Understanding the assignment

Read the assignment brief

Some students do not realise that there are different types of assignment, or they may know only essay and report.  For this reason it is very important that you read the brief.  The brief gives an indication of the type of writing expected of you.  It will probably help you further as there may well be a short reading list and a reminder of the learning outcomes (the skills and knowledge you are developing) for the module (a module is a course of study).  Information such as this will indicate what the tutor expects to see in your writing.

Examples taken from various essay briefs:

  1. A 2000 word critique of an article based on a research study.
  2. A 4000 word essay presenting a critical examination of second language acquisition research, drawing implications for classroom practice.
  3. Students will undertake an individual 2500-3000 word paper that is to be divided into two parts:
    Part A is up to1300 words of a non academic nature which offers a professionally informed analysis of the development of marketing thought/practice within a relationship based context.  You need to write in a style suitable for a mass industry audience rather than academic.  Ideally, your paper will contain an element of original thinking that contributes to the knowledge base.
    Part B is a 1700 word academic essay underpinning the themes and issues raised in part A.  Students are expected to use a variety of academic theories and models to ground their thinking in part A.
  4. A 1200 - word essay, written in the third person and appropriately referenced, on the importance of research to health practitioners. The title of this essay is:
    Why do health practitioners need to understand research?”  (70% of marks)
    An 800 - word reflective statement, written in the first person. Your work should demonstrate your ability to reflect on the process of completing the assignment, either in terms of new knowledge, personal growth, or both.  You should demonstrate your ability to transfer this learning to new situations. (30% of marks)

In the above examples, the title has only been given for the undergraduate essay.

All examples give the word count and two of the assignments have 2 parts.  Word counts are more important than some students realise.  You are usually allowed +/- 10%.  You shouldn’t include your bibliography, appendices, or any long indented quotations in the text in the word count.  Tutors may not read anything over the word count and if this happens, you will lose marks.  It is very important you keep to what is required.

The above examples are based on real assignments set at UoB (2009) University of Brighton www.brighton.ac.uk

Read the assessment criteria

How will your writing be assessed?  The module you are studying will have learning outcomes and the assignment is a test to check whether you have met these learning outcomes.  The criteria for the assessment is a list of what you must provide evidence of (in respect of your learning) in your paper, and to pass the assignment, you will need to pass all the criteria.

Here are two examples of assessment criteria:

1.  Your work will be assessed according to your ability to:

  • present a clear and succinct account of the contemporary youth justice issue, including strong rationale for your choice
  • critically evaluate criminological explanations of this issue
  • consider how we might develop a more critical understanding of this issue
  • make recommendations for tackling the issue that demonstrate strong understanding of the concept of justice
  • offer a coherent and well-supported commentary throughout
  • critically reflect upon what you have learned about youth justice from this exercise

2  The paper will be assessed as follows:

  • Evidence of application of theory, current research and knowledge, as well as organisational context in the implementation of policies, procedures, systems and practices - 40%
  • Evidence of critical thinking, evaluation and analysis to include clear understanding of the cross-cultural context - 40%
  • Evidence of skills development in a number of areas e.g. written communication skills, research skills, IT application, data analysis, presentation, referencing - 20%

The above examples are based on real essay criteria at UoB (2009) University of Brighton www.brighton.ac.uk

Read the learning outcomes for the module

At the end of a module of study, you will be expected to have an understanding of that particular area of study.  You will have learnt the theory, as well as a practical skill if your module has a practical aspect to it.  You will have learnt the terminology to be able to communicate your ideas to others in the language expected at this level.

A list of learning outcomes will be in your student handbook and you will be reminded of these alongside the brief to the assignment.  The module assignment checks that you have learnt what is expected for that module.

Two examples of learning outcomes :

1.  Learning Outcomes for BA Performance Art

By the end of the unit the student will be able to:

  • develop and present performance and visual experiments which demonstrate practical investigation and spatial composition through research and making;
  • develop, formulate and articulate verbally and in writing clear intentions and content in a cross disciplinary context;
  • develop, compose, structure and present self generated research process and methods, contextual references and critical reflection through a structured sketchbook or an appropriate agreed equivalent;
  • develop the ability to work with others and contribute to discussion and analysis of peers work within a group forum;
  • develop, formulate and articulate written and visual material in a proposal which outlines content, context and methods while demonstrating an understanding of professional and legal requirements and technical constraints;
  • provide competence in appropriate technical skills.

2.  Learning outcomes for MA Management:

By the end of this module, the student will be able to:

a. Demonstrate development of a systematic understanding, informed by current debates, new developments in knowledge, established theories and students’ own experience, of the following:

  • The dynamic relationships between organisations and their operational contexts.
  • The inter-relationship and interaction between the various functions and disciplines of management
  • The above outcomes will be achieved within an approach which will demonstrate:
  • critical understanding of the ambiguity and unpredictability which characterise the study of organisations;
  • understanding of the constructed and contextual nature of knowledge and the existence of different world views;
  • a standard of communication which meets both the academic criteria for postgraduate study and the expectations of employers.

b. Demonstrate the capability of being a reflective learner through the production of a written reflective account of the module and of the phase.

The above examples are based on real learning outcomes set at UoB (2009) University of Brighton www.brighton.ac.uk

Read the student handbook with regard to the essay

You may be given a student handbook covering all the modules taken for the whole year. You may be given a handbook for each individual module. Whatever you receive in the form of student handbooks, they usually contain vital information about your course and the assignments, and you should take care to understand all the information given in them. Handbooks often include details of the assignments and hand-in dates, as well as the particular referencing system preferred by the department. You will need to refer to your handbook if you have to ask for an extension on your essay for any reason.

Here are two examples of important information found in your student handbook:

Extensions can only be granted:

  1. by your Course Leader;
  2. at least 24 hours before the deadline;
  3. where there are clearly documented and serious circumstances hindering you in your assignment.

You should detail in writing the reasons for your claim for an extension and provide documentary evidence to support it. You can discuss your need for an extension with the Course Leader on the telephone or by e-mail.

Revising and proofreading:

You must follow the Harvard referencing conventions rigorously and set out your bibliography according to these conventions. You should be meticulous about clarity of expression and spelling, as well as the presentation of any data. As most of us are not good at proofreading our own work, you are advised to get someone else to proofread your final version for you. Please note, however, that you should acknowledge that your work has been proofread.

The above examples are based on real handbooks from UoB (2009) University of Brighton www.brighton.ac.uk