Writing your assignment

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Course: Study Help
Book: Writing your assignment
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Date: Saturday, 1 April 2023, 7:45 AM


The Writing your assignment resource is designed and monitored by Learning Advisers and Academic Librarians at UniSA.

  Interpret your task

Understanding the assignment task is an important first step. If you are not clear about what you are expected to do in your assignment, you could waste a lot of time researching, planning and writing about a topic which is not relevant. In turn, you may receive a poor mark because 'you didn't answer the question'. When you analyse the assignment task carefully, you can identify the specific focus so that you are clear what direction to take with your research and ensure you address all aspects of the assignment.

  Watch the video

  Video length: 2 minutes, 43 seconds

  Key points from the video

  • Always check your task instructions in the early stages, before you start writing.
  • Make sure you understand all parts of the assignment.
  • Your task instructions might explain the structure, formatting and type of assignment.
  • The task instructions are usually in your Course Outline, but check your Course site for more information (e.g. feedback forms, assessment tabs, links & guides).
  • When analysing the assignment task, identify:
    • the content words which show what you have to focus on
    • the instruction words which tell you how to approach the content
    • the limits of the assignment.

  Check your understanding

  Analyse your assignment

Locate the task instructions in your course outline and/or on your course site, and use this activity to analyse your assignment.

  Think about the topic

Once you have interpreted the task, think about the topic before you start your research. Brainstorm what you already know about the topic and what you need to find out by thinking back to your lectures, tutorials, readings or your own personal experience.  You might surprise yourself with what you already know, and you may also identify gaps in your knowledge which can help you start your initial research process.


  Watch the video

  Video length: 2 minutes, 49 seconds

  Key points from the video

  • Brainstorm ideas early to get you actively engaged with the topic and prepare for the research process.
  • Identify what you already know about the topic and what you might need to find out.
  • Consider how many paragraphs (and therefore ideas) you might need to write - keep in mind the word count.
  • Think about which ideas you might focus on and how you would support and develop these ideas. 
  • Use this initial brainstorming session to build the foundations of your assignment plan.

Note: This video uses an essay for an example, but the brainstorming process can apply for any assignment type (e.g. report, reflection, or case study).

  Think about your assignment topic

Using your notes from the Interpret your task section, complete the text boxes in the mindmap below. Enter the main topic of the assignment in the central box, then add ideas you might use to develop it in the surrounding boxes. Once you have entered all your ideas, progress to the next slide where you can export your text.

 Useful resources

  Plan your search

Once you have a good understanding of your topic, you need to plan your search. Taking the time to plan your search will help you search more effectively and find better results. Searching for information is an organic process that takes you down different paths, and sometimes back again, depending on your needs. Your search strategy might change as you find more information and incorporate new keywords, but it’s always useful to start with a solid plan. The process of plan, search, review, and read is one you will often repeat - don’t expect to find all the information you need in one search session. 

  Watch the video

  Video length: 2 minutes, 26 seconds

  Key points from the video

  • Searching for your whole assignment is not very effective
  • Mapping out your search is a good place to start
  • Identify the key concepts in your question or topic
  • You don't need to search for task words
  • Use double quotation marks (" ") to search for two or more words together as a phrase
  • Think about what other words (synonyms and alternative terms) might be used to describe the key concepts
  • You can use acronyms, but you should search for the full terms as well
  • To find fewer results, add different concepts using AND (e.g. rural AND Australia)
  • To find more results, add synonyms or alternative terms, to your search using OR (e.g. "renewable energy" OR solar OR wind)
  • You can change your search as you find more information
  • For more information, read the How to plan your search document

  Get your plan together

There are three steps involved in planning your search: identifying keywords, considering alternative keywords, and connecting your keywords. You can learn more about each step of the process by working through the slides below. The slides also include some quick tips to make your search even more effective.

  Understand types of information

Information comes in many different forms and depending on your assessment requirements, some types of information are more appropriate than others. You may even be asked to use specific types of information, such as peer-reviewed articles. When planning your search, it is important to consider what type of information you will need. Explore the diagram below to discover different types of information.  To find out more about how information is born and how it changes over time, watch this short LinkedIn Learning video.

