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Skills Check 0

The Skills Check is a short survey which should take you no more than 3 minutes to complete. Once you have completed the Skills Check we provide you with a personal learning plan targeted to your personal study needs and goals.

Sign in to work on the Skills Check.
  1. Home
  2. Assignments
  3. Preparing assignments
  4. Understanding the question

Understanding the question

The first and most important thing to do is pay close attention to what the assignment guide says you have to do. It gives you the assignment question and extra things that might help such as notes on the writing style and the format you should adopt.

  • Make sure you know what type of assignment is needed. Is an essay required? Do you have to write a report or a series of short answers to questions?
  • Check the word limit and keep to it.

OU tutor, Eulina, explains the importance of closely examining the assignment question and what it is asking of you.

All assignment questions have key words or phrases that indicate how and what you should write. There are two types of key words to be aware of.

  • Content words
  • Process words

You will be able to focus your ideas much more clearly if you identify the content and process words in the question or title of your assignment.

Content words

These tell you what topics the question requires you to focus on. For example, look at this assignment question.

Compare your own education to date with that of one of your parents, one of your children (if you have any) or a friend from a different generation. Which points of comparison seem important to you and why?

The content words are in bold and tend to be nouns. There are plenty of content words there. The question asks you to choose between three groups of people against whom you should compare your education. The key word 'important' indicates that you must pick out a number of main points of comparison (not everything you can think of).

Process words and phrases

Process words and phrases tell you what to do with your material and are often expressed as imperatives: 'Assess the impact of ...' or 'Explain the importance of ...'. So in the example question above the key words 'Compare' and 'why' are process words (rather than content words). The word 'why' indicates that you must give reasons for selecting particular points of similarity and difference.

In the assignment question below, the process words are in bold.

With particular reference to Reading A of Chapter 9, English: history, diversity and change, discuss and evaluate the grounds on which judgements are made about ‘correctness’ in English.

Once you feel confident that you’ve identified what you are being asked to do for your assignment, you can turn to finding the relevant books, etc.