As an undergraduate student at university, you will probably be expected to do some writing in most of your courses. Even if the course doesn't require you to submit a paper, it may require you to write an essay examination. Therefore, an important part of learning at university includes becoming familiar with the structure of an essay as well as achieving the level of competence in writing expected by university professors. Writing skills are emphasized in assignments at university because writing is an essential tool for communication in the working world; these assignments help you to develop the critical thinking and writing skills that will be important even after graduation.
Some students believe that writing ability is evaluated only in courses within English departments. This isn't true at the University of Guelph, where all faculty are directed by Senate to grade not only the content of the assignment but also "the student's ability to use correctly and effectively the language appropriate to the assignment." What this means is that no matter how well-chosen your topic, how well-researched your information, how innovative your ideas, or how brilliant your understanding of the material, your grade will suffer if you cannot convey all that to a reader through a well-organized, clearly written paper. Writing is an expression of your thoughts. If your writing isn't clear, a professor may assume that your thinking wasn't clear on that topic either.
Written assignments in university can vary in length from a one-page essay question on an examination to a 20 or 30 page research paper. They can also vary in the level of analysis as well as in the amount and type of research required. You may be asked simply to describe a process or event, or to analyze or evaluate how and why that process or event occurs. Some assignments will require you to read and discuss a single work assigned to you, while others will require you to conduct some kind of library research to ﬁnd out about your topic and to bring together in your paper information from a variety of sources. This is called secondary research, and requires you to learn to properly acknowledge your research sources when you write. Primary research occurs when you yourself make some observations on an experiment, survey or study, as is expected in science lab courses as well as in some social science and humanities research courses. But even those papers produced from primary research will usually involve the use of some kind of secondary research to discuss how your results compare to those of experts in the ﬁeld.
The term essay is used broadly for many different kinds of papers. Essentially, an essay is a written document that discusses, explains, analyzes, interprets, or evaluates a topic in an organized and coherent manner. The terminology used to refer to an assignment and the requirements for length, level of analysis, and amount of research vary not only between disciplines but also between courses within a discipline. Following are some examples of terminology which may be used in various disciplines.
In an introductory English literature course, you may be asked to write a literary essay or literary analysis which interprets a poem, short story or novel, and which uses only that piece of work and your own ideas as your sources. In more advanced English courses you may also be using the published opinions of other critics to support and expand your interpretation.
Some other words for essay include:
The terminology is not necessarily consistent: a term paper may tend to be a longer paper written in advanced courses, but not necessarily. You may be assigned a speciﬁc topic or asked to choose your own from subjects relevant to the course; the assignment will require you to read up on a speciﬁc topic, using either books or journal articles, and to integrate those sources to inform or persuade a reader.
An assignment requiring a literature review may be asking you to choose a speciﬁc topic and then to read journal articles written by experts about their own research. In this kind of paper you will be summarizing and comparing the results of research conducted on that topic. In some advanced courses, you may also be required to do some critical evaluation of the kind and quality of research being done. The term ' literature', as it is used in this assignment, refers to published research material rather than English literature or ﬁction.
Although the word 'report' may occasionally be used for many of the assignments described above, it is most often used to describe a lab report or research report written in science, psychology, sociology, or business courses to report primary research.
A book review is usually a summary of your critical opinion of one or more books, possibly supported by research into what other critics have said.
Overall, the message here is not to worry about what the assignment is called, but instead to concentrate your efforts on reading and understanding every detail of what is asked of you in the assignment description. Some professors may include details about not only the length and due date, but also the number and kind of research sources to use, the kind of information to include, and even the method of organization to follow. Pay close attention to those instructions, because they are the professor's guidelines to you about what he/she will be looking for in evaluating the paper. Therefore, when you receive an assignment, the ﬁrst and most useful thing you can do is to read the assignment instructions carefully and make sure you understand what is required before proceeding. Check with the professor if you are uncertain about any of the requirements.
An essay may ask you to do one or more of the following:
The specific purpose, length, and amount of research will vary from assignment to assignment.
Many essays will require you to support your ideas with information from other sources. Check out these other guides for help finding sources.
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