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How to writing Good Assignments
how to writing assignment ideas | download pdf free
Students in Graduate Programs
Ashland University Graduate Writing Center
103 Gill Center
Ashland University Main Campus
E-mail: gwc-colashland.edu (Columbus students)
gwc-ashashland.edu (Any other location or class)
Page 1 A. U. Graduate Writing Center Rev. 8/7/2009
Description of Typical Writing Assignments
The following list represents the types of writing assignments typically used for Ashland
University graduate-level classes:
Reflection or reaction papers and journals
Critical reviews (of an author’s work)
Essays (particularly on exams)
NOTE: Students should always check with their instructors for samples of the assigned
papers for a specific course.
A general note about documentation for all paper types: Unless otherwise specified by an
instructor or a specific program, students are expected to follow the guidelines of the
American Psychological Association (APA) for all assigned papers.
Students usually have the freedom to choose their own topics for research papers, within certain
parameters that have been set by the instructor. Once a topic has been chosen, the student can
start to ask intelligent questions that invite the drawing of conclusions about that topic. These
questions will set the course for the paper: they will help the student determine the thesis
statement, the type of research that is needed, and what the conclusions will be.
A research paper is the result of a compilation of data. This data is obtained from a number of
sources, including books, including textbooks; class notes; journal, magazine, or newspaper
articles; critical commentaries; web sites; databases; government documents; newsletters;
unpublished papers; and audio or video recordings. A student should check with the instructor if
there is a question regarding the appropriateness of a source.
A research paper should go beyond a basic survey of the topic to include the student’s reflection
on the information presented in the paper, as well as some synthesis and integration. Writing a
research paper requires critical analysis. More than simply a report, a research paper also
presents an informed point of view. The sources should invite the student to draw his or her own
conclusions about the information and apply those conclusions to the paper. A research paper
should represent the student’s analysis and interpretation of the information and argue its
meaning. Beyond reporting the facts of a topic, the student must spend adequate time in
discussing the importance and relevance of those facts.
Page 2 A. U. Graduate Writing Center Rev. 8/7/2009
Reflection or Reaction Papers and Journals
Reflection papers and journals are based on a reading or a classroom experience. The student
must determine what that experience or reading means and how to apply these new ideas in the
future. Although reflection papers and journals are usually based on the student’s subjective
experience, the student should also be sure to read carefully and think analytically about that
experience. These types of assignments may be either free form or structured, based on a set of
questions posed by the instructor. A journal typically contains entries by date.
Critical review papers rely on the student’s ability to analyze one article, one chapter, one work
of one author, or the body of work by one author. They involve more than just a summary of the
information presented; papers of this type rely on an in-depth analysis of the material. The
student must use critical thinking skills and sometimes his or her subjective opinion, giving a
complete picture to the reader of the reviewed material. A review tells the reader what the work
is about, whether the reviewer thinks it has value or merit, and why the reviewer has made a
particular judgment about it.
An essay is typically reserved for exams and consists of a response to a question or scenario
posed by the instructor. If the exam is taken in class, the essay will most likely be hand-written,
in which case it is important for the student to write neatly. (This focus on neatness will have the
dual benefit of making the paper easier for the instructor to read and encouraging a carefully
crafted response from the student.)
An essay is generally shorter than a paper; therefore it will not follow specific formatting
guidelines. However, content becomes all the more critical in this case, and using analytical
skills and synthesis in crafting a response becomes very important. Although time constraints
will often not allow for a careful outline, the student may find it is helpful to think through the
stages of a response before beginning to write. The introductory paragraph should include a brief
“map” of the student’s intended thought development as well as a clear thesis statement.
Citation of sources may also be required for take-home essays. The student should follow the
instructor’s guidelines for the essay.
Using a story format, a case study presents a lifelike (sometimes even real life) situation with
certain problems and, sometimes, resolutions. A case study analysis is a measure of a student’s
ability to synthesize and apply the theories or principles learned in class (or from the textbook or
outside reading) to the problems presented in the story. The data used to complete this exercise
will depend on how well the student learned the theories or principles. This writing may be free
form or based on a set of questions posed by the instructor. The instructor may also ask that the
paper follow a specific method of analysis.