  Watch the video

  Video length: 2 minutes, 22 seconds

  Key points

  • At university you will be required to use scholarly resources
  • You may also see these resources referred to as ‘academic’, ‘peer-reviewed’, ‘refereed’, or ‘reputable’ resources
  • This can include journal articles, books, book chapters, conference papers, and theses
  • Wikipedia, newspapers, magazines, blogs or personal websites can be useful, but are not considered scholarly
  • Scholarly sources are written by researchers within a subject area, contain references, and are often peer-reviewed (also called ‘refereed’)
  • Peer-reviewed articles are assessed by experts in the field before they are published
  • Many search tools will allow you to limit your results to peer-reviewed articles
  • Scholarly books are written by experts, published by reputable publishers, and contain reference

To find out more about peer-review:

  Analyse the features of a scholarly article

It is important to be able to identify scholarly articles. From the information provided in the video above, identify the essential features of the scholarly article below by clicking on different elements. Scroll down to read more about each feature and check your progress. 

  Plan your own search

Creating your search strategy can be challenging. You might find some steps harder or easier than others, but you can get better at the process by practising. Remember, your search plan can change as you find more information and incorporate new keywords, but it’s always useful to start with a solid plan.

Type your answers to the questions below in the boxes provided. You will be able to export your text on the last slide.

  Start your search

With your search plan complete, you can start searching for relevant readings.  You can use a number of different search tools to help you find information, including the Library catalogue, Library databases, Google Scholar, and web search engines. You are not expected to use every search tool in every assignment – choose the search tool best suited to your needs.  This section will focus on techniques for searching via the Library catalogue.  For more information about how to extend your search by using other search tools such as the Library databases and Google Scholar, visit the Extend your search section.

  Watch the video

  Video length: 2 minutes, 14 seconds

  Key points from the video

  • Knowing where to search is just as important as knowing how to search.
  • Not all search tools will give you access to the same information.
  • Understanding why and when to use different search tools will save you time.
  • The Library catalogue is a good place to search for scholarly material.
  • It provides free access to a variety of resources types across a range of subject areas.
  • Databases help focus your search, have more advanced searching options, and will find resources not available in the Library Catalogue.
  • Google Scholar provides access to a wide range of resources, but not all of it is scholarly. Some types of material are best found using a search engine or a specific website.
  • All resources need to be evaluated before using them.

Explore ideas and start recording your references

The second part of the reading process is to explore key ideas. Your background reading will have helped you to identify some areas that you need to explore further. Also, start recording the information you need for your reference list so that you can find the resources again later. Click on the referencing links below to find out more.

Explore Ideas

  Referencing links

For more information about referencing, have a look at the Integrating references section.



video  Watch the video

stop watch  Video length: 1 minute, 48 seconds

Light bulb  Key points from the video

  • The Library Catalogue has features that will save you time and make searching easier.
  • A simple search is a good place to start.
  • On the results page, look for the suggested databases or subject guides at the top of the results.
  • Use the filters under 'Tweak my Results' to find exactly what you need.
  • An advanced search gives you more sophisticated search options.
  • To get the most out of the Library Catalogue, remember to sign in.
  • Once signed in you can pin different resources and save them to your favourites folder.
  • You can also save a search to return to later and set up email alerts for new resources.
  • The "cite" button will create a citation (or reference) in different referencing styles, but always double check for accuracy.

  Practise using the Library Catalogue

Click on the image below to access a tutorial and practise using the Library Catalogue.

Using the search plan that you made in the Plan your search section, try searching for resources in the Library Catalogue. Experiment with filters to see how you can use these to find what you need faster.

Search the Library catalogue



  Other useful resources

  Select appropriate references

While you are finding references, you need to be thinking about whether they are appropriate to use in your assignment.  All resources need to be evaluated before including them in your assignment – including resources found through the Library Catalogue or databases. You need to think critically about the information you find and decide whether it is suitable for your needs. This section will help you learn to evaluate information and select the most appropriate references to use. 

  Identify key works

You will often need to refer to key authors and theories in your writing, but it can be hard to determine which are specific to your subject area. Hover over the image below to find out more about identifying important work in your discipline area.

