Use your concept map or plan
Write your assignment using your map or plan to guide you. As you write, you may well get new ideas or think about ideas in slightly different ways. This is fine, but check back to your map or plan to evaluate whether that idea fits well into the plan or the paragraph that you are writing at the time. Consider: In which paragraph does it best fit? How does it link to the ideas you have already discussed?
For every paragraph, think about the main idea that you want to communicate in that paragraph and write a clear topic sentence which tells the reader what you are going to talk about. A main idea is more than a piece of content that you found while you were researching, it is often a point that you want to make about the information that you are discussing. Consider how you are going to discuss that idea (what is the paragraph plan). For example, are you: listing a number of ideas, comparing and contrasting the views of different authors, describing problems and solutions, or describing causes and effects?
Use linking words throughout the paragraph. For example:
- List paragraphs should include words like: similarly, additionally, next, another example, as well, furthermore, another, firstly, secondly, thirdly, finally, and so on.
- Cause and effect paragraphs should include words like: consequently, as a result, therefore, outcomes included, results indicated, and so on.
- Compare and contrast paragraphs should include words like: on the other hand, by contrast, similarly, in a similar way, conversely, alternatively, and so on.
- Problem solution paragraphs should include words like: outcomes included, identified problems included, other concerns were overcome by, and so on.
Some paragraphs can include two plans, for example a list of problems and solutions. While this is fine, it is often clearer to include one plan per paragraph.
Look at your plan or map and decide on the key concepts that link the different sections of your work. Is there an idea that keeps recurring in different sections? This could be a theme that you can use to link ideas between paragraphs. Try using linking words (outlined above) to signal to your reader whether you are talking about similar ideas, whether you are comparing and contrasting, and so on. The direction that your thinking is taking in the essay should be very clear to your reader. Linking words will help you to make this direction obvious.
Different parts of the essay:
While different types of essays have different requirements for different parts of the essay, it is probably worth thinking about some general principles for writing introductions, body paragraphs and conclusions. Always check the type of assignment that you are being asked to produce and consider what would be the most appropriate way to structure that type of writing.
Remember that in most (not all) writing tasks, especially short tasks (1,000 to 2,000 words), you will not write headings such as introduction and conclusion. Never use the heading ‘body’.
Writing an introduction:
Introductions need to provide general information about the topic. Typically they include:
- Background, context or a general orientation to the topic so that the reader has a general understanding of the area you are discussing.
- An outline of issues that will and will not be discussed in the essay (this does not have to be a detailed list of the ideas that you will discuss). An outline should be a general overview of the areas that you will explore.
- A thesis or main idea which is your response to the question.
Here is an example of an introduction:
It is often a good idea to use some of the words from the question in the introduction to indicate that you are on track with the topic. Do not simply recount the question word for word.
Writing the body:
- Each paragraph should make a point which should be linked to your outline and thesis statement.
- The most important consideration in the body paragraphs is the argument that you want to develop in response to the topic. This argument is developed by making and linking points in and between paragraphs.
Try structuring paragraphs like this:
- Topic sentence: open the paragraph by making a point
- Supporting sentences: support the point with references and research
- Conclusive sentence: close the paragraph by linking back to the point you made to open the paragraph and linking this to your thesis statement.
Here is an example of a body paragraph from the essay about education and globalisation:
As you write the body, make sure that you have strong links between the main ideas in each of the paragraphs.
Writing the conclusion:
This is usually structured as follows:
- Describe in general terms the most important points made or the most important linkage of ideas
- Do not include new information, therefore it does not usually contain references
- End with a comment, a resolution, or a suggestion for issues that may be addressed in future research on the topic.
Here is an example conclusion from the essay on education:
Formatting and presenting your assignments
Formatting and presenting your assignment correctly is important because almost all assignments include marks for presentation.
This may include marks for things such as formatting and layout, word count, APA referencing, writing style, grammar and spelling.
Before you start your assignment:
- Check your learning materials, the course page, emails from your lecturer or the assignment question for how it should be presented.