An interview is a question-and-answer dialogue within a particular subject area between an
interviewer and someone who is considered an expert or at least knowledgeable about the topic
at hand. It usually progresses with the interviewer asking a set of predetermined questions (often
Page 3 A. U. Graduate Writing Center Rev. 8/7/2009
suggested beforehand by the instructor) and then recording the answers of the interviewee with
as much information as desired. Probing questions often help clarify or redirect an interview and
can lead to valuable information.
Using care in presenting the interviewee’s answers in a contextual and unbiased way is
important. It is also helpful to quote the interviewee exactly on any issues that may be considered
surprising, contradictory, or contentious. For greatest accuracy, an audio recording of the
conversation may be necessary. (If an interview is to be recorded, the interviewer must obtain the
interviewee’s permission beforehand.)
An interview does not always have to be presented word for word, but it should follow the
general progression of the dialogue and honestly present the opinions of the interviewee.
Interviewers should also be prepared to analyze the discussion and offer their opinions regarding
the information received. It is best to get the interviewee’s permission before the final
presentation of the interview, especially if the interview will be submitted for publication.
The purpose of a literature review is to examine and summarize published sources in one
particular subject area (perhaps restricted to a specified time period). Depending on the
circumstances, the summary of the literature may include an analysis to provide connections with
the focus of a project. The summary may also inform the reader of the source’s history of
interpretation, offer new insights, contextualize the source, or evaluate its relevance.
An annotated bibliography is a list of scholarly textual resources relevant to a particular subject
area which provides a two or three sentence descriptive or evaluative summary of each source. A
descriptive summary informs the reader of the main argument and main point(s) used to support
it, while an evaluative summary analyzes the strength of the main argument and supporting
points to estimate the source’s perceived value to the given subject. An assignment of this type
will usually spell out the number and types of textual sources to be included.
Evaluating and Citing Sources
Evaluating Online Sources
In the present era, more information is available than ever before. Unfortunately, that
information is not all high-quality, accurate, or reliable. The Internet, especially, has provided a
place for individuals with dubious credentials, inadequate education, or biased experience to
become informally published, making their views available literally across the world.
Consequently, it is more important than ever for students doing research to properly evaluate the
available resources. Among the most important considerations for evaluating online sources,
especially Web sites, are the following:
Electronic address: The most important element of the address is the domain name, which
usually gives the name of the sponsoring organization and an abbreviation for the type of
organization involved. Keep in mind that edu, gov, mil, and org designate educational,
government, military, and non-profit organizations, respectively; com domain
abbreviations indicate commercial enterprises. Although a site should not be judged by
Page 4 A. U. Graduate Writing Center Rev. 8/7/2009
its designation alone, the domain abbreviation can alert a researcher to seek further
information about the quality of the site. Sites with edu abbreviations usually contain
scholarly information, org sites focus on the public interest, and com sites are linked to
profit-related groups. Any of these sites can be biased or unbiased, reliable or unreliable,
depending on their individual purpose.
Author or sponsor: If the site does not provide an author or responsible group (look, for
example, for an “About This Site” link), it should not be considered reliable. If an
individual author or sponsoring group is given, further research in a biographical
dictionary or a thorough keyword search should reveal more information concerning the
validity of the sponsoring source, its purpose, and its primary activities. Authors or
groups with obvious bias or with weak or unavailable credentials should be discarded as
sources. If the author or sponsoring organization seems to have little relation to the
subject of the site (for example, a world-famous French chef writing about political
unrest pressures caused by the current regime in Russia), think twice about using the
source to support your topic.
Purpose: A commercial site will obviously have a much different purpose from a non-
profit site, although both sites may withhold or distort information to support their own
purposes. A scholarly site will generally (although not always) provide strong supporting
evidence and a balanced point of view.
Context: If you already know something negative about a site, it should be suspect; if you
follow some of its links and find information that seems questionable or otherwise
troubling, the site should not be considered reliable.
Presentation: The appearance of an online site can reveal much about its reliability.
Easily understandable and error-free text, as well as attractive and uncluttered design are
among the indicators of a reliable site.
Content: If the information given at the site seems to be strongly biased in a certain
direction, it may or may not be a suitable source; any information from a biased site,
however authoritative, should be verified from at least two other sources, and conflicting
views also should be consulted to weigh the validity of the points from all points of view.
