Using Prompts to Better Understand Your Writing Assignments

When you are given instructions by your professor for writing assignments, these instructions will contain prompts, which are clues on how to write your assignment. The prompt is also commonly referred to as the assignment statement. There are techniques you can follow that will allow you to better understand the requirements of your writing assignments and ensure that you present your best paper.

Understanding the Assignment

It’s always a good idea to read through your professor’s instructions thoroughly. Read your prompt more than once. If the prompt contains more than one sentence, be sure to read each sentence separately and all the way through. Look for certain verbs in the prompt that will tell you what the assignment asks you to do, such as define, explain, discuss, summarize, or compare. These are common terms used by most professors. Look up any words you don’t know.

Remember to number the sentences in the prompt so that you can cover each sentence with a separate paragraph. Underline the most important phrases or words, such as due date, resource requirements, numbers and lengths of pages, and formatting style. Sometimes there will be certain aspects of your paper that are negotiable, but usually formatting style, the page length and number of pages required are specific requirements that you must adhere to. Always ask your professors about anything that may be confusing about their instructions before you begin any writing assignments.

Formulating Your Ideas

Once you’re sure you understand your assignment, start putting together your ideas for your paper. Put them in a certain order. In the prompt, your professor may have given you many different questions rather than requirements in your assignment. Many of these will not require that you address them, so do not feel compelled to answer them all. However, these questions may suggest a thinking process. Be sure to weigh them carefully, but place your responses in an order that reflects the importance you are going to give them.

It will help to look over your class notes for interesting or even provocative ideas that may lend themselves to the assignment. For instance, if your professor has ever remarked on the lack of discourse on a particular aspect of the assignment, then including it in your assignment may garner a higher grade.

Determine if there is a particular audience for your writing assignment. By doing this you will be better able to select the proper “voice” to use. Finally, ask yourself what is the purpose of this writing assignment? By understanding the purpose you will be better able to select your writing and formatting style.

Of course, accurate citation of your sources will help your reader validate them. Often your professor will penalize your paper if you do not follow the proper formatting guidelines, be they APA, MLA or another. To make sure this does not happen, it’s best to use formatting software to ensure this accuracy. This will also help you cut the time of your editing process, leaving you free to devote time to more substantive tasks.

David Plaut is the founder of Reference Point Software (RPS). RPS offers a complete suite of easy-to-use formatting template products featuring MLA and APA style templates, freeing up time to focus on substance while ensuring formatting accuracy. For more information, log onto http://www.referencepointsoftware.com/ or write to:
info @ referencepointsoftware.com

Reference Point Software is not associated with, endorsed by, or affiliated with the American Psychological Association (APA) or with the Modern Language Association (MLA).

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