- Read the instructions carefully, and make sure you understand them and follow them exactly.
- If you’re not clear about what’s required email your lecturer. You could phone but it’s better to have a record of the answer.
Some lecturers assume that students will know how to present work of the required standard or quality and don’t give specific instructions. If this is the case, follow the general guidelines below.
General guidelines for electronic submissions
- Most assignments need should be written using MS Word. If you don’t have MS Word go to Office 365 in My Open Polytechnic to download and access your free version.
- Assignments can be submitted one of the following file formats: .doc, .docx, .xls, .xlsx or .rtf.
- Do not submit html files, web pages, CAD files, Visio (.vsd), PowerPoint (.ppt), PDF s (.pdf) or zip files unless these are specifically required for your course.
If you're not sure about the file format required contact your lecturer.
- Use a clear, readable, sans serif font such as Verdana, Calibri, Tahoma or Arial, and be consistent and use the same font throughout.
- Use black text on a white background. Avoid coloured backgrounds or text in a colour other than black unless you have special permission to use them (for example, if you're dyslexic).
- Use 11 or 12 point for the body of your assignment.
- Use 1.5 or double spacing and fairly wide margins. This leaves room for the marker’s comments.
- Leave a blank line between paragraphs.
- If the questions are short, leave a blank line between each question. If they are long, start each question on a new page.
- Left-justify your work (also known as left-aligned). Block-justified (flush left and right) might look tidy, but it’s harder to read as it can result in gaps between words.
- Use bold for headings. Not underlining or italics.
- Essays do not usually require subheadings; reports usually do.
Most assignments require a title page, which should include the following:
- the title and number of the assignment
- the course number and name
- the due date
- your full name and student number.
This information should be centered, starting approximately one third of the way down the page.
- Number all pages except the title page.
- Tables and figures must be numbered and clearly labelled. Table captions are placed above the table, while captions for a figures go below the figure.
- Don't number the items in a reference list.
Headers and footers
Insert a header or footer on each page (except the title page). It should contain:
- your name (last name, first name/s)
- your student number
- the course number
- the assignment number
- the page number.
Include a word count (the number of words in your assignment) at the end of the assignment, before the references and appendices. Your assignment should not more than 10% under or over the prescribed word count. Remember that the title/title page, reference list and appendices are not included in the word count.
Word count calculator - Massey University website (opens in a new window)
The reference list comes at the end of the assignment, and should start on a new page labelled 'References'.
Referencing and avoiding plagiarism
Appendices are used for information that:
- is too long to include in the body of your assignment, or
- supplements or complements the information you are providing.
Start each appendix (if applicable) on a new page. If there's just one appendix label it ‘Appendix’ without a number, but if there are more than one label them Appendix A, Appendix B, etc. In the main text of your assignment, refer to the Appendix by the label, e.g. Appendix A.
Tops and bottoms of pages
Check the top and bottom of your pages to ensure they avoid:
- widows - single lines of text at the top of a page
- orphans - first lines of paragraphs at the bottom of a page
- tombstones - headings or subheadings alone at the bottom of a page
- split lists – lists that are divided between two pages (if possible).
General guidelines for hard copies
Most of the guidelines above also apply to hard copies (printed or hand-written documents). There are also a few additional things to note.
Some courses allow handwritten answers, but make sure you check with your lecturer to make sure this is acceptable. When submitting a handwritten assignment:
- Print or write on white A4 paper on one side only, using a blue or black pen.
- Write legibly – if a marker can’t read what you’ve written, your answer might as well be wrong.
- If you make a mistake, use correction fluid or draw a neat line through the mistake.
- If there are too many mistakes and your work looks messy, rewrite it.
- Use a ruler for tables and graphs.
- Underline headings.
Stapling your assignment
- Staple multi-page assignments in the top left corner only.
- Don’t put your assignment in a plastic folder.
- Attach an 'Assessment Return Sheet' (coversheet) to you assignment. (If you don't have one Contact us).
Submitting your assignments
Types of assignments
What lecturers want in your assignments