Well, it may sound obvious but it's worth repeating. READ your assignment instructions carefully. Misinterpreting the assignment question is one of the most common ways to lose marks and it can easily be avoided.
All this will be clearly explained in your module handbook. If it isn't ASK.
Sometimes you may be given a choice of questions for your assignment. You need to find out which of the options is most likely to interest you and allow you to get a good mark
First of all you need to find out what resources are available to support the question(s) you have been set. The best way to do this is to have a quick look on the Library Catalogue or Google Scholar.
You might find that there isn't enough material to support the topic you have chosen OR there may be too much stuff to select from.
If this happens, either go back to your question and chose a different set of words to search with or try a different question. You may need to do this several times to get a clear picture of what resources are available for you to use.
If you aren't sure about what sort of words to use in a search you can ask your subject librarian for help.
Once you are sure there are enough resources start to look at the text of the information you have found and decide whether it supports your argument you want to make. Remember that what counts as "enough information" may vary from topic to topic or from one assignment to the next.
To help you decide whether the information you have found is useful you can use some simple evaluation criteria.
Ask yourself three things:
If you have a particular question to answer, read it carefully.
"Discuss the attraction of TV comedy programmes and analyse the ways in which the genre is communicated through the medium"
"Analyse" is an instruction word. It is asking you to focus on the "how" and "why" of an issue or topic-in this case how television comedy programmes are communicated.
"Discuss" is another instruction. It is asking you to present a point of view and argue both sides of an issue with supporting evidence. In this case the attraction of TV comedy programmes.
Topic words are the words that tell you "what" you have to write about. In this case Comedy programmes, Television.
There are also obvious restrictive words - you are to concentrate on TV not radio, comedy programmes not thrillers etc.
Follow this link for more instruction words that you might find in your essay question.
Download: Guide to instruction words
Lillis, T. (2001). 'Essay Writing' In Drew, S, Bingham, R, The Student Skills Guide pp. 53 - 76, Gower.
By now you should have a clearer idea of what you have to do.
Sometimes your tutor wants you to research a topic of your own choosing. This may seem quite daunting to begin with but it doesn't have to be.
Think about a topic that you have been covering in class
Once you have done a bit of research you will be able to form some opinions. For instance you are studying issues in Higher Education in class and you have just finished reading the latest government report on Higher Education. You have been interested in the issues around student debt and student loans and indeed it is a theme that has cropped up before in your lectures. You consider that far from widening participation, government policy is creating distinctions between who can benefit from Higher Education and those who are barred from it. So a question might be formulating that would look at the social and economic issues around higher education. This is very broad so you might narrow it down to the following question
"What impact has the introduction of increased student fees had on widening participation in higher education?"
As you do more reading the question may well change slightly. This is all part of the research process as you learn more your opinions and arguments may well change in the face of the evidence or you may find the topic too broad and you may have to narrow it down.
The main thing to remember is that the best research questions require thorough investigation and do not have simple answers, it should interest you and enable you to expand your knowledge.