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Planning your assignment

It is important to plan your approach to an assignment. It will ensure that you understand the task, can manage your time, and present a structured and focused argument.

For each assignment you should make time to:

  • interpret your assignment
  • create a schedule
  • plan your answer.

Interpreting your assignment

Start by working out what you are being asked to do and what type of assignment you should produce.

Take time to understand the conventions of each type of assignment. You might be asked to produce a report, an essay, an annotated bibliography or a literature review. This will shape how you will research and write.

The next step is to analyse your question. Are you being asked to discuss, analyse or evaluate something? Instructional verbs in the assignment question will set out how you will approach the task.

You can also download our understanding instructional verbs (PDF) help sheet, which offers a glossary of common words that you will find in your assignments, such as "analyse", "discuss", "compare" and "describe".

Creating a schedule

Planning your schedule before you begin an assignment will help you to ensure you have enough time to complete a high-quality piece of work.

Online calendars such as Apple Calendar or Google Calendar can be easily edited (useful when your plans keep changing) and shared with others (great for organising group meetings). They can be synced to your phone and email to send you reminders.

You could use My Study Life to timetable when you work on your assignments, It can be accessed on your PC and mobile device.

Break down your assignment into manageable tasks and deadlines. As well as planning, these will include:

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This assignment survival kit (produced by the University of Kent) will help you to build a schedule based on the time you have and the type of assignment.

Planning your answer

We would strongly recommend that you plan your answer before you start writing your assignment. This will make the writing process far easier.

A plan will help you to produce a clear, coherent and well-structured assignment, stay focused on answering the question, and stick to the main points that you want to make.

Mind-maps are useful for getting all your ideas onto one page and establishing a sensible structure. Create mind-maps digitally on software such as Mindview (available on most university PCs) or Coggle (available online).

Our tips for planning

  1. Create a plan to help you gather your initial ideas and response to the question.

    Think about:

    • what you already know
    • what sources of information you already have (lectures, seminars, labs, reading etc) and what you still might need to gather
    • what aspects of the topic you might want to cover
    • what different perspectives might there be on this topic.

    Learn more about finding high-quality information for your assignments.

  2. Use a planning technique that suits you.

    Use mind-maps: a visual planning method that helps you to quickly come up with ideas and make connections between those ideas.

    Use linear (list) plans: use headings, subheadings and bullet points to plan your main ideas. This can be useful to plan out your writing paragraph by paragraph.

    You can use a mixture of techniques. Perhaps a visual method when you are gathering initial ideas followed by a more structured plan before you start writing.

  3. Use your plan to create a structure.

    From your plan pick out the most relevant points. If you don't have any evidence to back up your points don't include them.

    Think about what your reader needs to know. Whether you are writing a report, essay or another assignment, don't include too much background material. Ask yourself whether what you are writing answers the question or brief you have been set.

    Consider in what order you need to present the information, arguments or points you want to make.

    Plan in paragraphs, under headings or in sections to help you build a logical structure.