Why is it important to pay close attention to assignment requirements?

When a writing project is assigned, the instructor (or the department) will usually spell out specific assignment requirements; these expectations are often communicated verbally, inscribed on a white board, or made available through an electronic or paper document.

Requirements often center on adherence to the main focus or topic of the assignment, due date(s), length, type of research and sources, style and format, method of submission, and other specific essential elements.

Failure to adhere to assignment requirements generally results in a penalty (often significant) to the student’s grade. Additionally, if the paper—or drafts of the paper—are to be reviewed by the instructor or peers prior to the final due date, missing a draft due date will also result in the loss of valuable feedback.

Each institution, department, or instructor may have unique assignment-specific requirements. Any questions about the requirements of a particular assignment should be directed to the professor or instructor.

What elements are typically included in assignment requirements?

  • Project focus: The writing assignment will almost always have a focus—such as argument, rhetorical or literary analysis, narrative, exposition, or research.
  • Topic: A specific topic, or range of topics, may be required or suggested.
  • Drafts: College-level writing assignments may be written as a series of drafts. Pay attention to the required number of drafts and expectations for revision between drafts.
  • Due date(s): Take careful note of the assignment’s due date(s) in a digital or paper planner. If multiple drafts are involved, note the due date for each draft.
  • Length: A minimum—and often maximum—number of words or pages are generally required. Use the word count at the bottom of the word processor screen to help determine the number of words that are included in the text of the paper.
  • Research and sources: Follow any specific instructions related to expectations for research. A minimum—and possibly maximum—number of sources are generally expected. The type and origin of sources should also be given careful attention:
    • Should they be scholarly academic books and articles, popular media, multi-media, or non-traditional?
    • Should they come from print or electronic sources, or a combination?
    • Should they be primary or secondary, or a combination?
    • Should specific data bases be accessed?
    • Should a specific publication date range be considered?
  • Bibliography: Expect to find a directive describing how to present a record of the works that have been cited, summarized, paraphrased, or referenced in the paper. The title and format of these pages will be determined by the prescribed style guide.
  • Style and Format: Pay close attention to required style and format. Adherence to MLA, APA, or Chicago style, among others, is often expected.
  • Point of view: Most academic papers are written in 3rd person; however, personal narrative and some other types of writing may necessitate the use of 1st person.
  • Method of submission: Whether the assignment is to be submitted electronically or as a paper copy (or both) is usually specified; plan accordingly.
    • If an electronic submission is required, make note of the required file type (e. g., .docx, .pdf, .rtf, .pptx) and the exact time by which the assignment is to be submitted.
    • If a paper submission is expected, allow sufficient time to accommodate possible computer, printer, or paper issues.
  • Plagiarism detection: Directions for submission of the paper to a computer-assisted plagiarism detection system, such as SafeAssign or Turnitin, should be followed.



If this comment appears on your paper, your Works Cited page is probably missing or incomplete; check the assignment requirements. A Works Cited list includes complete source information for each source that has been quoted, paraphrased, or referenced in your paper. Failure to properly acknowledge the origin of your sources is considered plagiarism.