Guide for Written Assignments

Types of assignments

Essays: Essays are discursive works that tackle a particular question or topic. They should have a coherent line of argument that flows throughout the work. Good essays usually open with a brief section that examines the nature and extent of the question and introduces the topic. The main body of the essay will address key issues raised in the question in a logical order, with discussion of these points occurring throughout. Examples will be used where appropriate. The essay should be rounded off with a conclusion, where an overview of the discussion should be given that leads to concluding statements. Essays are normally written in continuous prose without subdivision. Subdivisions may be used, but not at the expense of overall argument.

Reports: The purpose of a report is to convey information in a concise, easy to follow, manner. This is a style of writing used in most professional jobs because information can be found quickly and easily, without necessarily reading the whole document. Reports tend to be heavily subdivided into sections and subsections (these sections are frequently numbered). There will be a clear logical order to the layout and usually a contents table to allow easy navigation to the relevant part of the report. In a report there will be a tendency to separate information from discussion (unlike in an essay). For instance, in a scientific experimental report there is often an introduction followed by a description of materials and methods used, followed by a description of the results then discussion of those results and, lastly, a conclusion.

A Critique: A critique tends to have a style rather like that of an essay, but it is a particular type of essay. You will be asked to review some aspect of a particular case study. Some examples of subjects might be an excavation report, a particular idea put forward in an academic paper or a particular school of thought. When you are being asked to be ‘critical’, this does not mean that you are expected to simply identify problems and weaknesses. Criticism is not all negative; you should identify positive things as well. A critical thinker should logically weigh-up issues in the light of their knowledge and understanding. Their assessment should be disinterested and fair.


For any written assignment, your module tutor will give guidance on what you need to read. When you are planning your time, allow for finding books and articles as well as reading them (remember you may have to reserve material in the Library). Remember to use articles in periodicals (monthly or yearly journals etc), as well as monographs (books): up-to-date information and debate is as likely to be found in journals as books. It is usually better to start by reading general books or articles before going on to more specific ones. Do not rely on out-of-date publications. While you are reading and taking notes, keep accurate records of the book/article being used, including page numbers, and all the information you will need for the essay bibliography. Ideally, take notes both for the essay topic and about the subject generally; a different aspect of it may be explored in the exam. If you have difficulty finding the recommended reading, or understanding it, or planning your essay, please refer back to the relevant lecturer as soon as possible. It is better to do that than to submit a poor piece of work.

Structuring a written assignment

An assignment will normally ask you to answer a specific question, not to write generally. Please look carefully at the wording of the question. Normally, it is good practice to start with an introduction defining your subject and perhaps explaining how you intend to approach it. There will be a number of aspects to the subject, which should then be discussed in turn. Make sure that your conclusions are clear. The assignment needs to include evidence/data, discussion/analysis, and conclusions drawn from the evidence. Avoid writing an essay that is just factual, or one that has no facts. Argue a case, do not just make unsupported assertions. Explain unusual terms and identify people and places (unless very well known), and give locations (such as County) for sites. The best strategy is to write so that the other students in your module could understand you.


All essays should be word-processed. When you present your work, please check the following:

  • Abbreviations: avoid eg, ie, and etc in the text of an essay/dissertation.
  • Dates: AD goes before the date (e.g. AD 1066), and BC afterwards (e.g. 1004 BC). Remember to use BP, BC, cal. BC, etc. with care (the significance of this will be explained in ARC1020 Essential Archaeological Methods).
  • Font size: all coursework must be presented in 12 point Arial or Times New Roman
  • Illustrations: Much of your work for archaeology will benefit from illustration, including maps, diagrams and pictures of artefacts. Clear scans are acceptable, or devise your own illustrations. However, note that scanning low-resolution images can produce very poor results. Make sure that the illustrations are relevant to your text and refer to them when you are writing.
  • Layout: Use 1.5 line spacing, leaving at least 2.5 cm margin on each side of the text. Use a point size of 12.
  • Length: Word length for essays and other submitted work varies according to the module. Word lengths for assignments will be given in each module guide. Word length excludes bibliography, tables and captions unless specifically stated in the module guide.
  • We are strict about word limits. An important skill for you to acquire is the ability to write clearly and concisely, and to following pre-set guidelines. If the number of words is found to be more than 10% over the word limit, a penalty will be imposed. 
  • Numbers: These are spelt out in words from one to ten or when a number starts a sentence. For numbers over ten, use the numeral (i.e. 250). Note that distances (m, km) are not followed by a full-stop except where they are at the end of a sentence.
  • Pagination: the pages of all assignments should be numbered.
  • Paragraphing: avoid very long or very short paragraphs: they make the text very disjointed (the same goes for long sequences of short sentences).
  • Quotations: Keep these to a minimum. Too many quotations in an essay will make it a miscellany of bits and pieces rather than your own work. Short quotations of one or two lines are best put into inverted commas, and carried on within your normal text. Longer quotations should be indented. Always put a reference immediately following the quotation, e.g. ‘... dug like a potato patch’ (Wheeler 1940, 217).
  • It is wrong to copy word for word (or nearly so) from other authors or students (except when you make and identify quotations). This is PLAGIARISM and will be penalised.
  • Spelling and Punctuation: Please check these carefully before submitting your essay. Remember that a spell-cheque [!] does not pick up all spelling mistakes. Sub-headings: These may help you structure the text, but avoid fragmenting your essay too much.

Submitting your work - please refer to the College Handbook