UTS Library

Assignment Survival Kit

Enter your assignment dates above to see the suggested dates for each step

Unpacking Assignment Question

Concept map



Stage 1: Understand what you are being asked

  • Ask questions
  • Re-write the question in your own words

Stage 2: Break the question down into meaningful pieces

  • Analyse the task for key words – words that identify the topic or issue. 
  • Try rephrasing the assignment question to ensure that you fully understand it.
  • It can be helpful to break down the assignment question into a series of questions.
  • Use the assessment criteria as a checklist: marks allocated for each criterion gives an indication of how much time should be spent on (and therefore how much to write on) each part of the question, and ensures that no parts of the question are left unanswered.
  • Seek clarification if necessary – discuss the interpretation with your classmates, and ask your lecturer/tutor if unsure.
  • Knowing precisely what content is required will help you make an informed choice on the material you need to read about or research. 
  • Deconstruct, what do you have to do with the topic? In the above example Discuss is the instruction word.

Instruction Words

AnalyseTo examine in very close detail; to identify important points and chief features.
CompareTo show how two or more things are similar; to indicate the relevance or consequences of these similarities.
ContrastTo set two or more items or arguments in opposition so as to draw out differences; to indicate whether the differences are significant. If appropriate, give reasons why one item or argument may be preferable.
Critically evaluateTo weigh arguments for and against something, assessing the strength of the evidence on both sides. Use criteria to guide your assessment of which opinions, theories, models or items are preferable.
DiscussTo write about the most important aspects of (probably including criticism); to give arguments for and against; to consider the implications of.
EvaluateAssess the worth, importance or usefulness of something, using evidence. There will probably be cases to be made both for and against.
ExamineTo look at a subject in depth taking note of the detail and if appropriate, consider the implications.
ExplainTo clearly express why something happens, or why something is the way it is.

Note: see the complete table in Academic Writing Guide Part 1 - Academic Writing



The following 7 videos will introduce you to starting your research. They include finding academic books and articles.

Evaluating Information

Evaluating Information (PowerPoint)
Watch the Evaluating Information playlist below.

Evaluation Quiz

Use information ethically

Plagiarism happens when you use other people’s ideas or images and pretend they are your own. Even if you do it by accident it’s very serious, always make sure you give credit to the sources you use in your essay

Do the tutorial on Avoiding Plagiarism  from UTS:HELPS.


Critical reading 

Now it's time to start reading, keep the following points in mind. In reading an academic text, you need to develop a personal, yet academic and rational response to the text through:

  • developing an understanding of the content, and
  • evaluating and critiquing the text
  1. Before reading, be clear why you are reading the text:
    • How is it relevant?
    • What is the topic? What do you know about it?
    • Who is it written for?
    • Why do you think the text was written?
  2. While reading, ask questions and relate the text to your own experience and other texts you've read.
    • How is the material presented?
    • Whose point of view is presented?
    • Is a particular bias or framework present?
    • Is evidence/argument presented convincingly?
    • Do you agree or disagree with the author? Why?
    • How does this text compare with others you have read on the topic?
  3. After reading, go through your notes – highlight the main ideas and add new ideas as they occur:
    • What is the main idea of the text?
    • What are the secondary or supporting ideas in the text?
    • How does the text relate to your subject/assignment?
    • What are the wider implications for you? For the discipline?
    • What other ways are there of writing about this topic?
    • What other perspectives could you take on this topic?

Adapted from the following source:
Forman, R. n.d., Note-making and critical thinking, UTS: ELSSA Centre, Sydney.


To be an active and critical note-taker, you should be categorising the information, reading critically, relating the arguments to other texts, relating the information to your question, and deciding upon how you will use these notes in the development of your argument as you take the information down; this is what we call 'note-making'.

Note-taking is important because:

  • it provides you with the necessary evidence to inform and develop your argument.
  • it assists you in concentrating on and understanding the information you are reading by helping you to summarise the ideas and arguments in the text.
  • it allows you to focus on the points relevant to your purpose, well-organised notes make the writing process much more efficient.
  • notes developed using an active and critical approach will also allow you to refine your argument before you begin writing.

Method 1: based on the Cornell method. By using this method you are classifying the information as you take the notes, thus preparing your evidence for the final writing stage. Use a Word document or notepad.

Example essay question: 'Imagination is the basis of all mental life'. Discuss.

Bibliographic details:

  P.N. (1997) The Psychology of Imagination.Sydney: Harper & Row.