  Watch the video

  Video length: 3 minutes, 17 seconds

  Key points

  • Having access to a lot of information can be overwhelming.
  • Evaluating information helps you decide what resources you should use.
  • One technique you can use is the CRAAP test:
    • Currency: How recent is the information? Does it suit your needs?
    • Relevance: Is the information relevant to your assignment?
    • Authority: Who wrote the information? Are they an expert?
    • Accuracy: Is the information accurate? Is it supported by evidence?
    • Purpose: Why was the resource created? Is there any bias?
  • You can use the CRAAP tool to think about these issues when evaluate your resources.

  Identify fake information

We all know that not everything we read online is true, but how do you spot fake information?  Predatory publishers are organisations which appear to be publishers of scholarly or academic resources, but fail to follow scholarly publishing standards like peer review or editorial review.  Fake news is another area to be cautious about. Sometimes news is accidentally reported incorrectly, but other times it is deliberately written to mislead the reader, promote propaganda, damage the credibility of another person or organisation, or to receive financial gain. One way to identify fake news is by identifying sensationalist or clickbait style headlines.  Click on the image below to enlarge the information.

  Evaluate the references you have selected

There are a lot of things to consider when evaluating the resources you find. The activity below will step you through the process of evaluating the resources you find in your studies.

  More information about evaluating resources

  Read, take notes and paraphrase

Once you have found suitable references for your assignment, you can start reading and taking notes. There are different reading strategies you may apply at different stages of the assignment writing process. For instance, you might skim a source first to identify if it is relevant, scan the source to understand its structure, and then critically read specific sections which are relevant to the assignment task.  While reading your sources, it is also important that you take meaningful notes which can help you think about your argument and paraphrase more effectively. This section includes details about practical reading and note-taking strategies to help you in this process.

  Read with purpose

Watch the video (Queensland University of Technology 2018) and click through the topics below for practical reading and note-taking strategies to help you take effective notes for your assignment.

  Video length: 5 minutes, 30 seconds

 Key points from the video

  Useful resources

Take effective notes

The note-taking system you choose to use should be meaningful and helpful.  You should be able to look at your notes and not only understand them, but understand how they relate to your assignment task. Watch the video (Discover Business Degrees 2015) and click through the topics below about common note-taking strategies you could try. 

  Video length: 2 minutes, 6 seconds

 Key points from the video

  Useful resources

  Take notes for your task

You may like to use the Charting Method to start grouping your sources into relevant themes.

  • Click on the purple and white crosses on the example below for more tips about the Charting Method.
  • Download the template to start grouping your readings for your task into key themes.

You may like to use the Cornell Method when reading sources in more detail.

  • Click on the purple and white crosses on the example below for more tips about the Cornell Method.
  • Download the template to start reading and note-taking for your task.

  Create a plan for your assignment

Part of writing an assignment is creating a plan, and in some courses, you may be tasked with creating a plan as part of your assignment.  A plan should build on your original brainstorming session and be informed by your research. A good place to start is the marking criteria. Use the marking criteria, in conjunction with the assessment instructions, to help you with establishing your plan. 

As you are searching, develop the argument you are going to present as early as you can. In this way, you will be more targeted in trying to find information that will assist you with presenting this argument. Check that your argument, and your topic paragraphs, fit with the assessment details and the marking criteria before moving forward. Keep in mind, the plan is a fluid document that may change as you explore your topic further.

  Watch the video

  Video length: 3 minutes, 05 seconds

  Key points from the video

What should an essay plan include?

  • A thesis statement:
    • This is the argument your essay is going to make in response to the assignment question.
  • Possible main points:
    • The main points are going to provide the supporting evidence in answer to the assignment question. Each main point will form one of the body paragraphs.
  • The structure of the essay:
    • For example, an introduction, body and conclusion
  • Evidence of research:
    • Put in your own words the evidence you have sourced and place this under the relevant main point. Ensure you provide an in-text citation with your notes

Note: Although this video focuses on essay planning, a similar process can be applied to other assignment types.  Watch the Report writing and/or Reflective writing videos to help you consider the structure and content of these types of writing when planning for your assignment.

Sample Essay Plans

Here we provide you with a number of example essay plans. Choose the style that suits you best when creating your own. If you are set an assignment task that asks for an essay plan, be sure to check the assignment requirements before creating one.  

As you review this sample essay plan, hover over the underlined text for more information. 

Note: In some browsers you may need to click on the highlighted text to read the extra information.

  Extend your search

As you are developing a plan for your assignment, you might notice that there are some gaps in your knowledge or that you don’t have enough evidence to support your argument. It’s important to remember that you won't find everything you need in your first round of searching – you will need to allow enough time for several cycles of plan, search, review, read and – search!  This chapter looks at extending your search by using Google Scholar and Library Databases. For information about starting your search in the Library Catalogue, you can visit ‘Start your search’.


  Do targeted reading 

Now that understand the key ideas, issues, theories and debates related to the topic, you can start your targeted reading which is the final stage of the reading process.  Using your knowledge of the topic area, you can refine your search via the Library catalogue, Google Scholar or the Library databases. Use different combinations of keywords or apply limits (filters) to your search.

  Watch the video 

   Video length: 1 minute, 21 seconds

  Key points from the video

  • Google scholar advanced search allows you to easily organise your search concepts. 
  • The exact phrase box searches for phrases in the same way using double quotation marks (" ") does.
  • The at least one of the words box helps broaden your search.
  • The all of the words box helps narrow your search.
  • You can limit by date range to see more recent results. 
  • The Fulltext at UniSA link will display next to a result held in the Library Catalogue.
  • If there is no Fulltext at UniSA link, you can still double check the Catalogue by searching for the article title.
  • For more information, check out the Learn to Search Google Scholar interactive tutorial (10 minutes).

Click on the links below for more information about Google Scholar:

Remember, not everything in Google Scholar is scholarly, so you will need to evaluate the information you find!

  Learn about advanced searching techniques 

It is important to search broadly to ensure you find a range of relevant academic literature to support your arguments. The interactive resource below builds on the Catalogue searching techniques we covered in Plan your search.  It guides you through the process of developing a comprehensive search plan and describes the range of sources you can use to find published or unpublished literature.  It also demonstrates how to apply your search to a ‘library database’ (a subscribed online collection of resources), expand and narrow your results, and use two key supplemental searching techniques ('reference harvesting' and 'identifying key journals and authors') to locate additional literature.

  Other useful sources to help you search

  Having trouble finding what you need?

For more help with searching for references you can contact Ask the Library via phone, chat, or email.

  Write your essay

Use your essay plan to  develop your introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion in full.  Your completed essay should have a clear argument which is relevant to the assignment task, logically organised so that it is easy to follow, and well supported through the use of credible and reliable sources.  In this section you will learn more about the essay writing process, paragraph writing and academic language.  Use the essay writing checklist at the end of this section to help you finalise your essay.

  Watch the video

  Video length: 2 minutes, 26 seconds

  Key points from the video

  • Writing an essay involves taking a position on an issue and defending it using academic support.
  • It is not a linear process - there will be planning, drafting, extra reading, redrafting and editing.
  • Essays usually have an introduction, body paragraphs, a conclusion and a reference list.
  • The introduction usually contains background information about the topic, your position and a preview of how your ideas will be organised.
  • Each paragraph has a topic sentence to introduce the focus, supporting sentences with evidence and examples and a concluding sentence to sum up the paragraph or connect it to the next one.
  • The conclusion summarises the main points of your essay and restates your position.
  • The reference list is at the end of your essay and is a list of all the sources you used in-text (in the body of your writing) to support your argument.

  Develop your paragraphs

Click through the slides below to see what an introduction, body paragraph and conclusion look like. Click on the question marks on each slide for further information.

  Use academic language

Click through the slides below to learn about the key characteristics of academic writing. 

  Useful resources

  Refer to an essay writing checklist 

Click through the topics below for tips to help you finalise your essay.

  Download the checklist


  Write your report

The purpose of a report is to investigate an issue and 'report back' findings which allow people to make decisions or take action and depending on your course.  The report may require you to record, to inform, to instruct, to analyse, to persuade, or to make specific recommendations, so it is important to check your task instructions and identify the approach you are required to take. Your completed report should consist of clear sections which are labelled with headings and sub-headings, and are logically sequenced, well developed and supported with reliable evidence. In this section you will learn more about writing a report, including process, structure and language use.  The report writing checklist at the end of this section can help you finalise your report.

  Watch the video

  Video length: 2 minutes, 53 seconds

  Key points from the video

  • The main purpose of a report is usually to investigate an issue and report back with suggestions or recommendations to allow people to make decisions or take action.
  • You will need to find information on the issue by reading through course materials and doing further research via the UniSA Library and relevant databases.
  • Report writing requires you to plan and think, so give yourself enough time to draft and redraft, and search for more information before you complete the final version.
  • The report is typically structured with an introduction, body paragraphs, a conclusion and a reference list.
  • It usually has headings and subheadings to organise the information and help the reader understand the issue being investigated, the analysis of the findings and the recommendations or implications that relate directly to those findings.
  • A report can also include dot points or visuals such as graphs, tables or images to effectively present information.
  • Always check the task instructions and feedback form as there might very specific requirements for the report structure.

  Plan your report

Locate the task instructions in your course outline and/or on your course site, and use this activity to plan your approach.

  Use academic language

Click through the slides below to learn about the key characteristics of academic writing. 

  Useful resources

  Integrate references in your writing

When writing your paragraphs, it is important that you include relevant references which support the ideas you are presenting.  The references you use need to be included in a way that convinces the reader of your overall argument. For an overview of what referencing is and how to do it, watch the short video below. Then scroll down for examples of in-text references and what they might look like when they are integrated into a paragraph.

  Watch the video

  Video length: 2 minutes, 22 seconds

  Key points from the video

Referencing is a standard practice used in academic writing to show your reader which ideas you have gathered from other sources and where those ideas came from’ (UniSA 2018, p. 2).  


  • acknowledges the ideas of others
  • allows you to use these ideas to build an argument
  • shows the range of ideas and approaches you have found and thought about
  • reflects standard academic practice and values
  • emphasises that you have used expert and reliable sources
  • prevents circumstances where plagiarism can occur. 

To learn more about referencing and to access useful resources, visit the Referencing website.  

  Understand in-text referencing

When including the ideas of others in your paragraphs, paraphrase them to demonstrate that you have understood what you have read, and use in-text references to acknowledge where those ideas came from. Your own voice should also be included in your paragraphs to let the reader know why these ideas are important and how they relate to the main topic and/or your argument.

Click through the slides below for examples of how to include in-text references in your sentences, and how to effectively integrate other people's ideas into your writing.

  Use the Referencing website 

Visit the Referencing website to find out more about how to reference.  To find out about specific referencing style(s) you are required to use in your Program of studies, visit the Referencing style guides section of the Referencing site.  

Click on the information buttons below to learn more about what is covered in each section of the Referencing website or go directly to the Referencing website to explore: www.unisa.edu.au/referencing

  Proofread and edit your assignment

Now it is time to proofread and edit your assignment to a professional standard. Proofread your writing with fresh eyes to avoid missing any careless mistakes and do this on several occasions, each time paying particular attention to a specific aspect of your writing.  Give yourself plenty of time to proofread so that you can ensure you have produced a well-structured paper which is relevant, developed, supported and convincing.  

  Watch the video

  Video length: 6 minutes, 57 seconds (Griffith University 2018)

  Key points from the video

  • Do a spelling, punctuation and grammar check before printing a copy for further proofreading.
  • Set your writing aside for a while and read with fresh eyes later.
  • Read your writing out loud so that you can hear it.
  • Ensure your argument is relevant by checking the task instructions and marking criteria.
  • Make sure your evidence is relevant, credible and sufficient.
  • Look at one aspect at a time, for example:
    • relevance 
    • structure (overall and at paragraph level)
    • development of ideas in each paragraph
    • paraphrasing and in-text referencing
    • cohesion and flow
    • academic language
    • grammar, spelling and punctuation at sentence level
    • the reference list.

Note: Before submitting your assignment, use the Editing your final draft resource to help you check your assignment before you submit it.

  Need further tips on proofreading for different aspects of your assignment?

Refer to:

You can also submit your assignment draft to Studiosity or book a face-to-face appointment with a Learning Adviser to receive general feedback and advice before finalising and submitting your essay.

  Need more help?

Visit Workshops and more help on the Study Help website and find an option which suits your learning style and needs.  You can:

  • attend academic skills workshops
  • access the workshop slides and resources even if you can't attend the sessions
  • drop in and chat to a Study Help PAL
  • get 24/7 online support for your learning
  • book a 30 minute individual appointment with a Learning Adviser at UniSA
  • discover other useful resources to help you with your learning.

If you have any questions about searching for sources, you can Ask the Library.