By Sarah Johnson
It never fails: the moment I receive a writing assignment, I freak out for a solid five minutes before I am able to breathe comfortably and calm down. However, after my first writing class in college, I learned that the writing assignment itself was something that I needed to interpret. If I couldn’t articulate back to my professor what she expected of my writing, how could I fulfill the requirements of the prompt she had given us? I mainly wrestled with trying to understand the assignment as a whole the moment it reached my hands. I soon learned, though, that if I did not take the time to read the assignment slowly and critically, I would waste all of my precious time worrying about the quantity and not quality demanded by the assignment I was given. Here are some steps that I still take to help me understand a writing assignment I’ve just been given:
1. Read one section at a time. Take the time to summarize the most important points of each section of the assignment.
2. Make notes on the assignment sheet itself. Try to keep track of important due dates, new paper formats, amount of research required, etc.
3. Mark or underline parts of the assignment that don’t make sense. Formulate those marks into questions that you can ask the professor in class, via email, or in his or her office hours.
Although interpreting a writing assignment is not something about which I get excited, I’ve come to realize that if I want to write well, I need to take my time reading it. Since I take a lot of notes, marking my assignment--whether summarizing it or questioning parts that don’t make sense--helps me to understand just what I’m supposed to do. One last positive aspect about interpreting my assignment I’ve realized is that if I come to my professor with questions about it, she can usually sense that I’m engaged with the task and is very willing to work with me and work out any concerns or questions I have.