Getting Started

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The first step in completing a writing assignment is to try and understand exactly what’s being asked of you. Consulting your syllabus and class calendar as well as closely reading the assignment sheet will be the first steps in this process. When you get a writing assignment, taking careful notes in class is also crucial. What is this rhetorical situation? Who’s your audience and what’s your purpose? Try to put these in really concrete terms. HINT: your purpose should be a VERB! (an action word!) There might be things on the assignment sheet that the teacher says NOT to do! Pay attention to those, maybe make a separate note somewhere where you’ll see it while you’re writing. Of course, we need to meet the length requirements with writing assignments. Figure out first if the length is in words or in pages. A good rule of thumb is that 250 words=1 page double spaced in proper format. How will you measure the length of your paper while you are writing it?

Genre of Assignment

First, ask yourself, “What kind of writing assignment is this?” Notice what is different or similar from writing assignments you have had in the past. Does the assignment contain words such as: narrative, analysis, research, opinion, position, reflection, argument, or analysis? These are keywords to look out for on assignment sheets. Look for “directive verbs” in the assignment sheet. Those are words that require action on your part. You might need to analyze, assess, compare, contrast, discuss, demonstrate, argue, summarize, or paraphrase. Keep in mind that this isn’t a final list. Every assignment sheet will have different signal words and phrases that provide clues about the occasion for writing and the expectations attached to the call. Each one of the following sections indicates a whole set of expectations and constraints.


Next, think about the topic. Is this an assignment that wants you to write about your experiences, or is this an assignment asking that you write on a topic outside of yourself? If you’re writing on your own experiences, chances are you will be using “I” statements. When you are using “I” statements, you should know that your opinion will be what you base the majority of your paper around. If you are writing a paper on a topic outside of yourself, you will likely not be using “I” statements. Instead, you will be writing in a more impersonal tone. While your opinion could come in at some point in this kind of paper, the majority of the paper will not be based on your own opinions.

Understanding the Assignment within the Context of the Class

Before you begin writing, take a moment to take stock of where the assignment is located within the grand scheme of the class. Is this the first major project? Is it the second? Is this the final project? Often, each paper or smaller writing assignment assigned in a semester is intended to build off of the last. So, if this is your second major paper in the class, it’s valuable to ask yourself how this assignment relates to the last assignment. If the answer to that question seems hard to grasp, you should always feel free to ask your instructor how the assignment relates to previous assignments, and how the assignment relates to the whole class. Additionally, it’s valuable to ask yourself: How much is this assignment worth? Is the assignment divided into parts? If so, how much are each of the parts worth?

Brainstorming and Planning

Writing process link Whether we admit it, recognize it, care for doing it, or not, we all do some kind of brainstorming before writing. It might be as instantaneous as thinking in the moment before you type, but it’s there! Try to pinpoint what tactic works best for you for brainstorming. Maybe go back all the way to high school English class where you were forced to do an outline and make one yourself. Ask yourself what you know about your topic, what you need to find out. Once you have some ideas--whether they’re on paper or in your head, start writing wherever and however is most comfortable for you.

Half Drafts

Making a half-draft can be a great way to see where some early, fast, off-the-cuff writing takes you. You don’t have to do a conclusion, or really come to any good stopping place, but complete about half the required length of the paper. For example, if the full paper needs to be 4 pages, type out two. It might be helpful at this stage to get someone else to read your paper and give you feedback. Some interesting things to step back and take stock of at the halfway point are questions like “Where does it seem like this is going?” “Does your introduction set up for the first few paragraphs?” Also at the halfway point, it’s a good idea to revisit your best friend the assignment sheet and rubric. Make a checklist to keep yourself on track. Make a list of what you still have to do. Maybe ask a peer or a tutor how they think the paper you’ve written measures up to rubric the teacher gave you.

Full Drafts

After a half draft, with whatever feedback or comments you have from the half draft, and the assignment sheet and rubric close by, try to complete a full draft of the paper. First full drafts can be very rough. Don’t let that get you down! You’ve gotten all your ideas out, and now it’s time to revise by getting a (or another) second pair of eyes (University Writing Center/APC, study tables), proofreading (tips etc), re-organizing, or expanding.

Outside resources: So You’ve Got a Writing Assignment. Now What?” from Writing Spaces.