Prewriting: Ground Zero

13 What is the Assignment?

Before you do anything in your writing, you need to know what the assignment requires of you.

Tip: An assignment is never what the instructor “wants” from you; rather, it is based on a set of required learning outcomes and academic conventions that have developed over time by many educated, professional people. So, avoid asking your instructor, “What do you want?”

Start by reviewing the assignment.


  • How will you deliver this assignment?
  • Is it a presentation, a webpage design, a written essay submitted on paper?


  • What kind of writing is the assignment asking you to do? Is this a review? A summary? An argumentative piece?
  • Will you need to do research and cite sources? If this is the case, you can probably set aside ideas that will be difficult to do research for, such as a story about a personal experience. These might be better suited to a different assignment.
  • Is there a specific length requirement? You will want to look through your ideas to make sure you’re focusing on ones that you will be able to have an in-depth and well-supported conversation about in this amount of space. If the assignment length is short, you won’t have space to clarify a complex relationship between two ideas, and if the assignment is a longer one, you will need a topic that allows for that length of conversation without repeating yourself or focusing on just one support.
  • How much time do you have? If the assignment is due soon, you may want to work with a topic you already know something about, rather than try to learn a new-to-you set of ideas from scratch in a hurry.
  • Make sure any ideas you are considering focusing on for this work match the goals of the assignment.


  • Who is going to be “receiving” this assignment?
  • Are you writing a blog to a general audience?
  • Are you creating a personal piece for yourself to include in a portfolio?
  • Is the audience your instructor or marker?

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Advanced English Copyright © 2021 by Allison Kilgannon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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