What is your writing assignment?
Now that you’ve answered that question, answer this one:
What exactly is your writing assignment?
This is the first question I pose to anyone who comes to me for writing help, and it’s immensely important. If you cannot spell out exactly what your writing assignment is, you’re in serious trouble.
Teachers and professors are all the same – well, mostly the same. We are very consistent about one thing: telling you in no uncertain terms what we expect in your essay.
I know what you’re probably thinking.
“But my teacher only confuses me. That’s the very problem I’m having in writing this stupid thing. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do.”
Maybe you’re right. Like any other profession, there are always bad apples. There are good doctors and bad doctors, good lawyers and bad lawyers. And, yes, there are good teachers and bad teachers.
To be fair, there are also good students and bad students. Trust me, I know. So if your teacher falls into the “bad teacher” category, let’s acknowledge that for what it is and move forward. What I’m going to ask you to do is to play the role of the good student and to do what good students do – ask questions!
Again, we’re assuming that your professor has not made it very clear what the writing assignment is for you and/or the other students. There could be a variety of reasons for that. Remember: these people work very hard in their jobs as instructors and often teach the same classes over and over and over again.
(In my first year of teaching, I must have taught College Writing close to 10 times.)
Since we often teach the same material over and over again, we occasionally forget to say things or to make certain assignments crystal clear. And, let’s be honest here. Teachers, like anybody else, have good days and bad days, on days and off days.
The point is – if you’re in any way uncertain about your assignment, be sure to get the instructor to clear things up for you. For the most part, instructors love questions – especially good questions. From my own experience as both a teacher and a student, I can honestly say that the key to questions is timing.
Your teacher might be unavailable for questions during class. So ask after class. Or, perhaps you’re uncomfortable with the idea of asking questions in person. Send your thoughts in an email. (This is actually a great way to be sure you get everything answered.)
Just do me one favor. Be absolutely certain you read the writing prompt (handout given during class) very closely. Nothing is more irritating than questions that are already addressed in a handout.
It’s even better if you can ask your questions with the writing assignment in hand and then take notes as your professor answers you. Such behavior is almost always apparent to teachers and often remembered during grading sessions. (Hint, hint.)
Here are some great questions to ask:
- How long should it be?
- Do I need to include outside source material?
- What kind of essay should I write? (informative, personal, etc.)
- What would an “A” paper look like?
- What should I be absolutely sure to avoid the best grade possible?
Also, think of questions specific to your situation. A lot of this is about “feeling out” your instructor to get a sense of what’s important to him or her.