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Assignment Research Process

Understand what the assignment is asking you to do

The process of writing your assignment essay involves a series of steps.

To write an excellent essay it is crucial that you understand your assignment requirements and question which includes:

  • Reading your assignment question thoroughly and the information given to you by your lecturer so that you clearly understand your lecturers expectations.
  • Identifying what the question is asking you to do, e.g. are you required to select a topic from a list of choices or are you responsible for choosing your topic?
  • Topic you need to focus on
  • Information you need to find in order to write the essay, how many? what kind of sources? e.g. books, journal articles should you be using?
  • Format the assignment should be in? is it an essay? a report? or literatute review?
  • Limits, such as time frame or geography.
  • Due date
  • Word limit
  • Purpose

If you do not understand any aspect of the assignment at this stage ask your lecturer or your tutor before continuing.

Types of information you can use 

Unpack your question

Most assignment questions will include the following elements:

Instruction terms  -  words such as analyse, compare, or illustratewhich will indicate the approach needed to answer the question. 

Key search words or concepts and phrases.
  • Identify your key concepts and phrases in the question.
  • See Mind mapping to brainstorm for synonyms (similar words) and related words to key words e.g. If the word customs is one of your key words, other words which have similar meanings you might think of to use include: culture Or traditions.
  • Use of singular and plural words e.g. island Or islands
  • Alternate spellings of words e.g. pacific Or pasifika.
  • Use of phrases e.g. "Pacific Islands", "friendly islands"

TIP: If you can't think of any synonyms or related terms yourself, try searching a thesaurus or dictionary.

Other guidelines like the Research Process will assist you in analysing your assignment questions. Other useful information are under the Library Study Skills page.

To recap

To recap: 

  1. Understand the assignment requirements and tasks
  2. Understand the assignment question, identify key instruction words and what they require.
  3. Find meanings of key words, or concepts you do not fully understand. If in doubt ask your lecturer and tutor.
  4. Work out a search strategy. You can do this on your own or work together in small groups. Research shows that students that work together in small groups to do this gain much better marks than those who try to do it on their own.
  5. Brainstorm alternative spelling for key concepts, use of plural or singular words, and other variations of the words.
  6. Write down what you think the assignment question is asking you to do. Ensure you check your understanding with your lecturer/tutor that this is what is required.The ability to ask, seek help, and check your understanding with staff is an academic skill to learn and is essential to your success at university.

Assignment question activity

ACTIVITY: From the Assignment Question below - identify the instruction words, the key search words or phrases, and the limit words.

This piece has been adapted from Delft University of Technology Library - TuLib tutorial and the University of Otago - OIL tutorial.

Self quiz

You have learnt how to analyse the assignment question, define and identified key search words. Now test your knowledge on Starting your search by answering the following questions:

1. Where is the NZ & Pacific Collection located?

2. Where is the Student Learning Services located?

3. The key instruction words will tell you how to approach your assignment

4. When starting your research identify the key search words and phrases from your question

5. It is important to think about synonyms, abbreviations and alternate spellings of words when undertaking a search



Books and journals for Pacific Studies are located in the G General Library , cnr Alfred and Symonds Street. Books in high demand are kept at S Short Loan in the Kate Edger Information Commons. If I have trouble with Netaccount access, I can go to IC H Helpdesk on level 2 of the Kate Edger Information Commons. The catalogue lists books and journal titles but not journal a rticles . I can find journal articles if I look in a d database . If I take a book out and it is recalled I must return it within 3 days. To find the resources and services of the Library I need to go the library's h homepage . If I want to find my own subject area I can look for help under S Subject Guides.

Words or phrases that constrain the scope of your assignment e.g. time - last 5 years; geography - New Zealand.
These words tell you what you need to do for your assignment e.g. discuss, compare, describe.
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