Interpret the assignment

Structuring your text

Interpret the assignment

Reading a book

A typical mistake many students make, perhaps especially when taking exams, is not paying enough attention to the assignment. It is very important to always read the assignment thoroughly to make sure you have understood everything and know what the assignment is asking you to do.

Look for command words

You should pay special attention to the command words that are used in the assignment. A command word is a verb or a verb phrase that tells you what to do. Some examples of common command words are:

  • analyse
  • describe
  • account for
  • explain
  • discuss

The command words used in the assignment uses, also tells you which role you should take on in your text. Some command words call for little or no personal reflection or involvement, while other command words ask you to have a clear voice and stance, which requires more than just paraphrasing the things you have read. In the following examples, you can see how your role as a writer changes with the command word.

  1. Account for immigration policies in Norway from 2013 to 2016.
    In this example you are simply asked to recount facts. This requires little involvement of your own; tone down your personal voice, because you are simply asked to present key facts and statistics about the topic.

  2. Analyse immigration policies in Norway from 2013 to 2016.
    This example calls for the writer to have a clearer voice, because you are asked to analyse the policies. This means not only recounting facts, but also analysing what these facts mean.

  3. Discuss immigration policies in Norway from 2013 to 2016.
    This assignment requires a very clear voice and stance. When writing this text, you need to discuss implications, perceived advantages and disadvantages, as well as perceived strong and weak points of the policies. This means that you also need to offer up your own evaluations of the policies.

More than one command word

When interpreting an assignment, it is also important to keep in mind that there might be more than just one command word. If we continue with the examples from above, one possible assignment could have been “Account for the immigration policies in Norway from 2013 to 2016, and discuss whether or not they have been good or bad for the Norwegian economy.” In this assignment you are first asked to account for the policies, and then to discuss them. This involves structuring your text in two parts, where you first present facts and figures about the policies, and then discuss their implications and level of success.

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