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Succeeding with Writing Assignments

A general guide for writing a paper in any course

Planning The Paper

5 Questions to Help You Plan, Focus, & Develop the Paper

  1. What is the purpose of the assignment?
    • Read the assignment and check the meaning of any words or phrases you don't understand.
    • Underline the clue words: instruction, topic, and limiting words.
      • Instruction words tell you what to do: analyze, argue, discuss, explaincompare.
      • Topic or content words tell you what to write about. What you need to analyze, argue, discuss, explain, compare. 
      • Limiting words narrow down the focus of your topic - it might be a time, place, or aspect of a topic.
    • Other signal words are page limits, due dates, # of sources, paper structure, and reference style.
    • Write down what the assignment is asking you to do? What is the topic you need to develop? Who is the audience you are writing for? What are the criteria you are being graded on?
    • Write down a working thesis or central idea if you have it -  it will change; you are not committed, but it helps focus your next steps.
    • Check-in with your instructor about your working thesis, central idea, research questions
  2. What resources do you need to develop the paper? 
    • Keep in mind the purpose of your assignment and your working thesis (central idea).
      • What do you already know about your central idea? Make lists of big ideas and themes relevant to the topic. They are likely found in your lecture and textbook notes.
      • What information do you need to find out? What sources do you need? Some assignments may require you to interview a person; others require you to report on your observations and findings; others require using secondary sources like books and peer-reviewed journal articles.
      • In general, there are two types of research:
      1. First-hand research includes personal experience, interviews, focus groups, surveys, anecdotes 
      2. Second-hand research includes books, periodicals, journal articles, and websites
  3. Where do you find resources to develop the purpose/topic further?
    • Course materials - check your assignments, Laulima course site, and textbooks for references to websites, books, and articles
    • Recommended readings found in your syllabus
    • UHMC Library - Course Libguide, print books, e-books, and research databases and Research Libguides
    • Check with the UHMC Librarians who can assist with finding key articles and resources.
    •  NOTE: If you are getting your information from the internet, ask yourself questions about the sources you are reading.  
      • What is the purpose of the website/source?
      • Is it a credible source? Why?
      • Is it a reliable source? Why?
      • Evaluate the statements and arguments being made in the source?
  4. How do you approach reading and making notes on sources? 
  •  Use your working thesis and the "What information do you need to find out?" list from step 2  
    • Skim the journal article, chapter, book for the information to answer the questions
      • you will be looking for evidence to support your claim
    • Make a note of examples. Examples help clarify the developing topic and help to support your claim.
    • Make a note of multiple perspectivesThinking about different viewpoints will help you with the developing topic and support your claim.
    • Make a note of data. Statistics and other data derived from peer reviewed studies is important information to capture and supports your claim
    • Use diagrams to organize ideas and show how your significant points relate
      • Sequences - "This is followed by..."
      • Comparison
      • Cause & Effect - "A leads to B because..."
      • Relationships between information - "This is important because of that..."
      • Hierarchy (how things are organized) - "This comes before that..." 
    • Intermix research with your ideas, opinion, and analysis. If you are drawn to using direct quotes when writing, ask yourself questions about the quotes, like What is the significance? How does that compare? What is the effect? or What happens if we do this? Questions help you develop your ideas, add your original thoughts to the paper, and not rely too heavily on direct quotes.​​​​​​​

5. How do you keep track of the resources you are reading?

  • Keep a list of the resources you read with reference/citation information.
    • you can use a google doc or spread sheet or free citation manager like zotero
  • Organize your resources - your materials may be electronic or hard copies
  • Always cite the sources you use in your writing assignments, even if the source is the textbook.
  • Use the reference style that your professor prefers. Common styles include APA, MLA, Chicago
  • Refer to UHMC's Guide on Using Citations and other research libguides

Additional Resources:

Purdue Writing Lab

Common Instruction Words and Their Meanings

Reading Strategies