Information supported by clearly identified sources is superior to information based
purely on an author’s own knowledge or beliefs.
Students are often confused about whether to give credit in their writing for outside inspiration or
influence. Although some gray areas certainly exist regarding when to cite sources, many
guidelines are available to provide writers with an adequate understanding of proper
General Guidelines and Exceptions for the Citation of Sources
As a general rule, a student writer should cite anything or anyone who has provided inspiration
or knowledge during the process of researching for and/or writing a paper. Unfortunately, it is
often difficult to determine what is a truly unique idea, generated from one’s own thoughts, and
what has been borrowed from another source. If a student has any doubt about the originality of
Page 5 A. U. Graduate Writing Center Rev. 8/7/2009
an idea, the safest choice always is to acknowledge the appropriate source. One possible
exception to this rule is that no citation is needed for information that is generally accepted as
common knowledge. For instance, the fact that Beijing is the capital of China is general
knowledge and does not require citation; likewise, a mere reference to a publication by name,
with no information quoted, paraphrased, or summarized, does not require citation.
Knowledge Already Held by the Student
In some situations, a student’s own knowledge extends beyond general knowledge, or a source
indicates that the student’s preconceived ideas are shared by another.
If a student’s knowledge on a subject extends beyond general knowledge, his or her
writing will be better supported and more believable if other sources are cited, even
though documentation may not be required.
If another source agrees with what a student already knows or believes, the student must
give due credit for that source’s contribution. However, the student may comment that
certain aspects of the information that are in line with his or her own thoughts.
The best advice for any writer is, “When in doubt, cite”
One condition for citation is indisputable: Direct quotations must always be cited.
A direct quotation is the exact repetition of another’s words, whether in part or whole,
even to the extent of one single, unique word.
All direct quotations must be enclosed in quotation marks and cited at the end of the
As an alternative to direct quotation, many writers choose to paraphrase by putting an author’s
thoughts into their own words. Great care must be taken when paraphrasing, in order to guard
against coming too close to the original writer’s wording and/or structure. To be a true
paraphrase, the new material must be adequately unique so as to be unmistakably considered the
reader’s own words. The following are some tips for paraphrasing without plagiarizing:
Read the original text once quickly, writing down the key points as you note them.
Read the material again, paying closer attention to the author’s points and making sure
that you understand what is being said. Correct any points that you noted incorrectly at
first. Reread the material as many times as necessary until you feel that you completely
understand what is being said.
Restate the main ideas of the work, in your own words, to a friend. Only mention the
most important points from the original and be sure to use your own sentence structure
and words. Be very careful not to misrepresent or distort the author’s point of view or
support of points.
Ask the friend to repeat your summary back to you; ensure that the points your friend
understood from your restatement accurately represent the author’s ideas but do not
repeat any words unique to that original author. If you do find certain thoughts that can
Page 6 A. U. Graduate Writing Center Rev. 8/7/2009
not be put into your own words without losing their meaning or impact, enclose those
words in quotation marks. Directly quote as few words as possible.
In all cases, cite your sources when you paraphrase, because the material being used still
represents another’s thoughts; the original thinker is entitled to credit for “lending” you
Examples of Paraphrasing
Story is so omnipresent that we tend to undervalue how much our own lives consist of ever-
changing stories. Story informs us, entertains us, and lulls us; it also describes us and—
whether we recognize it or not—it shapes us.
Story is very present in our lives, but we often underestimate how many events in our own
lives are made up of stories that change constantly. Story gives us information, makes us
laugh, and helps us relax; it reveals our character traits and forms our personalities.
Although we are surrounded by stories, we often fail to recognize their significant effect on
Cautions Against Unintentional Plagiarism
Most students would not intentionally plagiarize by taking credit for work that is not their own.
However, it is all too easy and too common for students to dismiss or overlook proper
referencing when writing.
When researching, it is important to keep good and accurate notes to make citation easier.
