As a Learning Skills Adviser, I meet students doing units outside their home faculty who are surprised that they haven’t met their personal expectations for an assignment. Hypothetically for instance, a marketing student is doing a visual communication unit. They’ve received feedback for their first assignment, and it’s disappointing. They haven’t adapted their writing style as successfully as they’d hoped.

Faculties have distinctive types of tasks, and their own ways to express assignment instructions. Common terms—like essay—can describe a variety of approaches, but also, particular names—like research essay or term paper—describe similar assignments. Additionally, faculties are likely to recommend students use a particular citing and referencing style. Faculties have diverse expectations for written work, just as industries do. Students sometimes must be able to adapt and modify their approach to writing depending on these types of contexts.

Here are three key pointers you can consider as you adjust your writing for different faculties, units and assignments:

  • Firstly, be aware of the audience for writing tasks.
  • Secondly, build a vocabulary and repertoire of concepts relevant to the discipline.
  • Finally, appreciate that different academic assignment types have different structures. Whether it’s an essay in Arts, a case report in Health Sciences or reflective writing in Education, knowing and using conventional structures makes adapting your writing easier.

Audience

Know your implied audience and your actual audience. The implied audience is the suggested or assumed reader in the assignment instructions. The actual audience is the person marking your work. As a general guide, assume your reader is an educated adult. You can use sophisticated language; you don’t need to explain common knowledge. However, you still need to explain terminology specific to the discipline.

Some assignments will define the audience you need to address. For example, an assignment in Business and Economics asks students to prepare a detailed report for the chief financial officer of a company, along with a letter to shareholders. The two documents convey similar information, but students must adjust the language to accommodate the audiences’ different expected knowledge. The actual audience is the tutor. When tutors mark assignments they’re commonly assessing how well students have used evidence to support their claims. When tutors are marking this two-part assignment, they want to see ideas introduced in the unit explained suitably for the different audiences. Furthermore, they want to ensure that when students go into the workforce, they can structure a report and a formal letter.

Language

Develop the vocabulary and repertoire of concepts specific to the faculty and unit. That is to say, adopt the terms that researchers in the discipline use to describe their methods of analysing and evaluating data. Students preparing an annotated bibliography for a Social Work unit must find and critically analyse several research studies for a particular setting and social group. They use a vocabulary that focuses on people’s specific characteristics rather than applying labels and stereotypes. They use precise language to describe correlations between variables rather than assuming causation. In units across the University, lecturers and tutors model terminology that embeds their discipline specific concepts and methods. Drafting the assignment, your job is to incorporate and show you understand this terminology.

Structure

An annotated bibliography assignment is structured as a list of sources in alphabetical order. Beneath each entry students write an annotation: a brief summary and analysis of the text and justification for including it in the list. The purpose of this type of document is to bring together a group of sources on one topic. Some bibliographies entail sophisticated search strategies and are comprehensive. As a coursework assignment, annotated bibliographies can scaffold–or frame–subsequent research assignments. The structures of assignment types make it easier for you to complete the task, and easier for others to access information. The essay structure includes an introduction to the topic, several body paragraphs elaborating on sub-topics, and a conclusion summarising the argument. In terms of the writing process, this structure helps break up a task into parts. It often helps students do one manageable task at a time, and then bring the final draft together and edit.

Be aware that you should modify your writing style by considering audience,  language and structure for different assignment types. It helps you develop as a writer. If you’re unclear about expectations for an assignment, you can email your  tutor and ask. Monash University Library provides student and faculty researchers with specialised advice and resources. If you want to seek advice on your assignment or writing task, you can attend a Research & Learning Point drop-in session via Zoom on weekday afternoons.

The Library’s Research and Learning Online (RLO) website contains a large number of interactive modules to help you with your studies, including modules on academic writing and assignment structure in all University faculties.

 

Author Tim Alves is a Learning Skills Adviser at Caulfield Library.