Writing

HOW TO WRITE A GOOD ASSIGNMENT

You probably know the feeling. You have spent two weeks working on a major assignment, and still there is not a single letter on your computer screen. Do not worry! You are not the only one! Assignment writing puts even the most diligent students to the test.

On the next pages you can find information about the aspects of assignment writing that may cause frustration and which you should know about before you embark on a major written assignment.

The starting point is problem-oriented assignment writing, i.e. an assignment where you must solve or investigate something and use the knowledge acquired in your study.

Enjoy! 

GENRE REQUIREMENTS

WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF A STUDY ASSIGNMENT?

When you start writing a study assignment, it is important that you are aware of the genre requirements. What is the ideal, and what is the best way to present the contents?

It is crucial that all the points and arguments are substantiated by relevant theories and methods. You write within a profession, and your claims must therefore be professionally substantiated.

Your assignment must be transparent, and your reader must never be in doubt about the purpose of your assignment. In other words, what exactly are you going to explore, why is it important and how will you do it?

It is also essential that you work systematically and methodically so that everything you write can be verified and followed by the reader. Furthermore, you must demonstrate knowledge of the latest within your profession and use this knowledge in your assignment.

The assignment must be written in grammatically correct, precise and professional English. Finally, all the formal requirements (page number, layout, etc.) must be met.  
Consider the genre requirements as a guideline that can help you get a grasp on your written assignment, linguistically and methodically. It is all about clear and precise language, the use of the latest knowledge as well as a well-defined purpose.

"MAIN FOCUS AND PURPOSE ARE CLEAR AND ALL CLAIMS HAVE BEEN SUBSTANTIATED"

"THE ARGUMENTS ARE VERIFIABLE AND CLEAR"

"THE WORK IS SYSTEMATIC, THOROUGH AND METHODICAL"

"RELEVANT STATE-OF-THE-ART KNOWLEDGE"

"THE LANGUAGE IS CORRECT AND WELL-DISSEMINATED"

"THE FORMAL REQUIREMENTS HAVE BEEN MET"

Problemformulation

HOW DO I WRITE A GOOD PROBLEM FORMULATION?

A good problem formulation not only helps you meet the requirements of the study programme, it also helps you structure your assignments. In the problem formulation, you ask the question(s) you want to answer in the conclusion, which will have an influence on the way the assignment is structured. It is therefore essential that there is a direct link between the problem formulation, the structure of the assignment and the conclusion.

It is your problem formulation that determines everything you write in your assignment. It guides you during the writing process, and it helps you establish a common thread throughout your assignment.

Your problem formulation must always be based on a specific relevant problem, and it must be possible to resolve the problem based on the theories and methods of your study programme. The problem formulation should preferably be delimited. Rather than try to cover a large area, it should allow for an in-depth study of a particular subject.

When you write the problem formulation, it is a good idea to keep in mind the academic levels that must be present in a study assignment: the explanatory, analysing and evaluative level. An easy way to do this is to use question words such as what (explanatory level), why (analysing level) and how (evaluative level) directly in your problem formulation.

Problem formulation:
What is it that makes it difficult for students to write an assignment? (explanatory level) Why is it difficult? (analysing level) And how can you help them in the process? (evaluative level)

When your problem formulation ensures the presence of all three levels in the assignment, it is easier for you to meet the professional requirements of a study assignment. It is not necessary to use the exact words what, why and how, but the three levels must be implied in the questions.

Your problem formulation may consist of only one key question followed by a few sub-questions that may help you answer the main question. 

Problem formulation:
How to ensure that the building industry in Denmark meets the UN's new climate goals? (main question)

Sub-questions:  

What are the UN’s climate goals and what is the intention behind them? (Explanatory) 
How may the goals change the practice of the building industry? (Analysing and evaluative) 
Why may they be difficult to implement? (Evaluative)

Remember that the wording of the problem formulation can vary from study programme to study programme and from semester to semester. Therefore, it is always important that you ask your teacher/counsellor for advice.

"THE PROBLEM FORMULATION MUST BE RESOLVED BASED ON THE THEORIES AND METHODS OF THE STUDY PROGRAMME"

"THE CONCLUSION PROVIDES ANSWERS TO THE PROBLEM FORMULATION - AND THAT IS IT!"

