Your assignment should demonstrate your understanding of the topic and address the task comprehensively.
If a piece of work has issues with understanding or content, tutors will often make comments such as:
- "Rambling - stay in touch with the question".
- "Demonstrate your understanding of the question better".
- "Key concepts not clearly identified".
- "Be ruthless with irrelevant material".
What to look for
If you receive this feedback, revisit your work and check that:
- your assignment addresses the task
- you have stayed on topic
- you have analysed and answered the question
- you have demonstrated understanding of the topic
- you have read widely, including material not on your reading list
- you have not over-quoted particular sources.
Addressing the task
Ensuring your assignment addresses the task at-hand may seem obvious, but often there are a range of requirements you need to fulfil and a clear set of expectations.
Your assignment brief and the marking criteria are there for you: follow these carefully to make sure you do not lose marks by going off track.
Before you start writing, analyse the assignment title carefully. What type of assignment is it – an essay, a report, a literature review?
What are you being asked to do – analyse, compare, discuss? Are there specific aspects or viewpoints of the topic you need to address?
Analysing and answering the question
As you plan your work, look at each section of content and make sure it is relevant and clear. Stay on track and don't go off on a tangent; no matter how good your writing is on a different topic, it will not get you marks if it doesn't address the task.
As you edit your work, ask yourself: Have I answered the question? Have I drifted from the main point? Remove anything that that is not relevant to the topic or to your argument.
Demonstrating your understanding of the topic
Read and refer to the recommended readings both to build your understanding of the topic and to show your interpretation of different viewpoints. Look beyond your reading list: find and refer to relevant additional sources to demonstrate deeper knowledge, but make sure these are authoritative, up-to-date and relevant.
Don't over-quote sources, but show that you understand by paraphrasing or summarising them and comment critically on them.
Read your work out loud to make sure it is clear and to the point. Ask yourself: will it make sense to someone else reading it?
Print out this table of tips on understanding and content (PDF).
How to feed it forward
To improve the understanding and content shown in your writing:
- Read the assignment brief really carefully, highlighting the key requirements.
- Check the marking criteria so that you understand where marks will be awarded.
- Analyse the assignment title.
- Make a clear plan for your assignment so that you answer the question and do not go off track.
- Read widely to build your understanding.
- Show your understanding by using evidence from other sources to make your points.
- Paraphrase or summarise other sources, rather than using lots of quotes.