Assignments: planning and drafting
Tips and resources on planning and drafting your work.
Start with the question: always check that you understand what the assignment is asking you to do. Not fully answering the question is a common reason for assignments not gaining many marks.
Knowing what the question is asking will frame your planning and drafting of your assignment. Try breaking down the question into its separate parts; this will allow you to determine the focus and direction of the question. If unsure approach a member of staff.
Planning the time: part of planning for assignments will always be to ask yourself how long you should devote to this assignment. Do not underestimate the time required to complete an assignment to a high standard. Be sensible about it and plan to work on the assignment steadily; this will allow you time to process all the information while at the same time considering your analysis/argument.
When planning out your time break down a large assignment into more manageable smaller tasks. Remember you may have multiple assignments so spreading out the time and prioritising work will help you manage your assignments.
Take time to think: a big part of masters is thinking! At masters level it is important to take time to think about your subject and your assignments. Always ensure that you set aside time to do this. You can refine your thoughts by bringing them together in one place; perhaps writing them down in an assignment journal/note book or by keeping a space at the end or start of your assignment drafts.
Draft the structure: there are many methods available that you can use to plan the structure of an assignment; it is important to find one that suits you. As before ensure you have analysed and understood the question before you embark on a plan.
You could break it down further into subtopics, headings or questions you want to answer. Use your notes, and sketch out the main ideas and points you think you want to cover. You may want to try mind maps, spider diagrams, concept diagrams or post it notes to organise the structure. Remember a structure is only a guide, it may change as you progress with your assignment.
Once you have a comprehensive plan or structure, go back to the question. Check whether your plan fully answers the question and addresses all the specific issues in it.
You may want to access mindmapping software that can help you organise/think about structure:
Redrafting and refining
At postgraduate level, refining your writing to a high standard is important. Drafts are essential check points where you can review your progress and determine if your assignment is on track. There is no rule for how many drafts you should complete, but if you submit your first draft as your final submitted assignment, you will be unlikely to receive the higher range of marks.
First drafts: For example, your first draft may sketch out your first thoughts, arguments and potential structure, and you may want to review and check these: are you focussed on the right topics? Is your structure and line of thought sensible?
Middle drafts: In middle drafts you may be expanding and refining your ideas. You also may find that as you are writing the direction that your assignment is moving in changes; for example this could be due to your literature research producing new avenues of thought or your lab results turning up unexpected results. You may need to therefore review the focus of your initial question, and review whether your arguments or conclusions are still sensible.
Final draft(s): In your final draft(s) you may be focussed more on ensuring your presentation, spelling and grammar are correct and all your references are included following the appropriate format guidance, etc.
It is a good idea to take draft stops at all the above stages. At a draft stop, you will leave writing for a day or two and come back to it with fresh eyes, you will be better able to spot mistakes, and places where editing down, expanding or rewriting will help improve the piece.
When you look at your work you should look at it as an editor or an examiner would. You will look at your work with an analytical eye, looking for ways to improve. Would a reader find your assignment easy to follow: are your ideas linking, have you signposted on from one section to the next, etc?