"THE PROBLEM FORMULATION MUST BE BASED ON A SPECIFIC PROBLEM WITHIN YOUR PROFESSION"

"THE PROBLEM FORMULATION IS DELIMITED (DEPTH RATHER THAN WIDTH)"

"THE PROBLEM FORMULATION SHOULD INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING THREE LEVELS: EXPLANATORY, ANALYSING AND EVALUATIVE"

"ALWAYS ASK YOUR TEACHER FOR ADVICE ABOUT THE PROBLEM FORMULATION"

Outline

HOW DO I MANAGE THE WRITING PROCESS?

There is more than one way to write an assignment. Some plan everything in the smallest detail, while others sit feverishly the night before the deadline writing like crazy. You know best what works for you, but it never hurts to think about how best to plan your writing process.

An outline is one way to get an overview. A good and thoughtful outline can prevent many frustrations during your writing process. Specifically, it is about writing down the parts that you know already from the start must be included in your assignment. 
It is a good idea to write your problem formulation before you make the outline, as it may help you decide which sections and chapters to include in your assignment, i.e. what you need to know to answer your question(s) and in which order.

Try to get an overview of the chapters/sections you already know must be included in the assignment and the theory and methods they will be based on. The outline is a little like a table of contents or a list of ingredients to which sub-topics are added little by little. Alternatively, you may use a mind map to visualise the project and the individual sections.

Even if you choose not to follow the outline to the letter, the actual work with the outline may be quite productive and encourage the writing process. This is especially true if you are writing together with others.

"ALWAYS MAKE AN OUTLINE BEFORE YOU START WORKING ON A MAJOR ASSIGNMENT"

"THINK OF THE OUTLINE AS A LIST OF INGREDIENTS WITH THE THINGS TO BE INCLUDED IN YOUR ASSIGNMENT"

"A GOOD OUTLINE SUPPORTS AND ENCOURAGES GROUP WORK"

Structure

WHICH PARTS SHOULD BE INCLUDED IN THE ASSIGNMENT?

The good study assignment has a clear structure, and the reader will easily be able to see the connection between the problem formulation, the individual sections, and the conclusion. A good structure supports your reasoning and the consistency and quality of the assignment. Therefore, it is essential that you familiarise yourself with the structural requirements for the assignment.

Ask your teacher about the structure and formal requirements, and find more information in your curriculum, which includes information about the structure of the assignment, i.e. which parts to include in the assignment, and which formal requirements must be met.

The structure of the assignment depends on the study programme, subject and semester, but a typical assignment structure may look like this:

  1. Front page and title 
  2. Table of contents 
  3. Introduction / problem formulation 
  4. Explanation of theory and method, etc. 
  5. Analysis of the defined problem by means of the theories and methods described 
  6. Discussion 
  7. Conclusion 
  8. Bibliography 
  9. Appendices

Explanatory section 
Descriptive information gives the reader a presentation of the material that forms the basis for your assignment. For example, a review of the method and theory you have chosen.  However, descriptive information may also answer any questions from the problem formulation of a more explanatory nature. For example: What are the UN’s new climate goals and what is the intention behind them? Or: What is Industry 4.0? 

Analysis 

The analytical part is a key part of any major assignment. Whereas descriptive information includes a representation of already known knowledge, the analytical part is where you, in principle, produce new knowledge. Here, you collect, process, analyse and interpret data based on the theories and methods you have chosen for the assignment.

A good analysis examines what was written in the problem formulation and does not move away from the overall focus of the assignment. 

Discussion 
In the discussion it is important that you manage to assess and discuss the results that you have come up with in your analysis. A good discussion will be critical and reflect on the results of the analysis and the methods used, as well as comment on strengths and weaknesses of your choice of methods. In addition, a discussion will also include the way the results of the analysis should be understood and whether they may be used in other or broader contexts.

Conclusion 
In the conclusion, you answer the question(s) of your problem formulation. And that is it! It is a repetition of the key points of your assignment, and a direct answer to your problem formulation. Therefore, you are not allowed to introduce new things or discussions in the conclusion.

