Writing About Literature Laboratory
Assignment | Topic | Thesis | Planning | Outlining | back to Organizing

Now that you've generated so many ideas about your literary text through Reading and Exploring, you'll want to begin Organizing your thoughts, the stage in which you'll arrive at the topic, working thesis, and main ideas for your essay. Before jumping into these major concerns, though, you'll want to go back and review the writing assignment. Obviously, you'll want to be sure that your essay is meeting all the requirements of the assignment, and you certainly don't want to waste your time doing things in the essay that your instructor hasn't asked you to do. So, spend a few minutes carefully analyzing your assignment.

As you review the assignment, look for these common components:

  • Due date. Make sure that you give yourself as much time as possible to work on the assignment. We don't want to sound like your mother here, but don't put the writing assignment off until the last night. The writing process works best when it is spread out over as many days as possible.
  • Length of the essay. The length of the essay will have a bearing on your topic, thesis, research, and the amount of time you'll need for drafting, revising, and editing.
  • Requirements. Your instructor may specify what information he wants you to include in your essay: for example, what text(s) to cover, the number of sources you must have, the types of sources you must include, the specific literary devices that you must discuss, and so on.
  • Suggested Topics/Topics to Avoid. These suggestions from the instructor are generally based on his experiences reading essays from previous semesters, so look at the suggestions closely, especially the ATopics to Avoid.@. When a instructor tells you to avoid topics such as AWhy I Feel Sorry for Minnie Foster@ or AWhat if Langston Hughes' 'Harlem' Had Been A Longer Poem,@, it's best to avoid these topics. Chances are, they have led to horrendous essays in the past, and there's no need for you to make the assignment harder than it has to be.
  • Resources. Be sure to look at sample essays that your instructor has put on reserve and to read sample essays in your text that your instructor has recommended.
  • Supplemental Requirements. First, pay attention to mini assignments that need to be turned in before the final essay is due. For instance, your instructor may ask to see your working thesis, a research plan, an annotated bibliography, and so on. Second, your instructor may specify supplemental work that he wants included with the final draft of your essay, items such as outlines, rough drafts, peer reviews, copies of articles you've used, and so on. Keeping up with these requirements during the writing process will save you a lot of time and frustration when the assignment is due.
  • Goals/Objectives. Statements from your instructor concerning what the writing assignment is supposed to accomplish will provide you with hints as to what he'll be looking for when reading and grading your essay.
  • Grading Criteria. Here you have the magical answer to the question that every student asks: What's the instructor looking for? If your instructor doesn't include the grading criteria on the assignment sheet, be sure to ask for it.

If you can't locate any of these components on the assignment sheet, then ask your instructor. Don't be scared! Your instructor will be thrilled to know that someone is actually paying attention to his assignment sheet.

A heuristic that acts pertinent questions like the length of the assignment, texts that must be covered, citation style, etc. The results could be emailed back to the student.

A scanned writing assignment, with our annotations, pointing out the major concerns that a student should pay attention to.


Assignment | Topic | Thesis | Planning | Outlining | back to Organizing
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This page last modified on June 27, 2001
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