Understanding the Assignment Handout

MALS programs of study include courses from various disciplines across the university and require students to write many different types of assignments. Each composition has a specific purpose, and it is crucial that you understand how to approach each one. Usually, your instructor will give you an assignment prompt - a set of guidelines and requirements for the assignment. Prompts can be straightfoward (e.g., "Write a one-page summary of Chapter 5 of your textbook"), but in graduate school they may seem more complex and enigmatic than Frederic Jameson's theories on postmodernism. Asking the following questions for each assignment prompt will help to both ensure you fulfill the requirements of the assignment and protect your sanity.

Good Things To Ask Yourself When Reading The Prompt

After asking yourself these questions, take another good look at the assignment prompt. You might find the number of concepts, issues, and questions you are required to cover to be overwhelming. You might panic over how you are going to address 11 different points in a four-page paper, plus write an introduction and conclusion. Instead of tackling each bullet point on its own, try to approach the prompt more holistically.

Look for connections among the points instead of addressing each one in isolation. You will likely find that you can incorporate several concepts into one section of discussion in your paper. Likewise, look at what points you can adequately address in your introduction and conclusion. Doing so will not only allow you to complete the assignment within the required length, but you might also end up with a stronger paper than you would if you were to try to fragment your paper into a list full of paragraphs.