Breaking Down a Writing Prompt

When a teacher gives you a writing assignment they usually provide specific directions called a writing prompt. A writing prompt tells you what you need to write about (the topic) and how you will write about it (your purpose).

It is very important that you read the prompt carefully and identify everything your teacher is asking you to do. Otherwise, you may miss part of the assignment and lose points as a result.

Identifying the Purpose

The first step to breaking down a writing prompt is to identify the purpose. Here are a few examples of common purposes for writing:

  • To explain – inform, or tell, your reader about a topic
  • To identify – determine an answer to a question
  • To argue or persuade – convince your reader of something
  • To evaluate – make a judgement about a topic

When you get a writing prompt, circle the keywords that tell you what your purpose is. This will help you figure out what kind of information you need to include.

Determining the Topic

The topic is the subject the writing prompt asks you to focus on. Your teacher could ask you to write about almost any topic. As you break down the prompt, underline words or sentences that tell you what topic your teacher would like you to discuss. There may be more than one part of the topic that your teacher would like you to touch on. Read carefully and underline each thing the prompt is asking you to address.

Example Prompts

Take a look at the sample writing prompts below. Hover your mouse over the icons on the text to see what the student identified as topics and purposes.

Extra Information

Your writing prompt may include additional instructions, including how much you need to write, specific sources you need to reference and more. List each of these things under your prompt, so you can check them off as you include them in your essay!
Writing Prompt

With these steps, you’ll be able to break down your next writing prompt with ease and determine exactly what to do for your assignment. Happy writing!


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