Tips for surviving the woeful activity of assignment-ing

It’s that time of the semester again, when you receive a barrage of emails from your faculty with big, bright assignment titles for you to diligently attend to. I am not a fan of writing assignments at university, especially ones for my law course, and I am particularly not fond of group assignments.

Luckily, the one I was working on a couple of weeks ago was solely with my best friend, so that made the process much more bearable. Plus, the topic we dealt with was somewhat within my own academic interests. It was a Wednesday, and at what felt like the break of dawn, I was off to meet my friend and assignment-partner at the library. We ended up ditching the (way too busy) library, and settled in a cafeteria. The research we had done separately paid off, because we soon had a semi-structured plan of our assignment. We split the work, thanked God for the blessing that is Google Docs, and will soon be combining our efforts and finalising the actual finished product.

A few days ago I had another essay to write, by myself this time, and the deadline was pretty tight. Attempts at completing this 2000-word essay in one go failed miserably, and it took me 6 whole days to painfully cough up the words. The (minimal) research I had done wasn’t very helpful or inspiring, and merely quoting legal provisions was making me second-guess every point I was making. I managed to sort out my shoddy piece of work on the final day by rehashing the entire thing and following a few of these tips:

  1. Start early. This doesn’t mean you need to have your essay done a month in advance. Simply do a bit of research, go over relevant lecture notes, and maybe thumb through a book or two. Ideally, this is to be done within a day or two after receiving the assignment title.
  1. Formulate a plan. There are many approaches you can take when writing assignments, but one obligatory step is having some sort of structured outline. Type or write out a list of points and fiddle with the order they’ll be in and approximately how many words you’ll devote to each one. With a list addict like myself, this is no problem at all, and I can whip up a plan for anything in no time. However, even if you’re not very accustomed to making lists, simply put down a few rough ideas and start from there.
  1. Have a strong introduction and conclusion, with clearly defined points in between. The introductory and concluding paragraphs of your work are incredibly important. The introduction should clearly convey the focus of the essay as well as explain key concepts, and the conclusion is there to confidently put forward all that you’ve evaluated and to tie up the main arguments. Naturally, the substantial part of the assignment has to be top-notch too. Stick to a structure, give examples, and make use of linking sentences.
  1. Have a thesis which you’re confident about. Be able to sum up your main argument in a sentence or two. Ensure that this can be backed up with as many sources as you can gather.
  1. The final touches can “make or break” an assignment. Proofread your work thoroughly; maybe by asking someone else to look over it. Look for spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and that all footnotes and references are as they should be. Make sure the format of your assignment allows for a well-presented, legible piece of work. Maybe slip your assignment in a sleek folder. Double check any forms your faculty might require you to place at the front of your assignment, and create a cover page clearly indicating your name, ID, course, assignment title and study-unit code.

With a touch of motivation and a good mindset, assignments can be finished relatively painlessly and efficiently. Just don’t let their deadlines creep up on you or you’ll inevitably end up with low grades and ridiculous amounts of stress. Otherwise, you’re geared up to present a stellar assignment. Also, never forget a fundamental part of the assignment-writing process: rewarding yourself with a cookie (or its equivalent) when it’s finally done. You deserve it. Good luck.

(This article originally appeared (in a slightly shortened version) in the sixth edition of The Insiter, Vol. 11.)

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