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Assignments evaluate students’ understanding of the course material. As a result, the questions that assignments consist of are usually related to topics that have not been covered in length in class sessions. The question might arise as to why assignments habitually focus on obscure areas of the course content. The answer is that assignments try to make the student engage in independent thinking and exhibit originality of thought. Students habitually engage in independent thinking when they have taken the time to really get into their course material. Therefore assignments reward those students for having taken the time and the trouble to really get to know the material.
How to read an assignment
It is important that discussion and analysis in an assignment are confined to the scope of the topic. Therefore it is important to reread the topic of the assignment repeatedly while drafting an essay. An analytical frame of mind is required to effectively discuss the topic of an assignment. Several problems have to be taken into consideration in the discussion. As a result it is easy to lose one’s way in deciding where to stop. For this reason, reading the purposes of the assignment repeatedly is important. Also important is to understand where the assignment is located in terms of complexity in relation to previous and upcoming assignments.
Discussing the topic of an essay means constructing an argument out of a broad range of arguments. It goes beyond simply restating the topic of the assignment. A well-constructed discussion presents an original finding based on what is already stated in the assignment and in the course material. The purpose of analysis on the other hand is to develop an overview of the subject material. This involves a critical approach that avoids excessive attention to detail in the reading material and instead develops an overall interpretation.
Further clarification for the topic of the assignment, if required, should be requested from the instructor.
Moving from assignment to topic
The writing of an academic essay is difficult to start because of the writer’s block. However the important thing to keep in mind is that responding to an assignment is in effect entering the conversation on that topic. Experts and scholars have their views on the topic of the assignment and the assignment allows the student to throw his or her own views into the mix. In order to contribute effectively to the conversation, it is important to research the topic of the assignment extensively in order to narrow it down. The importance of conducting research on the topic cannot be overemphasized because responding to an essay requires presentation of an argument on the topic of the assignment.
Therefore, the approach to the assignment has to be well-informed. Research requires sourcing information and this can be done either from primary sources or from secondary sources. Primary sources refer to material that has not been analyzed by someone else. Novels, poems, autobiographies, transcripts of court cases, and data sources such as the census, diaries and congressional records are examples of primary sources. Secondary sources on the other hand refer to books or essays which analyze data or information from another source. This is the basic distinction between primary sources and secondary sources.
The topic of an assignment has to be narrowed down to a high level of specificity if the arguments in favor or against are to be well-constructed. The narrowing down process is facilitated by some steps. The first step is to go through primary sources carefully and to locate passages that are related to the topic of the assignment. It is important to write down why those passages are related to the topic.
The next step is to annotate those passages with ideas and thoughts which must not be censored. The next step is to group the annotations into categories and look for inter-connectedness between the categories.
Finally secondary sources can serve up some counterarguments. In the entire process, all annotations should be cited so that they can be easily located.
Overview of the academic essay
The purpose of an academic essay is to present an original idea in an accessible manner so that others can respond to that idea with counterarguments. The central feature of the academic essay is an idea or motive which is separate from the information that is already present in primary and secondary sources. The academic essay does not just transfer information from one source to another. Rather it sifts through the information that is already there and presents an original idea built on the existing information. A close scrutiny of different sources of information reveals patterns and generates insights which can be blended into an idea of enough originality to spark an interest in the mind of the reader.
The topic of an assignment may not expressly state that a thesis should be presented, yet that is the main purpose of every assignment. The thesis of the essay is the central argument of the essay, supported by a range of facts and figures. The development and presentation of a thesis may be a cause for concern because the perceived need in this respect is expertise. Students might wonder how they are supposed to present an original idea when scholars and experts with a far superior understanding of the topic have already put forward their own arguments.
Yet the requirement inherent in developing the thesis is nothing more than analytical treatment of an original line of thinking developed from a close understanding of the assignment topic. The writer can draw the reader’s attention to the thesis by asking a series of questions or by making a provocative observation inviting the audience to draw their own conclusions from that observation.
The tension of argument exists in an essay because of the fundamental asymmetry in the writer trying to persuade the reader. The writer should treat this tension by making use of critical reasoning in developing the structure of his argument. In developing the structure, the stage should be set by clarifying objectives and the context set within the first two pages. Then evidence in support of the argument should follow a specific logic of presentation. The logic of presentation may be deductive or it may be inductive.
According to the deductive structure, a generalization or assertion is made at the outset and this generalization or assertion is followed by supporting evidence. According to the inductive structure, instances and observations are presented first and then the conclusion is drawn.
There are no hard and fast rules for writing a successful essay. However all successful essays should have evidence of three things: insightfulness, reason and clarity.
Guffey, Mary Ellen. (2004). Essentials of Business Communication. McGraw Hill/Irwin.