point of view
  • Substantiate your arguments from sources consulted
  • Critical appraisal of information, point out gaps and shortcomings
  • Include and present your findings & insights in a fresh way
  • "Bulking" - up with non-relevant sources indicates lack of insight
  • Do not plagiarise, acknowledge sources - in-text & source list
Final framework

Step 7: Outline final framework & write draft essay

Components of an assignment:

  • Title or cover page
    • title, course code, surname and full initials, student number and date.
  • Table of contents
  • Introduction
    • What is the essay about (refers to information given to you about the essay)
    • Formulate the intention of the paper by means of a problem statement
    • Problem statement:  What is the problem and how do you intend to solve it?
    • Refer to the title of the assignment
    • Reflect upon the direction your argument will be taking
    • The reader must now have an understanding of the intention and outline of the paper, what the central issue is and how the reader intends to deal with it
    • It states the direction and development of your argument
    • What will you create in your assignment.
    • When the paper is finished, re-read and re-wright the introduction to reflect what you indicated you were going to achieve.
  • Body
    • Divided into sub-sections
    • The introduction leads logically to a number of subsections
    • Information is organized in terms of the nature of the assignment (either chronologically or thematically)
    • Line of argument must follow logically through the paper.
    • In the body you build on your case (no gaps, do not digress from topic).
    • Keep it simple, one fact per sentence.
    • Last sentence in a paragraph must be linked to the first sentence in a new paragraph.
    • The argument and evidence is presented in the body of the paper.
    • The argument section is the logical arrangement of information and includes facts and interpretations, states different points of view or theories to prove or disapprove, confirm or bring into question (involves hard and creative thinking).
    • In the evidence section back up every claim.  If you make a statement ask yourself "how do I know this, can I prove it?".  Always give the source.
  • Conclusion
    • Last paragraph or part of paper
    • It summarizes your own conclusions or re-states conclusions your argument might have reached.
    • In the conclusion you check if you did all you set out to do in the introduction.
    • Here you evaluate the extent to which you solved the problem, proved or disapproved a hypothesis.
    • It is the final logical step in your paper and reflects your understanding of what has been achieved by the assignment.
    • Never introduce new ideas or concepts in the conclusion.
    • Check if your conclusion is relevant to your essay title (otherwise you have digressed from the original topic.
    • Re-read the introduction an make sure the conclusion includes everything you set out to do or promised in the introduction.
  • Source list or bibliography
  • Addendum
  • Other components: declaration forms, appendices etc.

Before you write:

  • Allow yourself enough time
  • Make sure of departmental/lecturer's guidelines and requirements
  • Include all the required components (introduction, body and conclusion)
  • Give attention to technical aspects
  • Name and number figures, tables, diagrams
  • Use Arabic numbering for headings and subheadings
  • Write concisely, correctly and logically
Edit and proofread

Step 8: Edit & Proofread

  • Does the argument make sense?
  • Have you constructed a logical argument?
  • Is what you are saying supported by evidence?
  • Have you referred to the different readings?
  • Are you contradicting yourself?
  • Should you elaborate more on something?
  • Did you leave vital information out?
  • Have you veered off the topic?
  • Have you identified different points of view?
  • Does each paragraph have a purpose that contribute to the argument?
  • Does each paragraph link to those before and after it?
  • Is their a logical flow to the discussion?
  • Have you defined important concepts?
  • Did you discuss rather than summarise?

Step 9: Re-write & include required sections

  1. Type the title page
  2. Include the table of contents
  3. Check source list against text of assignment
  4. Include the addendum
  5. Include other forms such as plagiarism form etc.

Before you submit

  • Feedback or comments (peers, Centre for Academic and Professional Language Practice, etc.):
    • on the logic of writing
    • how well the information is arranged
    • how clear the writing is
Check source list and publish

Step 10: Check source list and submit your assignment

Source list answers: Who, When, What & Where

  • A source list is an alphabetical list according to the first author's name
  • Don't try to impress by including references to sources you did not consult
  • A bibliography is usually compiled for postgraduate theses or dissertations
  • A bibliography (postgraduate) refers to all sources that contributed to your insight
  • For undergraduate students a source list is sufficient
  • All your text references should be supported by a source list at the end of the assignment
  • The source list contains full bibliographic details of the sources you referred to in the text
  • The reader of the assignment should be able to access the sources listed
  • Leave one line open between references
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What is the Purpose of Assignments

Why assignments?

Writing assignments (also referred to as papers or essays)

  • reflects your knowledge of a topic
  • reflects your ability to formulate your thoughts
  • reflects your ability to argue a point
  • allows you to use a variety of resources
  • allows you to collect and reflect on information
  • allows you to expand your knowledge
  • allows you to gain experience in academic writing


Need more help? Try these...



Get Help if you Struggle with Writing Assignments

Language and style of your assignment

  • Did you communicate properly, clearly and coherently?
  • Use a spell checker.
  • There must be a coherent structure with the line of argument flowing logically throughout.
  • Everybody should be able to understand what you are saying - say what you have to say.
  • If you quote a source, elaborate and state why you are using it.
  • Be careful when you translate names of individuals, places and organisations.
  • Instead of having to use too much punctuation – keep it simple, one fact per sentence.  Make sure you put the full stop and exclamation / question marks inside quotation marks.
  • Only use standardised abbreviation.
  • Numbers:  One to ten is written, rest you may use the number.  When you start a sentence with a number, write the number out.  Use numbers if you state time, date measurement or age. 
  • Write in the active voice e.g. The Safety Committee will actively pursue the miscreants NOT the miscreants will be actively pursued by....
  • Never use the personal form in a scientific paper.
  • Do not use an exclamation mark in a scientific paper.
  • No naive phrases such us, “let us have a look at...”
  • Each sentence must contain a verb.
  • Write brief and business-like sentences.
  • No fashionable expressions e.g. “at the end of the day”
  • Use a comma between two verbs.
  • Use double quotation marks.
  • Within a quotation, already in double quotation marks, use single quotation marks.
  • Full stop is outside the quotation marks.