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Stage 1. Analyze the Writing Assignment


Understanding Your Assignment


So You‘ve Got a Writing Assignment. Now What? (Writing Spaces.org). Chapter in Writing Spaces; Readings on Writing, Volume 1, a peer-reviewed open textbook series on writing. The essay presents practical strategies for interpreting writing assignments, including how to identify important rhetorical elements, how to calculate and respond to common expectations, and how to recognize and discuss specific points of confusion including – What is my instructor evaluating? Do I need an argument? How do I structure my response? 


Understanding Writing Assignments: Reading Prompts (Purdue OWL). Provides resources to help students better understand writing assignments and writing prompts. The webpage also presents an overview of strategies to help with writing assignments and includes three examples of writing assignment prompt analysis (see annotated assignment sheets within the website).

Understanding Assignments Video (The Writing Center at UNC – Chapel Hill). Short video that demonstrates a way to analyze assignment instructions in order to gain a deeper understanding of your assignment.


Be sure to review the Reading Practices for Academic Writing section under the Student Writing menu since actively engaging and interacting with assigned readings is how you understand, analyze, and apply what you have learned to your writing. This is especially true when choosing a topic, carefully arranging and supporting a viewpoint, and developing a thesis.


Pre-Writing Strategies: The following strategies will help you choose a topic, develop an approach to a topic, and deepen your understanding of a topic.


Brainstorming (The Writing Center at UNC – Chapel Hill). This handout discusses techniques that will help you start writing your paper and continue writing during revision.  


Webbing (The Writing Center at UNC – Chapel Hill). This short video discusses the visual webbing technique in generating ideas quickly (5 - 7 minutes).


Idea Map & Idea List (Purdue OWL). Presents a brief discussion of idea maps and idea lists as brainstorming methods.


Freewriting: A Way Around Writer’s Block (University of Richmond Writing Center). Provides an overview of freewriting as a way to get started when you are experiencing writer’s block.


Creating Outlines (University of Richmond Writing Center). Presents a detailed description of several outline techniques to organize and identify ideas.


Stasis Theory (Purdue OWL). Presents a four-question, pre-writing (invention) process to encourage knowledge building.


Selecting a Topic

Choosing and Refining Topics (Colorado State University Writing Studio). Provides an in-depth presentation of topic selection and moving from topic to thesis.   


Choosing a Topic (Air Force Research Institute). The Air Force Research Institute (AFRI) produce this video as part of the Academic Writing for Airman Video Series, which provides a tutorial on determining a topic for your academic writing.


Coming Up with Your Topic (Dartmouth College). Provides a brief overview of informal and formal strategies for invention (pre-writing), techniques to focusing your idea, and a discussion of how to broaden or narrow your topic.


Choosing a Research Topic (Purdue OWL). Provides detailed information about how to choose a research topic.


Purpose & Audience


Defining Your Purpose & Analyzing Your Audience (Air Force Research Institute). Video produced by the Air Force Research Institute (AFRI) as part of the Academic Writing for Airman Video Series. Provides a tutorial of determining the purpose and audience for your academic writing.


Determining Your Audience (Indiana University of Pennsylvania). Lists a number of considerations for writing with your audience in mind, including questions about demographics, prior knowledge, expectations, and level of interest.


How Purpose and Audience Affect the Choice of Topics (Colorado State University, Writing Studio). Discusses how the audience and purpose affect the topic selection.




Developing a Timeline (Air Force Research Institute). Video produced by the Air Force Research Institute (AFRI) as part of the Academic Writing for Airman Video Series. Provides a tutorial on developing a timeline to complete an academic writing assignment.


Assignment Calculator (University of Minnesota Libraries, Center for Writing, & Center for Teaching and Learning Services). An online tool to break down any assignment for any course into manageable steps. Enter today’s date and the due date to generate a series of suggested stages and deadlines.




Exposition Essay (Purdue OWL). Brief summary of the exposition essay.


Argumentative Essay (Purdue OWL). Brief summary of the argumentative essay.


Writing an Essay (Purdue OWL). Describes essay writing and discusses four genres of essays (description, narration, exposition, and argumentation) common to academic writing.


Writing a Research Paper (University of Wisconsin – Madison). Discusses the stages involved in writing a research paper including discovering, narrowing, and focusing a researchable topic; finding, selecting, and reading sources; grouping, sequencing, and documenting information; writing an outline, introduction, body, and conclusion; and revising the final draft.  




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