5.3 Understanding the Writing Assignment

Robin Jeffrey; Emilie Zickel; Adam Falik; and Doreen Piano

By closely reading and breaking down the assignment, you are setting yourself up for an easier time of planning and composing the assignment.

Understanding What You Need to Do

First, carefully read the assignment sheet and search for the required page length (or word count), due dates for drafts and the final version, and how to turn in the assignment.

Second, determine the genre of the assignment.

Third, identify core assignment questions you will need to answer.

Fourth, locate the evaluation and grading criteria.


Writing Genre


What, in the broadest sense, are you being asked to do? What writing genre is expected?

  • Analysis—Analysis questions often contain words or phrases like “how,” “in what ways,” “what are some of the…” Analysis asks you to examine small pieces of the larger whole and indicate what their meaning or significance is
  • Synthesis—If you are asked to draw from and connect several different sources, then you will be synthesizing
  • Explanation—Any text in which you merely report (as opposed to attempting to persuade) is going to be an explanation paper. None of your own opinions are being sought. Summaries, annotations, and reports are often explanatory
  • Argument—Any text in which you are attempting to get a reader to accept your claim. Argument is persuasive writing, and it can include things like argument-based research papers or critiques/evaluations of others’ work.


How to Answer the Assignment Questions


Sometimes, a list of prompts or questions may appear with an assignment. It is likely that your instructor will not expect you to answer all of the questions listed. They are simply offering you some ideas so that you can think of your own questions to ask.


  • Circle all assignment questions that you see on the assignment sheet
  • Put a star next to the question that is either the most important OR that you will pursue in creating the assignment


Recognizing Implied Questions


A prompt may not include a clear “how” or “why” question, though one is always implied by the language of the prompt. For example:

“Discuss the effects of the No Child Left Behind Act on special education programs” is asking you to write how the act has affected special education programs.

“Consider the recent rise of autism diagnoses” is asking you to write why the diagnoses of autism are on the rise.


Identifying Writing Requirements


Some instructors offer indications of what certain parts of the essay/composition should contain. Does the assignment offer suggestions or requirements for the Intro paragraph? For the thesis statement? For the structure or content of the body paragraphs or conclusion paragraphs?


Identifying Evaluation Criteria


Many assignments contain a grading rubric or some other indication of evaluation criteria. You can use these criteria to both begin the writing process and to guide your revision and editing process. If you do not see any rubric or evaluation criteria on the assignment sheet—ask!

Recognizing Disciplinary Expectations


Depending on the discipline in which you are writing, different features and formats of your writing may be expected. Always look closely at key terms and vocabulary in the writing assignment, and be sure to note what type of evidence and citation style your instructor expects.


  • Does the essay need to be in MLA, APA, CMS, or another style?
  • Does the professor require any specific submission elements or formats?


Attribution: Robin Jeffrey and Emilie Zickel are the original authors of this section. This page is licensed under a CC-BY NC 4.0 license. It has been further edited and original content added by Dr. Adam Falik and Dr. Doreen Piano for the LOUIS OER Dual Enrollment course development program to create “English Composition II” and has been licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Creative Commons license



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5.3 Understanding the Writing Assignment Copyright © 2022 by Robin Jeffrey; Emilie Zickel; Adam Falik; and Doreen Piano is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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