Skip to Main Content

Explore and refine your topic: Understand the assignment

Understanding the assignment

directive words

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

  • It can be helpful to break down the assignment question into a series of questions.
  • 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.
  • Analyse the task for key topic words – words that identify the topic or issue. 
  • Look for limiting words. These make your task more specific. They limit the scope of your research and writing; set boundaries. 
  • Deconstruct, what do you have to do with the topic? In the example below Discuss is the directive word

Example essay topic

Read the following essay topic

Discuss the factors that contribute to childhood obesity in Australia. You should use at least five academic sources from the last five years.

Which words do you think are particularly important in working out what the topic is about?

Watch the video Starting your assignment (2:20) to see how you can analyse and understand the essay topic.

Exercise: information need

Read the following assignment instruction.

Analyse the economic aspects of a current environmental problem and identify and discuss the two most cited solutions.

1. What is the key topic / subject in this assignment?
2. Which words limit the scope?
3. Which words tell you what action to take?

Start exercise