“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
― Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln’s wise words ring true for all walks of life and none more so than university assignments. Assignments are a key part of the university. Students who learn how to plan an assignment early on in their university career will find their assignments less daunting, easier to write and crucially, more highly graded. Below are some key tips on how you can successfully plan a great assignment.
Read the Question!
This might seem obvious, but not fully understanding the question is a surprisingly common (and totally avoidable) stumbling block for students. Make sure you understand exactly what is being asked of you and if you aren’t 100% sure, seek clarification from your peers or your tutor. Try breaking the question down to ensure you cover everything asked.
Reading widely is absolutely key for a successful assignment. It will be obvious to any marker if the student has not read key texts. By limiting your reading, you immediately limit your essay. You don’t have to read every article or textbook before writing your assignment plan, you may well discover some along the way. The footnotes and bibliographies of the earlier articles and textbooks you do read are a great source of further reading.
When you do your reading, it is essential that you make notes.
Top tip: when making notes on an article or book always include the full reference with your notes – this will save you time and stress when you come to your footnotes and bibliography.
Create a Skeleton Plan
A good early technique when creating an assignment plan is to begin with a skeleton of what your final essay may contain. This needn’t be greatly detailed and you may add or drop things from it as you progress with your research and the essay itself, but starting with a basic outline helps to give you early direction and focuses your reading.
Draft, then Redraft
An assignment draft is essential, it gives you the opportunity to see your thoughts and ideas on the page and see if they link together in the way you envisage. Once you have written your first assignment draft, take a break, and then come back with a fresh pair of eyes. This is key for spotting any errors and inconsistencies in the essay. Your second assignment draft should iron out these inconsistencies, make the assignment a coherent whole and leave you with minor refinements before deadline day.
Find what Works for You
While all of the above are solid techniques for assignment planning, every student is different. Some people like doing mind maps, some bullet points; others just jump straight into the writing. It may take some time to discover what works best for you when writing assignments, so don’t be afraid to experiment!
A good assignment plan equals a good assignment. Remember Uncle Abe’s advice; don’t just start hacking at that assignment, give yourself the tools to do the job properly and efficiently.