Writing for Better Assignments

By ACS Distance Education on November 7, 2022 in Education | comments

Why do Assignments matter?

Assignments provide an opportunity to review and reinforce what you have been studying, and in that way, strengthen your learning. They are also a form of assessment that is valuable not only because they indicate your progress, but also because they provide a place for you to interact with a teacher.

Good assignments use questions that ask the student to connect their learning, drawing on the knowledge from classes, research, experiments, and experience. This connection helps the student cement knowledge, making it easier for them to access and apply their learning to real world situations.

What are assignments are looking for?

Assignments also provide an effective way for the educator to assess a student’s:

  • progress
  • strengths
  • areas in need of improvement.

Design is a key part of this – assignments are carefully designed such that students must:

  • show understanding of the question
  • demonstrate knowledge
  • demonstrate critical thinking and reasoning
  • demonstrate the ability to remain within constraints of question and/or brief.

The student’s ability to do each of these things helps the educator determine not only if the student has met all criteria for passing a module or subject, but also how best they can support and encourage the student. These abilities also translate well to real-world skills, so identifying strengths and weaknesses through assignments is especially helpful in preparing the student for their transition into the workforce.
Depending on the subject, industry, or level, an assignment may also ask the student to demonstrate a measure of creativity or originality.  

Understand the Question

Understanding an assignment question is the first step to completing the work – and vital to success. If the question is misunderstood, all the work that comes after it is much more likely to be misdirected.
Start by analysing the question. This will help you learn what it’s really asking for. This is a very important step both on your learning journey and when out in the real world. If it’s unclear what’s being asked even after you’ve spent time analysing the question, ask for help. At ACS, we always encourage our students to reach out for tutor support – learn how here. 

How to analyse a question:

Read the question through a couple of times. Circle or highlight keywords. Look for verbs like “analyse”, “critique”, “compare and contrast”, and “evaluate”. If some of the words are unfamiliar, look them up; you can usually find examples online. Alternatively, reach out to your school – most education providers have a glossary for assessment terms.

Next, highlight topic keywords. This will help you stay focussed on the question and exactly what it’s asking for


Compare and contrast books aimed for preschoolers (3-5), junior fiction (7-12), and teenagers (13+). Write 500 words with clear notes on similarities and differences. Consider why you think the differences matter.

In this example, we’d highlight:

Compare and contrast

  • Preschoolers
  • Junior fiction
  • Teenagers 
  • Adult learners

You could also highlight the length required, to make sure you stay within the question requirement of 500 words.
Finally, look for keywords that are about you – in this case, “why you think”. This tells you that it’s important to use your own words and opinions. Don’t just reference other people. 

Use this list throughout your work to ensure you’re definitely answering the question. In this case, if you wrote a comparison of books for teenagers and adults, you wouldn’t be answering the question.  

Demonstrating Knowledge

This step, demonstrating knowledge, asks you to connect the dots between the question and your knowledge. Look at your notes, at your list of keywords, and at what you think the question is asking. Next, think about the knowledge you need to access, what you know, what you’re learnt, what you’re learning, and what your experience tells you. 


  • What knowledge do you need to show? 
  • What is the point? 
  • How does it relate to the learning outcome for the lesson or assignment? 
  • How does it relate to the industry?

In the case of our children’s books example, the question is asking the student to demonstrate understanding of key differences in industry demographics, i.e., differences between interests, needs, format, and language use in books for different age groups. It also wants the student to demonstrate that they understand why these differences exist but that there can still be commonalities, i.e., that different age groups are at different stages in development, but that there are still universal themes that work across all age groups, like belonging and home.

Critical thinking and reasoning

Critical thinking and reasoning are the most difficult of any assignment. They ask you, as the student, to move beyond stating what you know and instead apply it to a situation or idea to solve a problem or create something new. This can be quite difficult for many people, especially since the idea of problem solving can sound quite frightening. 

The key to critical thinking and reasoning for an assignment is to look at:

  • The problem presented, e.g., provide an editorial letter for an author with a manuscript that is not properly aimed at the target audience. Include suggestions for adapting the manuscript. 
  • What you know, i.e., your existing knowledge
  • What the question is asking for/looking for.

