• Poppy Evans

tackling university assignments.

Let’s face it, they’re a pretty fundamental part of university life, but how do we get on top of them?

woman writing in a notebook | fully grown

For those of us that are returning to uni life, we know the trials of tackling a university assignment. For those that are starting university for the first time, you are yet to experience having ever-impending deadlines. But are they really that different to assignments in college or school?


At a higher education level, assignments are much longer and require a higher quality of information, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.

Whether you are looking to improve your grades, minimise the stress that assignments bring, or just wrap your head around how to address them, here is fully grown’s guide to getting to grips with this year’s assignments.

before you start.

As soon as you get the brief, go home, and dissect it. Highlight key parts, make notes on the marking criteria, and ensure that you are clear on when your deadline is. The purpose of doing this is to ensure that you fully understand the brief and what is expected of you. If you are unsure or have any queries, speak to your lecturer – they are there to support you. By doing this, you have plenty of time to start planning the structure and research that you need to do.


You could even do this before your assignment briefs are given. At the beginning of each semester, I go through each of my module handbooks and make notes on the assignments, these notes will then be stuck in plain view until the work is handed in.


Once you have a clear idea of what is expected from you in an assignment, you can plan a structure. This is a very brief plan and will mostly involve deciding on key themes and talking points. If you are doing an assignment where you can choose questions, this is also when you would start doing further reading surrounding these topics.


research and referencing.

Now you know where your assignment’s heading, you can start researching. It’s best to start as early as possible; the more you know about a subject, the easier it will be to write about it. In addition to finding your own sources, use material that your lecturers give to you, look out for reading lists, and pay attention to the further reading given to you during lectures. I feel that attending lectures and class discussions is part of researching too, as key elements of your assignment are covered and discussed during these sessions.

There are many ways to keep track of research notes and quotes but ensuring that you keep them in an organised system is crucial. To keep track of mine, I use Word or Google Docs. I split this document into three sections: initial research links, useful links to be referenced, and relevant information/quotes.

Below all notes, I include a link to where I found the information. When I am being super organised, I also reference all links for my bibliography. Doing this during the researching stage saves a lot of time further down the line, and as the research process is spread across a long(ish) time, it makes referencing citations feel a lot less gruelling.


Speaking of referencing, I would like to highlight how important it is to do this correctly. In-text referencing is just as, if not more, important than getting the citations right. Not quoting your sources properly results in plagiarism. Referencing will be explained in your lectures, but your lecturers and other students are there if you need any help at all.


Additionally, Cite Them Right is a wonderful website that shows how to reference different sources. It gives guidance on in-text referencing and writing citations. To ensure you’re following the correct referencing style, log in to your university by clicking the ‘Login’ button or by accessing the website through your university’s library sources.


the bulk of it.

Once you have your brief plan and research together, it’s time to make a more detailed plan. This will be the blueprint of your assignment, and will include:

  • A brief plan for your introduction and conclusion

  • What sections to cover and how many to include

  • How to organise these sections

  • Where to use your quotes and sources

I do this on a spider diagram, I find putting pen to paper helps me to make a clear plan. Good planning will create cohesion and flow within your piece of work, as it enables you to recognise where points and paragraphs can be linked.


Whilst writing your piece, keep all research and plans at hand so that you can easily refer to them. Think about your wording and make sure you are using an appropriate language and tone that matches your brief. Be concise in your writing and avoid repeating the same word too many times.


Ensure that there is a clear flow throughout your work and that your key points are easy to understand and well supported. Do not underestimate the importance of using grammar accurately. Your introduction and conclusion should link together and neatly summarise what the assignment is trying to articulate.


It cannot be stressed enough how important proofreading and editing are. Personally, I proofread as I write. Every time I sit down to carry on writing, I will sit and read through my work a couple of times. When I am writing a bigger piece, I will focus on the section I am currently working on, however I will still read it from the beginning at least once. Each time I finish a paragraph or part of the writing, I will read it back.


Constantly checking and re-reading your work means you will pick up on little mistakes.


Proofreading and editing whilst you are still writing means you are not saving it all until the end when you are tired of the assignment and more likely to miss mistakes.


That said, I will still leave time at the end of writing the assignment to proofread and edit my work. This proofreading, on top of the proofreading you have already done, will ensure that you are covering all your bases, likely to have corrected your mistakes and read the piece so many times that it will hopefully be as concise as possible.


feedback.

Doing your assignments in plenty of time before your deadline means that you will have the opportunity to send your work to lecturers for initial feedback. I really noticed the difference in my grades and confidence when I did gain feedback from lecturers, but it is down to you to get the work done ahead of time.


top tips.

  • Ensure you give yourself plenty of time for your assignment – start as soon as it is given to you.

  • Read around the topic as much as possible, the more you know the easier it is to write.

  • Don't be afraid to ask for help. Use your lecturer, speak to them about your work, bounce ideas off them, they are there to help and support you.

  • Do not underestimate the power of planning.

  • Proofread, proofread, proofread!


Whether you are returning to learning or embarking on your new university journey, I hope you all have a fabulous year. Enjoy yourself but stay focused and remember to make new connections with the people around you.


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