Writing an Assignment
What is an Assignment?
Journalists and detectives are asked to take on specific ‘assignments’ as part of their day-to-day work where they investigate an issue or crime and then produce a report for their newspaper or police bosses. Similarly, students are given assignments, by their tutors, as part of their coursework or in preparation for examinations. These assignments are usually in the form of a title question (or hypothesis); a short description (or brief); or task. Students, like journalists and detectives are expected to investigate or research the ‘brief’ set, and to produce a written piece of work.
An assignment, therefore, involves undertaking both the investigation and the piece of writing which provides evidence of that research. An assignment is both process and product. This book concentrates on helping you to develop your skills of researching assignments and concentrates especially on how to produce a good assignment.
VARIOUS TYPES OF ASSIGNMENT
These are some of the forms that assignments can take:
Let’s consider them in turn.
These are probably the most popular form of assignment set by tutors for their students on ‘A’ level to Master’s level courses. Whilst Humanities and Social Science courses are often totally essay-based, some science courses do incorporate other forms of assignment, such as reports (see page 3).
Essays can be set by tutors for both coursework and examination purposes. Many courses are designed so that a percentage (or even 100%) of the overall marks required for the qualification is awarded for successfully completing a number of coursework essays. The length of these essays varies from course to course but is usually between 1,500–5,000 words each. The final examination is also made up of a number of essays to be completed in a given length of time; three to four essays in three hours is fairly usual.
Being able to write a good essay in a limited amount of time is therefore an important skill to develop!
Essay structure – A good essay should incorporate the following structure:
|Essay section||Possible material|
|Introduction||Define any key terms. State what you propose to do in the assignment/your objectives.|
|Main body/development||Your main points/arguments and supporting evidence/examples, in a sensible order.|
|Conclusion||A summary of what you have said/argued/discovered so far. A conclusion about how you have fulfilled your objectives. Any recommendations you can make as a result of your work.|
This form of assignment is becoming more popular in certain courses, eg business and management. Reports have also been used in the writing up of formal research projects in the science area for a long period of time.
A report can be shorter than an essay; it is usually more focused and tightly defined in its structure, using sub-headings suggested by the nature of the research project undertaken.
A report is written to describe and analyse (or assess) what the aims of the project were; what happened and how successful it was in achieving its aims; and to recommend what should happen next.
|Report section||Possible material|
|Introduction/ aims/ objectives||A brief clear statement of the purpose and aims/objectives of the project/activity/investigation|
|The organisational context||A description of the organisational context and of how the project is influenced by the contextual factors.|
|Implementation||The project/investigation itself; steps undertaken; the evidence gathered.|
|Evaluation||Assessing the extent to which the aims of the project were achieved and the evidence used to make this evaluation.|
|Explanation||A discussion of the factors influencing the success of the project/activity/investigation.|
|Conclusion||A critical reflection on the project with recommendations for future practice.|
Report structure – A typical project report structure is provided above.
These are major assignments undertaken towards the end of diploma, first degree, masters and PhD level courses. Dissertations often count for a large percentage of the overall marks awarded by tutors for the final qualification. For PhD, the dissertation is usually the sole written assignment.
|Dissertation section||Key questions|
|Introduction/research Questions/hypothesis||Are the hypothesis or aims clearly stated?|
|Review of literature||Is the review sufficiently extensive? Is the literature reviewed critically?|
|Research design||Is the research methodology adequately justified and is it appropriate?|
|Data collection||Are the issues of validity and reliability considered?|
|Analysis/interpretation||Does the analysis allow the initial aims/research questions to be further explored/redefined?|
|Conclusions/ recommendations||Are the conclusions/recommendations substantiated by the evidence presented? Is there evidence of personal and critical reflection?|
Dissertations can range in length from 8,000 to 25,000 words. The length is stipulated by the examination requirements of the particular course or qualification. For a PhD dissertation, 40,000 to 50,000 words is usual.
Structure of dissertations – The structure of a dissertation is usually fairly tightly laid down by the course requirements. Tutorial support is provided to ensure that the final dissertation meets these requirements. The overall structure of the dissertation has similarities with the research project report described above, although the dissertation has clear chapters or sections, rather than sub-sections or headings.