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Assignment structure

The academic assignment is often based on a standard outline

However, the structure may vary from task to task, depending on the topic and the course in which it is written. On this page, you will find information about the typical elements of an academic assignment. You can use the page as inspiration to build your assignment, but remember that the structure should be adapted to your particular project and not vice versa.

Typical content elements 

The structure of your assignment depends, among other things, on whether your assignment is theoretical, empirical or product-oriented. You can read more about the different types of assignments on the page types of assignments. In addition, the structure should reflect that your assignment presents one overall argument, which is underpinned by academic evidence. Read more about the assignment as one argument on the page Argumentation.

Orientate yourself in your academic regulations 

The following content elements are typical elements of an academic assignment, but please note that there may be special requirements or recommendations for the structure and content of your task. Therefore, please contact your supervisor or lecturer at an early stage in your academic regulations, so you can incorporate the requirements for your assignment from the beginning. You should also be aware that the content elements can be called something else within your field of study, so follow the academic traditions of your degree programme.

Abstract

It is often a requirement for large university assignments that there is an abstract or a brief summary at either the beginning or the end of the assignment. An abstract summarizes the assignment's:

  • problem and purpose
  • method
  • analysis results
  • conclusion
  • perspectives.

An abstract gives the reader a brief insight into the assignment, so that he or she can assess whether it is relevant to read it further.

NB: Not all assignments must contain an abstract. Contact your academic regulations or ask your supervisor if you are in doubt. Please also note that an abstract sometimes has to be in a different language than the rest of the assignment..

Introduction

In the introduction, you must introduce the reader to the framework of your assignment and provide an overview of what you want to do with the assignment and why. This entails a presentation of your topic and your problem, including why it is relevant to investigate it and how you will do it. 

IN THE INTRODUCTION, YOU CAN, FOR EXAMPLE, TOUCH ON THE ASSIGNMENT'S:

  • topic and problem

  • purpose and relevance

  • use of theory/theories, empirical data and method

  • concept definitions

  • structure or a reading guide

  • problem statement/hypothesis

Edit the introduction continuously in the writing process and write it until the end to make sure that you do not promise more than the assignment provides. Ask yourself whether the conclusion responds to your problem statement, and whether the assignment contains all the aspects you promise in the introduction.

Problem statement/hypothesis

Your assignment's problem must always be clearly marked, regardless of whether it is formulated as a problem statement or a hypothesis. You can, for example, do this by italicize it, marking it in bold, or by placing it in a separate section with headline. You can read more about how to design and work with a problem statement on the Problem statement and hypothesis page.

Purpose of the assignment

The overall purpose of the assignment must be clarified in the introduction. The purpose is to explain why your assignment is interesting to others and what it contributes in relation to the problem you are investigating. Your purpose may, for example, be:

PURPOSE of the STUDY

EXPLANATION

Explanatory

You are investigating to explain a phenomenon. This can be done inductively, i.e. based on the phenomenon or empiriria, or deductive, i.e. based on theory.

Normative

You are investigating to find 'best practice' or to assess whether a phenomenon is good or bad.

Problem solving

You are investigating how to find one or more solutions to the problem

Intervention-oriented

You are investigating how to find possible interventions or to see the effects of interventions

Exploratory

You are investigating to discover something new about a phenomenon.

Research Overview/Literature Review

At the university, you are expected to take an active approach to existing knowledge about your topic and how you have previously dealt with the topic in your subject. This can be done in several ways, depending on the type of assignment and the subject field you are studying. 

Sometimes you have to present the research in a separate chapter or section, where you relate to and discuss state-of-the-art, i.e. the latest research in the field, and provide relevant literature reviews. Other times, it is enough to present the most important research very briefly in the introduction, in the theory section or on an ongoing basis in the assignment. 

Orient yourself in the academic regulations

Orient yourself in the academic regulations, or ask your supervisor or lecturer about the requirements for the inclusion of a research overview and existing knowledge in your particular assignment.

Read more about academic norms.

NB: Not all written assignments must include an actual research overview. Contact your academic regulations or ask your supervisor if you are in doubt. 

Epistemology

Epistemology is about presenting your approach to what knowledge is and how knowledge is produced. There are various theories of epistemology that look at what science is and should be.

This means that the theories are based on different ontological understandings (i.e. understandings of how something exists) and different epistemological foundations (i.e. epistemology and assumptions about the world). Examples of scientific theory are social constructivism, positive ism, phenomenology and hermeneutics. 

Justify your theoretical approach to science

Your theoretical approach must be based on literature on the theory of science and be closely linked to your choice of method and theory, which you can also elaborate on in this section.

Read more about the use of existing knowledge and independent cognition on the Academic Norms page.

Method and Study Design

The assignment's chapter on method and study design constitutes the reason why your study and analysis are acceptable. This is also called the assignment's legal basis, which you can read more about under Argumentation.

Describe your study design

The methodology section looks different depending on whether your assignment is theoretical, empirical or product-oriented. But no matter what, it must contain a description of how you perform your assignment. This can also be called a study design.

The study design refers to the overall framework of the assignment for data collection and analysis. The design of the study must be based on the academic methods you have learned in the teaching, and must be backed by theory of methods.

THE METHODOLOGY SECTION MAY, FOR EXAMPLE, INCLUDE:

  • Study design: What have you done and why?

  • Collection method: How have you collected empirical data? 

  • Treatment and documentation method: How have you processed and documented empirical data? 

  • Analysis method: How do you analyse empirical data? 

