The prompt is as much a part of the assignment as the paper itself.
Navigating a prompt can seem daunting to a student, but some simple guidelines, that can be applied to most assignment descriptions, can help. An action plan, leading to the paper’s action plan, is not so daunting because it is based on common sense questions:
Did I read it? Read it-all the way through, before anything else.
What is the overall objective of this assignment? The prompt probably contains a statement to that effect. Highlight or label it.
What are the “givens,” the technical stuff? Make a list of to-dos, such as length, style, due date, etc. These become a simple checklist. Save it the for last, after the work is done. (Don’t wrap the box before the present is inside.)
Who is the audience? Who, other than the instructor, are you writing for? (This might be a real audience, or it might be a “made-up”one for the purposes of the paper. Either way, it doesn’t matter; it gives you focus, and helps you strategize.)
What is this? Highlight anything that just isn’t clear or doesn’t make sense, and ASK. (The teacher and/or the writing center are there to help.)
What materials will I need (research, texts, etc.)?
Are there any special rules or exceptions for this assignment (e.g. an author’s note, or an exception to an MLA or APA rule, etc.) If not, then forget about it.
Get all these things “sorted,” as they say in England, then, think about a tentative thesis, and finally, begin that outline. Breaking it down into bits, eliminates the scary. They’re just things to do.
Here’s some more detailed information from Purdue and UNC:
It’s midnight. Your paper is due tomorrow at 9 a.m. With coffee at your side, you’ve just settled into your chair, powered up your laptop, and pulled up the professor’s prompt on Canvas. And then it happens. You’ve just discovered a gray area in the assignment that seems like it might require an answer from your professor: Is an abstract needed for short papers when using APA style?
Now what? The first instinct is to go…
To the internet! The results of a Google search indicate that there isn’t a clear-cut answer to this question, unfortunately. You can often find incredibly helpful answers on APA style on the APA Style Blog or the Purdue OWL, but you’re not finding any answers this time around. You could spend another hour poking around for opinions online, or you could consult the actual APA manual, which you had the foresight to purchase at the start of your studies. Right? No? Okay. Never fear! Kindle is here. Instant information.
To the APA manual! It’s the go-to for students and editors alike. Section 2.04 of the sixth edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2010) describes the purpose of an abstract and states that “most scholarly journals require an abstract” (pp. 25-26). Well, you’re not planning to submit to a journal, so that isn’t terribly helpful in this scenario, and there doesn’t seem to be any mention of papers anywhere else in this section. The Kindle download wasn’t wasted money—you’ll be glad to have it when you’re working on your References page at 4 a.m.
Here’s the tough news: Your professor really is the only one who can answer the question of whether or not an abstract is needed for a short paper (unless you’ve got a buddy who already asked and can tell you the answer). Some style rules really are open to interpretation. The best course of action would be to err on the side of including an abstract rather than skipping it. Writing an abstract (which is best done *after* the paper is finished) is actually a pretty great way to test if your paper is cohesive, and it’s a chance to exercise concise writing (not to mention, it’s an opportunity to prep yourself for submitting to scholarly journals). It only requires between 150 to 250 words, so it truly won’t tack on much more work. Going the extra mile on a paper rarely has negative consequences, and the process will help you improve as a writer. As for the next time, thoroughly reviewing paper prompts on the first day that they’re accessible will allow ample time for questions and answers and avoid wild goose chases at midnight.
At St. Edward’s, APA style is required in many undergraduate business courses, as well as in the graduate programs in the School of Management and Business and in the Master of Arts in Counseling program. But the print Publication Manual of the APA was last updated in 2009 (6th ed.) and is directed at researchers and scholars writing articles for publication in scholarly journals, not students writing papers. So, although the Manual contains lots of good writing advice and essential information about formatting, documentation, and citation, it might not have a lot of clear information on how to cite the sources you find yourself needing to cite.