If the final draft of a paper is so full of quotations, paraphrases, and/or summaries that it
appears to be largely the product of others’ ideas, it may be wise to consider revising
major portions by digesting, thinking about, and rewriting the material under
Helpful information about plagiarism can also be found on the Web:
Helpful APA Links:
See also Ashland University’s Academic Integrity Policy in The Graduate School Catalog
Page 7 A. U. Graduate Writing Center Rev. 8/7/2009
APA Style Tips
This is a brief summary of a few significant issues covered in the Publication Manual of the
American Psychological Association (APA manual). These guidelines do not replace those in the
APA manual but are offered to help students begin to understand and produce written material in
proper academic form. NOTE: The preferences of individual instructors always supersede these
guidelines; students should carefully note exceptions presented in sample papers and other
instructions distributed for specific classes.
1. Paper: APA manuscripts must be typed or printed on 8½ by 11 inch heavy (20-pound)
white bond paper.
2. Typeface: Times New Roman or Courier are the preferred fonts. Flamboyant type,
such as Broadway or Forte, should never be used. A serif typeface (that is, a type such as
this Times New Roman, with an extra flourish on ends of the strokes of the letters) is
preferred for text because it is easier to read, but a sans serif type (a type with no extra
strokes, such as this Calibri) is often appropriate for figures.
3. Font size: APA style favors 12-point type. Although 10-point type is allowed by the
APA format, most professors prefer the larger sized font.
4. Line spacing: The entire paper should be double-spaced, including the list of references,
unless the instructor gives different instructions.
5. Margins: Margins should be one inch on all sides. However, the left margin should be
1.5 inches for a thesis that will be bound.
6. Justifying/Aligning text: All text pages should be left-justified. Do not use full (or
right) justification anywhere in the paper, including for block quotations.
7. Paragraph indentation: The first line of a paragraph should be indented 0 .5 inches (5
spaces) from the left.
8. Major parts of an APA paper: Most APA papers will have the following: title page,
abstract, body of paper, and reference list. However, the professor may choose to omit
any of these parts or may add to the requirements. The student should then follow those
9. Titles of major parts of an APA paper: The following titles apply to the appropriate
major parts of an APA paper. The format for these titles is title case, no bold, no
underline, and no italics. In general, there should be double spacing before and after
major part titles. Triple spacing may be appropriate (to improve appearance) after chapter
titles (if used) or before major subheadings. Titles of major parts should appear in the
Page 8 A. U. Graduate Writing Center Rev. 8/7/2009
10. Dash: When a dash is used to indicate a pause or relationship between two words or
phrases, two hyphens should be typed together with no space on either side. (Often the
word-processing program will transform these two hyphens into a long dash after the
next word is typed.)
Consulting a dictionary—although few seasoned writers do so—can
strengthen word choice and help build vocabulary.
11. Inclusive language: All papers must be written with inclusive language. Noninclusive
language is language that demeans or stereotypes certain groups of people merely
because of their membership in a particular group, including race, ethnicity, religion, age,
12. Proofreading: All papers must be carefully proofread before they are turned in.
Proofreading is the final step in preparing a paper for submission and involves carefully
reading the paper word by word to identify and correct spelling mistakes not caught by
the spell checker, typographical errors such as missing words or transposed letters,
missing words or complete lines lost during cutting and pasting, capitalization and
punctuation errors, and all other minor mechanical problems that can result in distraction
for a reader. The student is always responsible for proofreading the document. The
following tricks can make proofreading as efficient as possible:
Reading a printed copy of the paper (most people read more accurately from a
printed copy than from a computer screen)
Reading the paper out loud slowly or having a friend read it out loud word for
word as it is written
Reading the paper line by line by moving a ruler under each line as it is read
Reading “against copy,” as a professional proofreader reads, by comparing the
new version one sentence at a time with the edited version from which it was
Reading with no attention to content—for example, by reading backward,
sentence by sentence, from last page to first
13. Format and placement of page numbers: No hyphens, parentheses, or other symbols
should be used with page numbers. All pages (including the title page) should have
Arabic numerals placed by using the header function of the word-processing program.
The shortened title of the paper (two or three words) and page number should be right-
justified (that is, set so that the line begins from the right side of the page), and the page
number should follow the title by about one-half inch (five spaces).
14. Block quotations: Quotations of forty (40) or more words should be placed in a block.
The block should be indented one-half inch (0.5”) from the left margin of the page and
double-spaced. The right side of the block should not be indented. No extra space should
be added before or after the quotation.
