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Keys to Success: Assignment Analysis & Sentence Outline

Key Points in This Thread
  • When a teacher writes an assignment, the teacher has in mind a correct way for students to respond.
  • In this thread you will write a brief outline to show you have understood what the teacher has in mind for this assignment.

Giving Them What They Want

In the Effective Writing Center, here is what we say to some students: "Your paper is well written and interesting. But it doesn't fulfill the assignment. You've done good work, but it's not what your professor is looking for. Let's analyze this assignment closely . . . ."

Now, whose fault is this? Nobody's. Learning how to analyze academic assignments is a skill that requires practice and experience. They call it "education" for a reason--students come to college to learn things. One of the things you learn is how to use the thought patterns of academic disciplines you study before earning that coveted degree.

So in the EWC we recommend that whenever you receive a writing assignment from a professor your first step should be to analyze it--preferably with input from us at the Effective Writing Center. In other words, let us help you break down the assignment and determine what the professor really wants so that you can make a top grade. In some situations like timed essay exams, you must perform this step quickly. But with formal writing assignments like this one, you have the opportunity to:
  • break down the assignment into its required parts
  • check your understanding of the assignment with your professor
  • create an assignment map or outline before you start writing
This practice of planning out a task before starting it--and receiving feedback on that plan--is common practice in the professional workplace. Whether you share the plan with coworkers or a supervisor, your professor or an EWC advisor, the purpose is the same: For everyone to be "on the same page."

The Basic Question 

Here is the basic question that you are trying to answer in this thread or whenever you analyze a writing assignment:

What must my paper contain in order to meet all of my professor's expectations?

Let's say that in another course you received this assignment:

Topic: "The Influence of Television Violence on Children."

What do you think is the overall effect of televised violence on children? Research this question to determine the amount of violence that the average child watches on American television, the concerns of parents and parent groups, what experts in psychology and medicine say about the effects, and what changes, if any, need to be made to safeguard our children.

You might want to limit your definition of a child to a certain age group. At the end of your paper, be sure to give your position on this issue and what actions you would take as a parent.

If you study it closely, you will see that the assignment above provides a clear indication of what your outline must contain:

Preliminary Outline

Title: Effects of Televised Violence on Children

Introduction: Statistics on televised violence and age group for this paper

Body section: Concerns of parents/parent groups

Body section: Studies by experts

Body section: Recommended changes

Conclusion: My views as a parent

Works Cited

See how a preliminary outline can ensure that you understand all assignment requirements before writing? For us at the EWC, it does not matter if your outline is formal or informal. All that matters is that you pre-plan what your paper should contain so that you provide everything the professor is expecting.

Your Assignment:

After reading your teacher's directions closely, write a starter outline and get feedback on it. When writing this outline, focus on the categories of information required in the paper and the examples provided.

The purpose of this outline is to demonstrate that you have an organized way to answer the assigment description with relevant, persuasive points. Here is a short video that shows how to use the sentence outline to get started: