|Classic Literature Directory|
So you've receive the assignment prompt and now you are wondering what to do with it. You may even be experiencing a brain freeze, wondering: What does the teacher want?; How do write this paper so that I can get a good grade? . . .
Gary Etchemendy once wrote, "As a writer, I am first a thinker and then a doer. I first think about my topic carefully, and then I write what I wish to say." To think through the assignment, you'll need to define it in terms of topic, audience, and purpose. In other words, what are you supposed to be writing about; who is the reader who is going to read the essay; and what are you trying to accomplish by writing the paper. If you have an essay prompt, keep it in mind as you answer these questions. . .
What does this assignment ask me to do?
Some essay prompts are very specific, telling you how long the paper should be, how many examples you should you, what texts you should utilize, etc. If you are confused about what the teacher is asking you to do, you should try to setup a conference time with him or her.
of the topic most interests you? Why?
Not all assignments are interesting or easy. If you can find some aspect of the assignment that is of interest to you, though, you will probably be more enthusiastic about the assignment.
Do you know
enough about the topic?
Of course, you should read the required material before you try to explore the assignment. But, this question also means that you may have to read background materials to help you understand what is going on in the primary text (that book, story, or other work you are expected to write about). You may need to consult secondary sources (library books, magazines, online sources, etc.) to expand your knowledge of the subject area; and you may also use those sources as examples for you paper.
Who are your most likely readers?
In most cases, you should assume that your teacher is your reader, since he or she will probably be the one that will be reading and critiquing your paper. In some instances, however, your teacher will direct you to write toward a different audience (whether it be your classmates, a person out of the literary period, a student not in the class, etc.). You need to consdier what the teacher has asked you to do (in the assignment prompt and also verbally).
are the readers with the topic? What are their probable opinions?
I'm not saying that you should write something that you don't believe, but you should keep in mind what the viewpoint of the reader is -- while you explore the assignment, especially. If the teacher is the "reader", you need to think about how he or she approaches the material (based on lectures, course handouts, student/teacher conferences, and any other interaction you've had with the teacher). If you are taking a dramatically different approach to the material (a standpoint that you know your teacher/reader will not agree with), you need to make sure that you back up your ideas and points with enough concrete examples. Most teachers don't mind that you disagree with them -- as long as you provide enough evidence to support your side of the argument.
would you like to have on your readers?
Obviously, your paper will have some kind of impact on your readers (hopefully a positive one). At this point, you should think about how your audience will react, depending on how you present the information. Also, think about how your style will affect the way the reader takes in the information. How can you shape your words, your ideas, and your examples to create the impact you want?
What is the purpose of this assignment?
The teacher may want to challenge you, to make you think. Whatever the teacher's intent may be, the basic purpose of the assignment is to test your knowledge and writing abilities, but it can also be used to gauge how far you have progressed during the course.
I expected to accomplish?
If you have been given an assignment prompt, the teacher will usually have provided you with information about what you need to accomplish in the assignment. Sometimes, teachers will also provide relavent information in their syllabii, or in other course materials. Hopefully, the teacher was clear about what is expected of you. If you are confused, though, you can setup a student/teacher conference and/or get help from the Writing Center on campus. It's important that you understand what is expected of you before you start writing. Making sure you have a clear concept of what you should accomplish in the assignment will save you time in the long run.
I want to accomplish?
Your purpose in completing the assignment is to fulfill the course requirements so you can get a grade (hopefully a good one). As part of your purpose, you may also wish to learn more about the subject matter.