What Professors Look for in Your Assignments: Decoding the Mystery

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Did that just make you smile that evil smile? Well, don’t worry. You are not alone. “Something is lacking”… “Your description is not accurate” … “You seem to be beating round the bush” … “Why can’t you write better? “…. All students out there must have heard these phrases quite many times in their college life. And it makes us wonder for sure that after all, what do these professors want in our assignments??

We tried to survey sources from all over the world to find out what all they might be looking for when they assess our assignments and the findings are here for you to take home. 

First of all, try to infer what exactly the aim of your assignment is. We have to understand why the professor has given us an assignment. Here it would be useful to go through the expected learning outcomes and objectives of an assignment. The skills listed therein are what the professors would look for when they evaluate your assignment.

Before starting any assignment, read it carefully and underline or highlight the keywords as in what exactly you have to write about, what is the way you are expected to organise your thoughts as, what is the word limit, what are the references you are expected to follow, so on and so forth.

Make a blueprint to start with, noting down the keywords and penning down the skeletal structure of your assignment. Then there would be very less chance that you would miss something that the assignment has asked of you.

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If you read the question thoroughly, a big chunk of your work is done. Note what exactly is the word used- is it “describe”, “discuss”, “explain”, “list”, “draw”, “read”, “define”, “state”, “name”, “compare”, “contrast” or something else may be. Remember each of these verbs demands a different action from you. So any mix and match can land you in a puddle.

Let us explain a few of such words that may help you-

Analyse Logically study the concept and write in detail about it. Think about its different aspects and consider all of those. 
Argue Present the case by giving points either in favour or against the topic.
Assess Write about the positive and negative effects of the thing, its importance, and the contribution or potential it has. 
Compare Write the similarities and differences between two things.
Contrast Here, , you have to write only the points of difference, not similarity between the two subjects
Criticise Analyse a topic and point out its possible positive and negative points.
Define Provide a technical, concise definition of the word. Include the key words associated with it but keep the entire sentence crisp and simple. Refer a specialised dictionary for this.
Demonstrate Use diagrams, flowcharts, examples to explain a topic.
Describe Write a detailed account on the given topic.
Differentiate Same as “contrast”.
Discuss Give a general account of the subject from different perspectives or as asked in the question.
Explain Give detailed reasoning about the subject.
Explore Make a thorough research into the topic and write about its various facets.
Give account of Write a detailed description of the topic.
Illustrate Similar to “demonstrate”
Interpret Clearly write the meaning that you understand using your knowledge of the subject, expert references as well as your own judgement.
Justify Give proper arguments to defend the topic or concept asked.
List Write in points the things asked for in the question.
Name Just give exactly what is asked for. Stick to the point. Don’t go for unnecessary elaboration.
Outline Write all the main points and connect them in a proper fashion so that the entire topic is present without extreme detailing but not missing out the main points.
Prove Give examples to defend the point asked for.
Review Write a condensed report considering both the pros and cons and various facets of a topic.
State Similar to “name”
Summarise Give a condensed description keeping out points which are not very important to the topic.
Trace Write about the development of a particular thing/topic from one particular point to another.


This is just an idea; accordingly, whenever you face an assignment question, try to decipher what exactly you have been asked to do and then only start answering.

Try to keep your words as simple as possible; if the meaning can be conveyed by just one or two words, please don’t use a longer alternative just to sound that you know much. Simpler sentences and concise descriptions convey a wiser you.

Always try to follow the break down and assemble rule. When you read a big question, it’s easy to get confused. So, just breakdown the same as in pen down what all things are asked point wise. You can then solve the big puzzle step by step and at last you can assemble it all and organise it to present a complete and clear cut answer to the confusing question.

Wherever possible, take the help of visual additions to make your assignment stand apart. Use diagrams, flowcharts, figures, examples and explain the same. That is something that would give uniqueness to your presentation.

Whenever you sit down to write an essay, do remember there are three parts you need to put in – introduction, main body and conclusion; you miss any part and its entire effect is tampered with in an instant. And make it a point to prepare a rough draft first and then only, write the final piece.

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There are many online and offline resources available to help you but make sure that you don’t copy from these sources. Read, understand and then try to put down in your own words what you assimilate after reading these. And yeah, don’t try to act smart because professors have smarter anti-plagiarism software which can easily identify the portions you have copied along with their sources as well. So, better be safe than be sorry.

One more thing that college assignments seek from you is originality and wits. Professors don’t just expect you to cram and reproduce; rather they want you to use your judgment along with the subject knowledge that has been imparted to you to solve practical problems. And this problem solving ability of yours is often tested in these assignments. So, think, analyse, question before you start penning down the answer to that assignment. 

Whenever you argue about something in your answer, make sure to put in proper references in support of your claims. Don’t just go on saying or writing anything and everything that comes to your mind. And always remember to give credits, citations wherever they are due.

The World Wide Web is overflowing with information these days but beware… not all of this information is accurate. So, be careful while choosing your sources; you may ask for references from your professors or go for sources which are certified, university resources, world famous journals, specific websites and so forth. And don’t believe anything blindly; make it a point to question and seek answers, because that is the only way you would learn the right things.

Above all, do keep in mind, that academic writing is a specialised field. The way you shall write your assignments, essays, reports would definitely vary from the way you write emails or chat messages. You have to give emphasis to several aspects ranging from grammar, punctuation, too writing style and effective proof reading. You are desired to communicate your ideas and opinions in a formal yet creative manner, maintaining the necessary norms. Planning, coherence, and effective presentation all need to work in perfect harmony to deliver a good piece of academic writing. But hey!!! You don’t need to panic. 

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