"ENSURE THAT THERE IS A CLEAR STRUCTURE"

"FIND INFO ON STRUCTURE AND FORMAL REQUIREMENTS IN YOUR CURRICULUM"

ACADEMIC LANGUAGE

THE LANGUAGE OF A STUDY ASSIGNMENT

When you write a study assignment, the language must be of the right level of formality, and the content must be clearly formulated. It is no good if you use spoken language, for example, or an informal style similar to that of emails or text messages. The language must be factual and precise, and you must, of course, demonstrate that you can apply the key concepts of your profession.

Some words are good at demonstrating an academic approach:

Analyse, argue, justify, vary, investigate, define, discuss, assess, select.

Stay away from words that are emotional and subjective (personal):

Agitate, review, expect, feel, believe, entertain, postulate, experience, confess.

Unfortunately, some students tend to use passive constructions (where the sender is left out) and obscure language – in the belief that it sounds more academic. However, it often confuses the reader as it is difficult to follow the reasoning and purpose of the assignment.

Take a look at this passive sentence:

The productivity of the machine is tested, and the results are passed on.

Here, you do not know who is investigating the machine's productivity or who is receiving the results. Instead, try to make the language more active and concrete:

The operator tests the productivity of the machine and forwards the results to the manufacturer.

In this sentence, it is quite clear who does the testing and who receives the results.

Besides being professional and precise, the assignment must not appear personal or have a personal tone. But does this mean that you cannot write “I” in a study assignment? Not necessarily.

You may use “I” when you are taking a position on the assignment's defined problem. For example, you may use “I” about the choices you have made, the way you have chosen to structure your assignment, or when you are discussing your results:

Here are some examples: “I have chosen to use questionnaires to uncover the preferences of my target group.” or:

“To answer my problem formulation, I will start by accounting for the main concepts within social media marketing and then (...)”

However, it is important that you do not use “I” in connection with think, believe or similar expressions.

Here are some examples: “I think teenagers spend too much time on social media.” Or: “I think it is strange that teenagers should spend so much time on social media.”

If you are in doubt, it is always a good idea to ask your teacher what s/he prefers.

"USE PROFESSIONAL CONCEPTS AND AVOID SPOKEN LANGUAGE"

"AVOID UNNECESSARY PERSONAL REMARKS"

"BE SPECIFIC AND ACCURATE"

THE COMMON THREAD

HOW DO I ESTABLISH A COMMON THREAD IN MY ASSIGNMENT?

Your assignment must be seen as a whole, with a logical connection between the different sections and chapters. In other words: There must be a common thread.

There are several things you can do to establish a common thread. First of all, it is about your assignment having a targeted focus and a natural progression. You should never leave your reader in any doubt as to why s/he should read a specific section, or how this section should help answer the problem formulation. The sections must cohere, and the progression must be logical to the reader.

A good way to do this is to use so-called meta text. In short, meta text is text about the text. That is, text that describes what the text is about and what it is used for.

Meta text is often used at the beginning and at the end of a section. At the beginning of the section, meta text sets the frame for the section, i.e. what the section is to be used for, and what content the reader can expect to meet. At the end of the section, meta text is often used to connect the section with the rest of the assignment or to tell the reader what comes next.

Meta text (at the beginning of the section):

“In the following section, I will briefly outline the general concepts of experience economy.” 


Meta text (at the end of the section):

“After having explained the technical construction of green roofs, I will look into the maintenance of the roofs in the following section." 


Meta text (at the beginning of the section):

“To answer the second part of my problem formulation, this section includes a description of what is meant by the concept of outsourcing, and a brief description of the development in Denmark for the past 10 years." 


By means of meta text you create consistency and help your reader on the way. Always remember that your reader is not as well informed as you are. Give him/her a guided and easy-to-follow experience. 

"KEEP FOCUSED THROUGHOUT THE ASSIGNMENT"

"USE META TEXT TO CREATE LOGICAL CONNECTIONS BETWEEN THE SECTIONS OF YOUR ASSIGNMENT"

"TAKE YOUR READER BY THE HAND - EXPLAIN THE ASSIGNMENT STEP BY STEP"

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