  • Access: How do you have access to the field? What do you have access to/do not have access to?

  • Role: What was/is your role? Has your role changed?

Justify choice and rejection

Reflection and awareness of why you do what you do is an important part of working academically. In your methodology section, you should therefore reflect on your conscious choices and the choices you have been forced to take, for example due to external circumstances, as well as the consequences for your study's design or analysis. You can also explain why you have chosen a particular method if there were other obvious choices.

Theory

In the theory section, you must present and account for the theory you use in the assignment. Here, it is important to be application-oriented, which means that you only account for the parts of the theory that you actually use to answer your assignment's problem in the analysis. The theory section's function is not to show everything you know within the field, but to support your study and your analysis as part of the argumentation.

Different ways of incorporating the theory

You can include the theory section in different ways. In some assignments, it makes sense to have a unified theory chapter, where you explain all the theoretical concepts you use in the assignment. Other tasks make more sense with a short presentation of the theory in a separate section and then an ongoing account of the concepts of the places in which you use them in your analysis. You may want to talk to your supervisor or lecturer about what will work best in your assignment.

Analysis

Your assignment's analysis section can look in many different ways, and it depends, on whether your assignment is theoretical, empirical or product-oriented. The analysis is usually the most comprehensive part of the assignment, because it is here that you must answer the problem statement independently by presenting all your evidence of the overall assertion of the assignment.

Read more about argumentation (in Danish).

Guide your reader through the analysis

Because the analysis is so comprehensive, it is a good idea to meta-communicate along the way so that the reader can follow the logic and progress. For example by making sub-conclusions along the way.

Read more about how you can guide your reader under academic norms.

Structure of the analysis

The first thing you need to do in the analysis is to present the object you want to analyse, e.g. empirical data or artefacts, as well as the tools you want to use to analyse, e.g. your method, theory or concepts. Then comes the actual analysis, where you use the tools to examine your selected object of analysis.

Please note that it is difficult to communicate your analysis before you have done it – because you can only see patterns, categories, etc., when you sit with the analysis material.

Read more about the writing process

In the video below, you can hear Cand. Mag. Rikke Gottfredsen introduce you to what an analysis is (in Danish).

 

The actual analysis can, for example, be based on the DAA structure:

  • Description: Where you describe the sub-item you want to analyse (e.g. a quotation or a table)
  • Analysis: Where to analyse the element through the use of theories and concepts
  • Assessment: where you assess what the analysis of the sub-item says about the overall object

The DAA structure can therefore be repeated again and again until all of your items have been analysed.

Discussion

In the discussion of the assignment, you must both criticise and defend your own investigation both academically and methodologically. In other words, you need to deal with the weaknesses of the assignment and make it clear why it is still reliable. This strengthens the overall argumentation in your assignment.

IN THE DISCUSSION, YOU CAN, FOR EXAMPLE, CRITICISE

  • Your analysis. Here, you can, for example, highlight the uncertainties of the analysis or challenge the results of the analysis.
  • Your method and your theory. Here, you can, for example, point out strengths and weaknesses.
  • The scientific-theoretical standpoint by pointing out what this means for the study of the assignment.

Deal with your challenges

It is normal to encounter challenges during the writing process, and in some cases these may serve as input for your discussion section. Therefore, remember to constantly write down when you encounter challenges and why they arose, so that you finally have a collection of material to use as your offset in your discussion. 

Conclusion

The conclusion summarises the results of your analysis and why the assignment is important. It must contain a clear and well-worded response to the problem statement or a confirmation/refutation of the hypothesis that you have examined in your paper. Depending on the purpose of your study, which you have presented in the introduction of your assignment, the conclusions take different forms:

PURPOSE OF THE STUDY

THE CONCLUSION MUST

Explanatory

Explain how or why the studied phenomenon is

Normative

Assess what the "best practice" is, or whether the studied phenomenon is good/bad

Problem solving

Set up one or more possible solutions to the problem studied

Intervention-oriented

Formulate one or more possible interventions or explain the effects of investigated interventions

Exploratory

Expand the understanding of the studied phenomenon or explain something that has been unexplained so far

Read more about the characteristics of the different study purposes in the purpose of the assignment.

In addition to answering your problem statement or confirming/refuting your hypothesis, the conclusion must also summarise the main points and results of the assignment. In addition, it must include an assessment of your method and your approach.

You should not present new material in your conclusion, but present a brief summary of your study's overall points. It is a good idea to take notes during your writing process, which you then can use to write the conclusion.

Is the introduction and conclusion linked together?

When you have finished writing your assignment, try to read your introduction and the conclusion in immedeate continuation of each other. Then assess what the introduction promises will be fulfilled in the conclusion, and whether the conclusion responds to the assignment's problem statement/hypothesis.

Perspectives

In some university assignements, you are expected to end with a perspective. The perspective can be placed in its own section after the conclusion, be a part of the conclusion or be included in your discussion. What you write in the perspective should be based on what you have already written in the assignment. This means that you do not need to include new theories or new assertions that require new evidence.

Read about the argumentation of the assignment (in Danish)

THE PERSPECTIVE MAY INCLUDE:

  • How the results of the assignment have significance or relevance

  • How the assignment's study and results relate to the existing academic knowledge

  • How the assignment's study and results relate to a broader societal context

  • How to investigate the subject in the future

Orientate yourself in your academic regulations

Read up on the academic regulations or talk to your supervisor or lecturer if you are unsure whether your assignment should contain a perspective, or how it should be included in the assignment.


See also

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