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Reading and Understanding Your Assignment: Reading Your Assignment

This guide will help you read assignments given to you by your professors so that you understand what they are looking for.

Reading Your Assignment

Watch this video from the University of North Carolina Writing Center to get an overview of what to look for when reading your assignment instructions.

  • Read the whole assignment and take notes while reading to get you started thinking. 
    • Highlight or underline key words such as argue, criticize, define, describe, discuss, evaluate, explain, summarize.
  • Ask yourself these questions as you are reading your assignment:
    • Why did your instructor ask you to complete this assignment?
    • Who is your audience?
    • What evidence do you need to support your ideas?
    • What writing style does your instructor want?
    • What do you absolutely have to include in your assignment?
  • Become familiar with common assignment goals. These can include:
    • Summarizing: A condensed explanation of key features of a text. This may be required in assignments that use the words describe, explain, depict, or illustrate.
    • Analyzing: A personal logical interpretation of the subject; provides new understanding about the subject. This may be required in assignments that ask you to elaborate, examine, discuss, explore, investigate, or determine.
    • Arguing: Taking a stand on a topic and developing your claim to show why your position makes sense. This may be required in assignments that ask you to evaluate, critique, assess, propose, recommend, compare/contrast, or synthesize.
    • Watch this video from the University of Guelph to learn more about action words and assignment goals.
  • Identify the writing requirements and the evaluation criteria.
    • Some instructors provide suggestions for what to include in each paragraph and how to structure the assignment.
    • Look at the grading rubric or evaluation criteria to learn more details about what is expected.