by Harriet, the Arts Department’s Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow
When you’re first given an essay or an assignment, spend some time analysing the question before you do anything else. Look at each word. What does it tell you about what your tutor wants?
If you’re being asked, for example, to ‘discuss’ or ‘evaluate’ or ‘compare and contrast’, think about what specific instructions those words are giving you. Looking up those words in a dictionary can be a great help – even if you know what they mean. The dictionary definition can really help to focus your thoughts.
Consider each word in the question with the same amount of care. If you’re being asked to compare two things, don’t compare three. And remember that, for example, ‘Who poses the greater threat to the power of the Ice King, Finn or Jake?’ is not the same as ‘Tell me everything you can think of that is a threat to the Ice King’s power’….
…Nor is it the same as ‘Tell me everything you know about the Ice King and Finn and Jake.’
…Nor is it the same as ‘Say something clever on this subject.’
Don’t worry about sounding clever or squeezing in everything you can think of on a subject regardless of whether or not it’s specifically relevant to the question. Concentrate instead on answering the question as fully and clearly as you can.