Page 9 A. U. Graduate Writing Center Rev. 8/7/2009
15. Punctuation with incorporated quotations: The correct placement of the final
punctuation for a sentence containing quoted material is after the citation, as shown
Most linguists function on the belief that “the ability to read is usually
construed . . . to involve something more than the ability to parrot . . . and is
more than phonetics and memory” (Rabinowitz, 1987, p. 15). Thus, reading is
more than a sum of the parts.
However, for block quotations, the final punctuation should go before the citation:
Many studies show that most linguists function on the basis of Rabinowitz’s
Xxxxx xxxx xx xxx xxxxx xx xxxxx xxx xxxx xxx xxxxx xxx xxx xx
xxxxx xxx xx. Regardless, the ability to read is usually construed . . . to
involve something more than the ability to parrot . . . and is more than
phonetics and memory. (Rabinowitz, 1987, p. 15)
16. Headings: Headings in an APA paper function as an outline for the reader; they clarify
content by revealing to a reader the relative importance of different sections in the work.
Topics of equal importance thus have the same level of heading throughout a paper. A
section in a paper with only one subsection should not have a subheading; use
subheadings only for more than two subsections within a larger section.
Levels of heading: The APA style provides for up to five levels of headings, although
most student papers will use no more than two or three levels.
The introduction to a paper does not require a heading.
Headings should not be numbered or lettered.
No extra space should be added before or after headings, BUT the headings
themselves (even if more than one line) should be double-spaced.
For fewer than five levels of headings, students may select the format that best suits their
needs; however the headings should be more prominent at higher levels, with decreasing
prominence as the level decreases. Most importantly, the heading format should be
maintained consistently throughout the paper. For more than five levels of heading,
students should consult the APA Manual.
Page 10 A. U. Graduate Writing Center Rev. 8/7/2009
17. Spacing following punctuation: Because word processor programs automatically set
the correct spacing in a document, the student should type only one space after commas,
colons, semicolons and terminal sentence punctuation (periods, question marks, and
exclamation points). Additional rules for spacing following punctuation can be found in
the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA Manual).
the first word of a complete sentence: My house is on Elm Street.
the first words after a colon that begins a complete sentence: We must write a
paper for Friday: Our MBA professor assigned it.
all words of four letters or more in a title mentioned within a paper: Publication
Manual of the American Psychological Association
ONLY the first word, the first word after a colon or dash, and all proper nouns for
a title in the reference list of a paper: Publication manual of the American
names of university departments ONLY if they refer to a specific department
within a specific university: Ashland University Department of Sociology (but
NOT the sociology department)
words that refer to a specific geographic region: We live in the Midwest.
complete names of academic courses ONLY if they refer to a specific course:
Introduction to Child Psychology, Biology 101
DO NOT capitalize
the first words after a colon that DOES NOT begin a complete sentence: We
must write a paper for Friday: twelve pages double spaced.
names of university departments that DO NOT refer to a specific department
within a specific university: the sociology department)
school subjects without a number: my child psychology course, biology last year
seasons of the year: spring, winter
words like north and south when they are used to indicate direction only: turn
south at Main Street
names of laws, theories, or models: the empirical law of effect, the theory of
gravity, the associative learning model
nouns that denote common parts of books or tables followed by numerals or
letters: chapter 2, page iii, column 5
regions of a state, country, or city: We live in midwestern Ohio.
the name of a career: my brother is an engineer
19. Italics: Use italic type for
titles of works
books, including encyclopedias: The Color Purple, Encarta
magazines and journals: Newsweek, Scientific American, Salon.com
newspapers, including “the” only if it is part of the actual name: The New
York Times, the Ashland Times Gazette
Page 11 A. U. Graduate Writing Center Rev. 8/7/2009
pamphlets: 101 Ways to Make Money Writing. Epson Stylus CX6400 Quick
long poems: The Waste Land, Paradise Lost
plays: Hamlet, Andre’s Mother, Rent
films and DVDs: Casablanca, Beauty and the Beast
television programs: 60 Minutes, Roseanne
radio programs: All Things Considered
musical compositions and CDs: South Pacific, Handel’s Messiah, Simon
and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits
choreographic works: Swan Lake
works of visual art: Michelangelo’s David
comic strips: Calvin and Hobbes
electronic databases: InfoTrac, EBSCOhost, ProQuest
Web sites: Google, Dogpile
electronic games: Riven, Zuma
foreign words used in an English sentence, unless they have become standard in
A tourist in France must do everything comme il faut.