Comments / Cros-refs

Definition of imagination

"Imagination is defined as that mental faculty which enables to link sensory impressions and thought" p.23

What does this mean?

Perhaps that without imagination the world would appear to be a chaotic  jumble??


"Recourse to 'imagination' in explanations of creative thought betray a type of nostalgia for a bygone romantic age which in fact never existed. There is no function of human understanding which, theoretically, cannot be adequately, and non-mysteriously, accounted for in terms of information processing and retrieval" p.39

This is rubbish!

human understanding is largely impoverished without the contributions of imagination. (see Jones & Brown, 1997, p 115)

Adapted from:
University of Wollongong, Notetaking: Example of Cornell Method, UniLearningL, University of Wollongong, accessed 19 December 2012,   <http://unilearning.uow.edu.au/notetake/note13_egcornell.html>

Method 2: Online options eg Evernote, OneNote and many other apps.

Evernote is free and allows you to store, organise, import pdfs & pictures, scan and import documents and more.

OneNote is part of the Microsoft Office suite.

For further information see Academic Writing - "Academic Writing - Instruction Words 2.1 p.5" & "Academic Writing - Reading 2.2 p.7" in the Academic Writing Guide

Write first draft

Plan structure

Once you have identified the key readings for the essay, make a plan. This includes the introduction, the body - which is a summary of the main arguments - and the conclusion. The following plan is based on the example used in Step 1 about rising divorce rates in Western countries.

Example plan structure


Problem of rising divorce


Explanation 1

Summarise & Evaluate

Explanation 2

Summarise & Evaluate

Explanation 3

Summarise & Evaluate

Implications of explanations.

Implications of Explanation 1

Implications of Explanation 2

Implications of Explanation 3


Which explanation is most helpful?

Annotated Example Essay (PDF)

Writing: Introduction

An introduction contains three elements – a thesis statement, scope, structure. Be brief but include all your main ideas

  • A thesis statement is the specific claim that your essay supports, it is usually at the end of the introduction but it can sometimes be placed at the beginning.
  • The scope makes a general statement about the issue, topic or area under discussion
  • The structure sets out the main structure of the assignment.

Your introduction is your chance to create a good first impression on your reader and tell them what your paper is going to be about. It’s a broad statement of your topic and your argument. It might not be the first thing you write. It may be easier to write your introduction after your first draft when you know and understand your topic better. Your introduction is usually between 10-20% the length of your paper.


Writing: Body

The body of the essay is where you use your evidence and examples to develop your argument and show the evidence of your research and thinking. The bulk of the assignment marks come from the body of the assignment. You will be assessed on the development of your ideas, the relevance of your information, and your discussion of the information. If the assignment question has more than one part, structure the body into sections that deal with each part of the assignment question. Each part of your argument should be introduced with a topic sentence, followed by supporting sentences and a concluding sentence. Your research should be carefully and correctly referenced, both in-text and a complete bibliography.

Writing: Conclusion

Sum up your arguments. Make reference to the key terms of the assignment question. Restate and confirm your thesis. You might suggest recommendations, or point out the significance or implications that follow from your conclusion. There should be no new information in the conclusion. If you have added something not mentioned in the body, check that it is relevant. If so, include it as a paragraph in the body.

For further information see Assignment Types - Essay Writing in the Academic Writing Guide

Editing and proofreading


What kind of assignment is it?
(e.g. essay, research report, case study, reflective journal, law case notes)

  • What is the topic? Can I explain the topic in one statement?
  • What do I have to do? (e.g. discuss, summarise, critically analyse, compare)
  • Do I understand the assessment marking criteria?


  • Does my faculty recommend a particular structure for my assignment?
    Does the introduction provide my thesis statement (main argument) and a summary of what I will discuss?
  • Does the body of my assignment:
    • link together well between sentences and paragraphs?
    • provide clear headings? (Headings are generally used in reports, not in essays)
    • provide clearly structured paragraphs?
  • IS there one main idea for each paragraph?
  • Clear topic sentences (usually the first sentence)
  • Other sentences that support the topic sentence (elaborate, explain, give examples)
  • Does the conclusion of my assignment link back to the topic area/question?
  • Does it summarise what I have said and re-state my thesis statement?


  • Are there enough ideas to answer the question fully? Could anything be added?
  • Are all the ideas relevant to the assignment question?
  • Have I taken a position? Can I justify it with examples and evidence from my reading?
  • Have I demonstrated a critical approach in my writing? (Is this relevant? Is this important? Is this valid?)


