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OASIS Writing Skills

Undergraduate Writing:
Understanding the Assignment

Undergraduate resources in the Writing Center


The first step in completing an assignment is ensuring that you understand what is expected. Assignment instructions can sometimes contain language that is unfamiliar, especially if you have been out of school for a while. For help navigating this language, consult our guide to writing terms below.

Common Writing Terms

Analyze = explain a multifaceted text or idea by breaking it into its parts.

Example: Analyze the relationship between hand sanitizer and disease transmission in hospitals.

Tips: Remember to state what the relationship is, but also why. The why involves critical thinking to determine all the factors in the scenario.

Assess or evaluate = determine the significance or value of something by examining it closely.

Example: Evaluate whether hand sanitizer decreases disease transmission.

Tips: Come to an overall, educated opinion on the issue based on course readings, other research, and reasoning. Write a thesis statement at the beginning of your paper to tell the reader what that opinion is.

Compare and contrast = to examine two items to discover similarities and differences.

Example: Compare and contrast three brands of hand sanitizer for effectiveness and cost.

Tips: To provide a well-rounded comparison, give equal attention to the similarities and the differences. Follow our compare/contrast guidelines before submission.

Paraphrase =  restate a passage in your own words.

Example: Paraphrase the CDC's recent announcement on the use of hand sanitizer.

Tips: It can be tempting to directly quote the statement, but paraphrasing builds your academic skills. Read the announcement carefully and then open a new document on your computer. Without looking back, reword the announcement using your own vocabulary. Finally, compare yours to the original.

Reflect =  think about an idea deeply and consider its impact.

Example: Reflect on your own use of hand sanitizer in the medical profession.

Tips: You might find that sitting in a quiet place, away from the computer, allows you to think easier. Even if you are reflecting on a bad situation in your workplace, remain neutral and objective when writing about the incident. 

Summarize =  express the main points of a reading in a shorter form.

Example: Summarize Chapter 3 of your course text on disease transmission.

Tips: While reading, pay attention to the who, what, why, where, and how in the text. It could be helpful to take notes or highlight the important information that jumps out at you.

Support your work/ideas =  justify your point of view by providing evidence.

Tips: Evidence can come in the form of statistics, examples, or other research. Such evidence is usually accompanied by a citation crediting the original source.


Once you understand the assignment instructions, jot down each component or outline the paper. Keep these tools handy as you write.

Still unsure what a word or concept means? Look it up in Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary.

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