Her modus operandi was to shame her opponent into defeat.
words mentioned as words, letters mentioned as letters, and numbers mentioned
The verbs understand and know have different meanings.
I have trouble pronouncing the Y in that word.
Look for the house with a big 5 on the front door.
20. Quotation marks:
around direct quotations: “I hate that movie,” she declared.
NOT around indirect quotations: She told me that she hates that movie.
around titles of short works:
newspaper and magazine articles: Nicholas D. Kristof’s article, “Where
Sweatshops Are a Dream”
poems: Marge Piercy’s “To Be of Use”
short stories: James Joyce’s “Araby”
songs: Springsteen’s “Glory Days”
episodes of television and radio programs: National Public Radio’s, “The
Gift of Kindness”
chapters or subdivisions of books: chapter 3, “Describing,” in Models for
to set off words as words (an option for italics): The verbs “understand” and
“know” have different meanings.
DO use apostrophes
to indicate possession, even after most words ending in “s”: Janet’s scarf,
James’s book, BUT Jesus’ parables
to show joint possession: Alice and George’s new car
Page 12 A. U. Graduate Writing Center Rev. 8/7/2009
to indicate omitted letters in contractions and numbers:
It’s difficult to find a job this year.
I wouldn’t go if I were you.
We graduated in ’90.
to form the plural of lower-case letters: 2 b’s, 3 a’s
to form the plural of words mentioned as words when they are enclosed in
quotation marks: too many “maybe’s”; too few “always’s”
to avoid confusion in other situations: too few always’s
DO NOT use apostrophes
with nouns that are plural but not possessive:
The Jones family lives here.
The Joneses live here.
The Jones family’s house is green
BUT The Jones’s house is green.
to indicate possession with its, whose, his, hers, ours, yours, and theirs:
The cat caught its tail in the door (NOT it’s tail)
That book was written by an author whose knowledge is extensive. (NOT
to form the plural of numbers, most letters, abbreviations, and words mentioned
the importance of 7s
too many maybes
Page 13 A. U. Graduate Writing Center Rev. 8/7/2009
Graduate Writing Center:
Instructions and Policies for Consultations
103 Gill Center, Ashland University Main Campus
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to work with you on your assignment. A consultation
can take place either face-to-face or by e-mail. Please choose the method that is easier for you
and that fits your schedule and work style.
Instructions for Consultations:
1. As soon as you have a course syllabus, note the due dates for your papers.
2. E-mail the Graduate Writing Center (GWC) as soon as possible (at least two business
days before the due date) to schedule an initial consultation.
3. For face-to face or e-mail consultations, provide a typed, double-spaced, spell-checked
and proofread draft of your paper, a list of your major concerns, and a copy of the
assignment guidelines, including any sample papers provided by the instructor.
4. For face-to-face consultations, if you have questions about APA format and the
presentation of your sources, please bring your references or copies of them to your
5. Do read your returned paper all the way through before beginning to revise—there may
be general comments at the end.
Policies for Consultations: We want to help you become a better thinker and writer. Toward that
end, the following policies apply:
We will help you focus on and understand matters of importance:
adherence to the assignment
organization and structure
statement and development of position
flow, readability, and style
We will help you find and understand patterns of grammatical and mechanical errors by
reading and commenting on a section of your paper. We will assist you in learning how to
correct these errors.
We will not write or correct your paper for you
Please note: If there are so many mechanical errors that we cannot effectively work with the
paper, then we reserve the right to decline your paper until these writing skills and errors are
otherwise addressed. We also reserve the right to decline any paper about which we are first
contacted less than two business days before your requested return date.
Send your papers or questions to
gwc-colashland.edu (students taking classes in Columbus)
gwc-ashashland.edu (students taking classes in Ashland or any other location)
Page 14 A. U. Graduate Writing Center Rev. 8/7/2009