Look at the connection between these three things – question, knowledge, problem. How does your existing knowledge support the problem? How can you take what you know and use it to create a solution? 
To do this, you need to spend time analysing the problem or scenario carefully. This type of analysis goes beyond analysing the question – it’s about looking at the problem from different angles and thinking about the perspective and needs presented. Analysis goes beyond “what is the problem?”, and asks:

  • Who is the audience in the problem? 
  • Why do they have this problem? 
  • What created this problem?

The why and the what here are essential to formulating a solution; the who makes sure your solution is tailored to the right people, and answers the right problem. Try making a mind map to help explore ideas.

Ability to remain within constraints of question or brief

Another key point for any assignment is to be clear on the constraints of the assignment question and/or brief. If an assignment asks for 500 words, your work should be 500 words. If it asks for 700 words and a table, your work should be 700 words and a table. It is very important to conform to the format and length defined by the question.

The word count for a question also provides a valuable clue, by giving you an idea of the amount of depth expected for the answer. A 200-word answer will be less detailed, less deep, than a 700-word answer. Looking at the word count can help you decide on the most important points and keep focussed on the topic. 

Creativity and originality.

It’s important to know the difference between when to be creative and when to stick to more familiar or traditional ideas. For instance, in a course on landscape design, originality and creativity in assignments is generally encouraged, and these are important aspects of the profession. In a course on soil chemistry, however, creativity and originality in the parameters required for healthy soil is not a negotiable thing – there are standards for the amount of macro and micronutrients in the soil for a reason. 

Different industries have different needs. It’s important to be aware of this, and to remember that some industries have stringent standards and regulations

Write the assignment

Plan, plan, plan

Now that you have an idea of what to do, it’s time to plan an assignment. Use your keywords to create questions, then list information in point form. This will give you a general structure.
Make notes about paying attention to format.


What are some important qualities of books for preschoolers (3-5)?

  • Pictures/illustration
  • Short text, maybe 1000 words or less
  • Sometimes rhyming
  • Simple stories
  • Young characters, or characters roughly the age of the “readers”

What are some important qualities of junior fiction books (7-12)?

  • Fewer pictures, but still some
  • Around 100 pages
  • Usually funny, light-hearted. Lots of jokes.
  • Still mostly simple stories, maybe 1 subplot

What are some things preschool books and junior fiction books have in common?

  • Pictures
  • Simpler stories than books for teens

Some assignments may also benefit from alternative ways to present information, such as tables, graphic organisers, or flow charts. Think about this as you work – is there another way you can demonstrate your knowledge and/or learning? Will this other format make the information clearer to your audience?  

Start Writing Your First Draft

Now you have a general structure, it’s time to start plugging your ideas into sentences and paragraphs. At first, just start writing everything together. Focus on making sure your ideas work. Don’t think too hard about getting everything perfect. Focussing on perfect too early can make it hard to write at all. Keep notes on any sources or references you use.

Clean and Revise

Look over your draft. Look at your sentences. Are any too long? Read them out loud – if you run out of breath, the line is too long! Look at how many ideas are in each sentence. In most cases, more than 2 is too many. (The biggest exception is when you’re making a list.) Start chopping your sentences up.

Now, look at your paragraphs. Right now, they should be written in response to your original questions. Look at the first sentence. Is it a clear statement? Are you using a topic sentence to introduce the main idea? Each of your paragraphs should have an introductory sentence, an explanation of the main idea, any evidence you’re using, and then a linking or conclusion sentence.

  • Topic sentence
  • Explanation
  • Evidence
  • Linking sentence or conclusion

Once you’ve got your paragraphs mostly right, look at the order of the paragraphs. Make sure you have an introduction paragraph and a conclusion. Include a list of sources at the end.


Check your work. Proofread everything, and don’t hesitate to use spell and grammar check. Ensure you’ve included appropriate referencing. If you’re unsure about referencing, there are many websites available to help you with formatting.

Look back over the original question, and check you’ve answered appropriately. This includes looking at your word count. If you’ve been asked to include diagrams, make sure you’ve done so. (Note that you can use diagrams or illustrations, even if you haven’t been asked to.)

Make sure everything is properly formatted and make any necessary changes. Proofread once more, and then you should be good to go!