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Notre Dame 5 Star University
University Library




Successful Academic Writing

Stress-minimising ways to get started with planning, writing and reviewing your work.

What is the assignment preparation process?

Assignment preparation involves enough planning and researching that by the time you start to write, you'll be confident about what you want to say. The more pre-writing preparation you do, the better the quality of your final work will be. See the video below for an overview of this process, and the tabs for more information on each step. 

Steps in the assignment preparation process

To answer the assignment question, you'll first need to understand what is being asked of you. This involves identifying the keywords (which outline the topic of the question)  and operative words (which tell you what to do with the topic).

The keywords can be used to form your search strategy for when you are researching your topic. The operative words will guide the way you write the assignment. See the example question below:

More than ever before, young Australians are turning to social media as a source of political news. Analyse the reasons for this change, and examine the benefits and drawbacks of receiving news from these sources.

  • Keywords: young Australians, social media, political news
  • Operative words: Analyse the reasons, examine the benefits and drawbacks

At this point, also remember to use your time management skills to schedule the work you'll need to do for the assignment. Give the Assignment Calculator (below) a try - it'll tell you how much time you need to spend on each step.

Once you've understood the question, the next step is to decide what you are going to write about. Usually, you will have to narrow the topic down a bit to make it more manageable to research.

The topic "health communication" is far too broad to write a 1200-word essay on, whereas you might find "the challenges of nurse communication with intoxicated people in the emergency department" is more manageable.

The next step is finding information to support your topic. Keywords from your assignment question and mindmap will help to form your search strategy. To learn more, please see the Library Information Skills Checklist page on Searching.




Once you've found quality sources of information about your topic, you'll obviously have to read them. However, active reading - which means intentional, focused, purposeful reading - is an acquired skill that can take practice. Active reading will save you time as well as improve your retention and understanding of the subject matter. University study involves a lot of reading. Like any other skill, the more you read, the better you'll get. Have a look at our Reading Strategies page to learn more.


When you combine your active reading with note taking, you'll be even more effective in remembering what you've read. Your notes will provide substance for your assignment, and because you've already paraphrased the information from the text, you'll avoid plagiarism, too. See the Note Taking page for more information.