Deconstructing the Prompt & Assignment Description

14 Jan

It is the second week of the semester and already the assignments are rolling in! Whether one of your professors has asked you to write a reflection, reading response, or essay, there are a few things that you can do before and during the writing process to ensure that you stay on the write – I mean right – track.

Facing your blank page or blank computer screen can often be one of the most challenging and daunting steps in the writing process. There are two things that you can do to make it easier to get started. First, brainstorming ideas about your overall topic can help tremendously! As discussed in our earlier blog post on Brainstorming Techniques, brainstorming not only helps you come up with details and ideas regarding your topic, but it can also can help you determine the structure and scope of your writing. It can also help you determine what you do and do not know, revealing areas where more research or reflection may be needed.

While brainstorming is incredibly helpful for generating ideas and finding a direction for your writing, there is one other thing that you want to keep in mind as you get started on any writing assignment: the assignment prompt and description. Usually, when students are completing a writing project, the instructor has provided a prompt or description containing details about the assignment and what the student should do to complete the assignment. Often, this is not a simple one-sentence prompt or question, but rather a paragraph or several paragraphs. Anything included in the assignment description provides information for the writer, although it may seem difficult to determine what the professor is getting at.

Before beginning a writing assignment, you want to make sure to deconstruct the assignment prompt and description. You can think about the prompt as doing two things. First, there is undoubtedly something (such as a question or statement) that asks you to take an argument or stance on something.  This shows you what type of writing you should do. For example, a question or statement posing two positions on a topic and asking you to identify with one of the positions indicates that you will want to take an argumenative approach. This is different from a question or statement that asks you to consider what you have learned from a particular reading or class activity, where a more reflective approach is in order. Paying close attention to the guiding statement or question in the prompt helps you to determine what type of writing you need to do – and this can greatly improve the focus and purpose of your writing.

Secondly, any additional material outside of the guiding statement or question is worthy of consideration as well. Any additional information that your instructor provides in the prompt is there to show you what course material (from class meetings or outside readings) that you should tie in, or what points you should make. This lets you know what you want to be sure to include in your writing assignment. For example, a writing assignment may ask you to make an argument on a particular topic in its initial guiding statement or question. In the additional material, though, the instructor may specify chapters or readings that you need to consider or include, or they may provide you with a structure to follow as you write and different points that you want to make as you progress through the assignment. For these reasons, it is incredibly important to consider all of the information in the assignment prompt or description – and not just the guiding statement or question!

If you cannot see a connection between the initial guiding question or statement and the additional material, you are not sure how to address or include everything that you need to, or you just want to make sure you are on the right track, speak with your instructor or visit the Writing Center for assistance! And don’t forget to brainstorm!


3 Responses to “Deconstructing the Prompt & Assignment Description”


  1. The Writing Process: Animated | The Christ College Writing Center - June 5, 2014

    […] Deconstructing the Prompt & Assignment Description […]

  2. Can’t Write This? Visit the Writing Center! | The Christ College Writing Center - October 3, 2014

    […] sure that you have your assignment description handy and make sure you understand […]

  3. Resources for Getting Started | The Christ College Writing Center - March 1, 2016

    […] Deconstructing the Prompt & Assignment Description […]

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