How to Read an Assignment
Assignments usually ask you to demonstrate that you have immersed yourself in the coursematerial and that you've done some thinking on your own; questions not treated at length in classoften serve as assignments. Fortunately, if you've put the time into getting to know the material, thenyou've almost certainly begun thinking independently. In responding to assignments, keep in mindthe following advice.
Beware of straying. Especially in the draft stage, "discussion"and"analysis" can lead youfrom one intrinsically interesting problem to another, then another, and then ... You may windup following a garden of forking paths and lose your way. To prevent this, stop periodicallywhile drafting your essay and reread the assignment.
Its purposes are likely to become clearer.
Consider the assignment in relation to previous and upcoming assignments.Askyourself what is new about the task you're setting out to do.
Instructors often designassignments to build in complexity. Knowing where an
assignment falls in this progressioncan help you concentrate on the specific, fresh challenges at hand.
Understanding some key words commonly used in assignments also may simplify your task.
Towardthis end, let's take a look at two seemingly impenetrable instructions: "discuss" and
1. Discuss the role of gender in bringing about the French Revolution.
"Discuss" is easy to misunderstand because the word calls to mind the oral/spoken dimension ofcommunication. "Discuss" suggests conversation, which often is casual and undirected. In the contextof an assignment, however, discussion entails fulfilling a defined and organized task: to construct anargument that considers and responds to an ample range of materials. To "discuss," in assignmentlanguage, means to make a broad argument about a set of arguments you have studied. In the caseabove, you can do this by