Written assignments | Open University

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University studies involve a great deal of reading and writing. Completing a course or part of it may require a written assignment such as a summary, essay or examination. The ability to refer to sources accurately is important for written assignments.


A summary is a description of a text you have heard or read. A summary takes the main points of the original text and uses them to create a new, meaningful text without changing the significance of the original. 

The most important thing about writing a summary is to retain the key relationships in the text. These include temporal relationships, influencing factors, context, the relationships between generic and specific terms, effects and solutions. For example, a cause-and-effect relationship in the original text must be retained in the summary.  


An essay is a relatively broad text, written on the basis of assigned sources, which examines a set topic in sufficient scope within the constraints of the given title. This means that the writer of the essay must combine the requirements of the title, summarising the source material and their own thinking into an original set of arguments.  

An essay must have a clear and systematic structure. The recommended format for essays is in three parts: introduction, discussion and conclusion or summary.

Examination answer

An examination answer is typically shorter than an essay, written after systematically studying the course literature. The success of an examination answer depends on the skill of the student to draft clear and well-argued essays. This means that the instructions for writing essays also apply to writing examination answers. 

While the titles for examination answers are similar to those assigned for essays, they do not require as careful and extensive a discussion of the topic due to the time constraints. Examination questions may request that the student provide a list, description, analysis, comparison, definition, explanation, evaluation, critique or deduction related to the topic. The central part of the examination answer is made up of an original and critical summary of the literature assigned for the examination.

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The written assignments in university studies usually require the use of previous research and literature. Source references indicate which texts the author has used in their work. Students should learn referencing practices at the very beginning of their studies.  
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