  • Are the sources that support my ideas current, relevant and reliable? Are they academic?
    Am I able to use more than one source to support some of my ideas?
  • Are in-text references correctly provided using appropriate referencing style? (e.g. Harvard UTS, APA, Footnote)
  • Is a complete reference list or bibliography provided?
  • Are all the in-text citations included in the reference list?


Why do we reference? Watch the first five videos in the playlist below to gain a better understanding of referencing.


Harvard UTS is the main referencing style used at UTS. Teacher Education uses APA. They are both in-text referencing styles.



In text: (Spence 1986)

In the reference list: Spence, J. & University of Strathclyde 1986, Applied solid mechanics, 2nd edn, Elsevier Applied Science, London

Journal article

In text: (Wagner et al 2011)

In the reference list:" Wagner, C.S., Shehata, S., Henzler, K., Yuan, J. & Wittemann, A. 2011, 'Towards nanoscale composite particles of dual complexity', Journal of Colloid and Interface Science, vol. 366, no. 1, pp. 115-23.


In text: (Department of Immigration 2011)

In the reference list: Department of Immigration 2011, Fact Sheet 1 - Immigration: The Background Part One, Canberra, viewed 5 March 2012, <http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/01backgd.htm>.

For more information go to Referencing

Referencing Software

You can also use referencing software such as Endnote or Refworks to collect, store, organise your references and create bibliographies. See the Endnote and Refworks video tutorials in the referencing playlist above.

Referencing quick quiz

Academic style

  • Have I chosen formal vocabulary? (e.g. lots of = a considerable amount; bad = unfavourable; stay the same = stabilize)
  • Have I used an appropriate academic style?
  • Avoid the use of contractions (e.g. don’t/do not)
  • Avoid over-use of ‘etc.’
  • How certain do I want to be? (e.g. It is certain that…. / It appears certain that… / It is possible that...)
  • Avoid the use of personal language (e.g. Everybody knows… = It is generally accepted… / I think that… = It is likely that...)

Grammar & vocabulary

  • Does my writing make sense when I read it aloud (to someone else)?
  • Have I used any incomplete sentences? (e.g. Because the study is limited.)
  • Have I used correct and consistent verb tenses?
  • Is there subject-verb agreement? (e.g. the studies show/the study shows)
  • Have I used singular/plural forms correctly? (e.g. study/studies)
  • Have I checked word forms? (e.g. study (noun); studied (verb); studying (noun or verb)
  • Have I varied my vocabulary to avoid being repetitive? (e.g. The research shows that… / It also shows…/ It reveals…)


  • Have I checked for typing, spelling and punctuation errors?
  • See the section on "Grammar Punctuation" in the Academic Writing Guide
  • Have I used the correct spacing, margin, font size and other presentation requirements?
  • Has the word limit matched the assignment requirements?

Writing guides and online self-help assistance

See the Assignment Writing Guide

Some faculties have guides to help you with your writing, including:

Need more help?




Grammarly@EDU develops essential writing skills by helping students revise their papers and providing automated instructional feedback.

Grading schema for coursework subjects at UTS





High Distinction


An outstanding performance.  Indicates that the student has demonstrated a high level of understanding across the entire content of the course by means of criticism, logical argument, and interpretation of materials.



A superior performance. Indicates that the student has demonstrated demonstrating a sound grasp of content, together with efficient organisation and selectivity.



A good performance.  Indicates that the student has demonstrated the ability to think analytically, and contextually about the course and its assessment requirements, and to understand/present alternative points of view/perspectives and supporting evidence.



A satisfactory level of performance. Indicates that the student has addressed the assessment requirements of the course and has demonstrated an acceptable understanding of the issues entailed.

Fail (X)


Unsatisfactory performance in a compulsory component of the subject.



Unsatisfactory performance, below the minimum expected level. This grade characterises work which shows a significant lack of understanding of the topic or its context.

Other grades/codes



Grades not submitted.



Results pending

Result pending the completion of a project, clinical practicum or field excursion where the student has not completed assessment task(s) by the end of the teaching period.



Formal supplementary examination to be completed within a designated examination period before a grade can be awarded.




Result withheld. Used to indicate that not all assessment tasks have been assessed.



Granted withdrawal from a subject without academic fail after the due date.



Withdrawn after the due date.

For further Information on assessments see
the Academic Writing Guide - Overview and Assessment - "Why do I need to do assessment tasks"