by Meg Andersen
With any project or paper, your assignment sheet is your best friend. It’s the roadmap to your success, providing answers to most of the questions you will have about the task at hand. It’s worth learning how to read an assignment sheet effectively—it will save time and energy, and your professor will appreciate not having to answer the same questions over and over again.
One of the best ways to approach an assignment sheet is to look at it as one big checklist. Try this: Take out a pen and a highlighter. First, with the highlighter, find the due dates of the various components of the assignment. Then highlight (in a different color if that’s helpful) the citation style you will be using, the number of sources you will need, and the length. This is all to help you get an overall sense of what the assignment entails.
Next, read through the assignment requirements. These components might include a thesis statement, a certain number of body paragraphs, a counterargument, visual aid, abstract, or title. With a pen, create check boxes in the margin next to every single requirement of the assignment (including the items you highlighted earlier). The left-hand column of your assignment sheet will start to look like a big to-do list. This is less daunting than it sounds, since once you have a checklist in front of you, the assignment may feel much less intimidating. I find it’s easier to tackle the assignment in pieces rather than all at once. Plus, this will be a way for you to double check that you are doing the assignment correctly as you go.
Once your checklist has been prepared, read through the assignment again and scan for instructions you don’t fully understand. If you are confused about an assignment, you will be less likely to want to do it, so ask your questions early. It is okay (and recommended, actually) to ask a professor if you can email her or set up a meeting outside of class to talk about the assignment. Just remember—don’t ask a question that is blatantly answered on the assignment sheet. The assignment sheet was thoughtfully put together to help answer your questions, so be sure to read it thoroughly.
Feeling stuck on an assignment is the worst—don’t hesitate to get the support you need. Visit the CTL (Center for Teaching and Learning) or the tutor café if you need help understanding or just getting started on an assignment. The sooner you understand the task at hand and where to begin, the better you’ll feel!
Meg Andersen is a business administration and global perspectives double major, and she plays on the tennis team.