Choosing and Refining Topics

Interpreting the Assignment

Steve Reid, English Professor
It's important to circle an assignment's key words and then ask the instructor to clarify what these words mean. Every teacher has a different vocabulary. My students always ask me what I'm looking for when I give an assignment. As a writer, you need to know what the words mean in your field and what they mean to your instructor.

Many times, an assignment sheet or verbal assignment given by an instructor will reveal exactly what you are being asked to do. The first step in reviewing an assignment sheet is to circle key words or verbs, such as "explain," "describe," or "evaluate." Then, once you've identified these words, make sure you understand what your instructor means by them. For example, suppose your instructor asks you to describe the events leading up to World War II. This could mean explain how the events prior to World War II helped bring about the beginning of the war, or list every possible cause you think led to the war, or describe and analyze the events. Inquiring before you start writing can help you determine your writing purpose and the expectations of your intended audience (usually your instructor).

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