expand search

Academic Skills

a female student writing in her notebook

Academic Skills

Planning Your Assignment

  1. Understand and analyze your assignment
  2. Narrow your topic
  3. Do preliminary research and review course concepts
  4. Develop a working research question or thesis question
  5. Make a research plan
  6. Read sources and take notes
  7. Develop a thesis and outline
  8. Write first draft
  9. Revise and edit
  10. Proofread and check citations

Booking an appointment with an Academic Skills Instructor is beneficial at any stage of the writing process. Plan ahead and book an instructor to help you understand your assignment, create an outline, or review the first draft of your paper.

Consider how long each step will take and make a plan for when you will complete each step. Enter these mini-deadlines into your calendar or planner. See an example.


1. Understand and analyze your assignment

Spend some time to fully understand your assignment before you begin your work.

  • Analyze the assignment question: read it carefully and underline key words, terms, and concepts.
  • Note important assignment requirements:
    • The length of the assignment provides clues as to how much research you need to do and the depth of the paper
    • Research requirements: number and type of sources
    • Due date
    • Referencing style (APA, MLA, Chicago etc.)

2. Narrow your topic

Take time to narrow your topic; a focused topic promotes good research and strong analysis.

When you can choose your own topic, pick something that truly interests you. Browse through the syllabus, lecture and reading notes, and course readings to help you decide.

3. Do preliminary research and review course concepts

Preliminary reading helps to focus your topic. You can determine how much information is available and whether you need to change the scope of your topic.

  • Start with course readings and texts.
  • Search the Trent Library Guides to find reference tools related to your discipline, including the best databases to use, relevant peer reviewed journals, good websites, dictionaries, and encyclopedias. 

4. Develop a working research question or thesis question

A research question is a starting point that expresses what you want to know about your topic and why you want to know it. A good question will help focus your research.

5. Make a research plan

The research process will consume a significant amount of time, so make sure that you leave plenty of time for this stage. Research is easier when you take the time to plan.

6. Read sources and take notes

7. Develop a thesis and an outline

The thesis is your position about the topic and the centre around which your paper will be organized. Review how to generate a good thesis.   

An outline identifies the main sections of the paper in relation to one another and the order in which they will be discussed in the essay. Include the evidence (and citation information) that you will use to support each section. There are various ways to outline a paper.

8. Write a first draft

The first draft for most writers is a document that contains errors, rough points, and incomplete sections. This becomes the basis for thoughtful revision and a final draft.

9. Revise and edit

10. Proofread and check citations

Final proofreading is important for a polished finished product. 

Check citations for accuracy; our documentation guide has full details on proper citation.