Understanding the assignment – Essay Writing

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    Let’s face it, essays are inevitable.

    In case you are thinking the above is an overstatement, maybe you don’t realise how important they are. Essays are widely prevalent in academia, be it assessments, admission essays or scholarships essays, and we have all written essays. But the question is: Were they good?

    You might be an excellent researcher and possess superior writing skills. But, if you didn’t comprehend the question, chances are your write-up will be okay. Okay, but not awesome. Well, mediocrity is a sin and nobody likes to read an ordinary essay. A clear grasp of what is expected out of the assignment will give you an edge on the assessment.

    We will walk you through the most basic step of essay writing, understanding the question.

    Ok, but what’s there to understand?

    Before starting to write your essay, it is imperative to understand its purpose and the learning outcomes it accompanies. Failure in doing so will result in an unfocused essay. Imagine if you write an argumentative essay, where the question actually called for critical evaluation. It is an essay disaster, right?

    Before you start writing, you need to research. And before you start researching, you need to identify the word limit and understand the marking rubric. Following the guidelines and references provided by the professor will help you identify what it needs to be done and how. Evaluate the goal of the assignment because that will help you decide on the efforts and time you need to devote.

    In the above examples, the first question is specific and clearly pinpoints the poets to be focused on, Byron and Keats. It also specifically mentions the aspect of their work that needs to be argued; whether or not they can be seen as second generation romantic poets.

    The second question, however, has a broader scope. The student need not write about the impact of every landscape on every town of the world. The essay can begin with a broader approach and then be narrowed down to one or two key topics.

    Breaking down the question

    In order to understand what the question demands, you should analyse the parts of the questions. These are the keywords that determine the scope of the question and how it needs to be approached.

    • Directive or task words: These refer to the task itself and what should be done, be it analysis, critical evaluation, discussion, etc. Understanding these is the first vital step in the process of writing an essay.
    • Content words: These are the subject matter related words that refer directly to the topic.
    • Limiting words: These words specify the scope of the essay. There can be questions which do not contain any limiting words.

    Look at the below example and find out how to break down your assignment question.

    The tone of the essay is determined by directive words. Let’s have a look at the key directives that can be used and how to approach them. These will enable you to understand how the essay needs to be drafted.

    For instance, to compare and to contrast might sound very similar. But while comparing, emphasis has to be laid on similarities; and contrasting will highlight the differences between the specified phenomena. A clear understanding of what each directive calls for will improve your chances of scoring high on the assignment.

    Once you have understood the requirements of the question, prepare an outline and there you go. Start writing!