Writing assignment

The goal of the writing assignment is to teach students to independently write a literature review or research proposal in a limited amount of time.

The PDF iconMaster's Writing Assignment guide for supervisors contains even more in depth information about writing assignment supervision. There is also a summary available in Chapter 1 of the guide.

If you can't find the answer to your question, please do not hesitate to contact the research project coordinators.

As a supervisor, you are responsible for coaching the student and helping him or her during the whole process of the writing assignment. The supervisor is responsible for helping the student in limiting and clearly defining the scope of the assignment. Part of the supervisor's job is also making sure the rules and guidelines are followed and the necessary agreements are made.
The student is responsible for choosing a topic and his/her own learning process.

Supervision terminology and responsibilities
The Examiner:

  • has final responsibility for the grade of the writing assignment.
  • is affiliated to Utrecht University or UMC Utrecht as a full, associate (UHD) or assistant (UD) professor with a tenured position. Professors on a UU/UMCU special chair (bijzonder hoogleraar), but in daily life affiliated to a non-UU/UMCU institute, can also act as examiner.
  • Post-docs, PhD candidates, and professors not affiliated to UU / UMCU cannot act as examiner. (In exceptional cases, the programme coordinator can request the Board of Examiners to allowed a senior postdoc as examiner.)
  • One examiner can only assess maximum two of the following components: writing assignment, major research project and minor research project or business internship.
  • In case of a writing assignment inside UU/UMCU, the UU/UMCU examiner and second reviewer both grade the assignment. The examiner decides on the final mark in close consultation with the daily supervisor (if applicable) and the second reviewer.
  • In case of a writing assignment outside UU/UMCU, the UU/UMCU examiner and the supervisor host institute both grade the assignment. The examiner decides on the final mark in close consultation with the supervisor host institute.

The daily supervisor (in case of a writing assignment at UU/UMCU):

  • is responsible for the daily supervision of the student during his/her assignment.
  • works at the institute where the writing assignment is carried out.
  • does not grade the writing assignment him/herself, but will advise the examiner on the grades.

The host institute supervisor (in case of a writing assignment outside UU/UMCU):

  • is responsible for the daily supervision of the student during his/her assignment.
  • works at the institute where the writing assignment is carried out.
  • grades the writing assignment.

The second reviewer (in case of a writing assignment at UU/UMCU):

  • should only be appointed for writing assignments inside UU/UMCU. Assessment of the writing assignment by a second reviewer is mandatory.
  • is a senior scientist (not a PhD candidate or postdoc) who is not directly involved in the research performed. Ideally, a second reviewer is a staff member from a different group than the examiner.
  • The second reviewer grades the writing assignment.

Before the start of the writing assignment the student has to fill in the General Application form3.44 MB. The General Application form contains information about the project, agreements between the student and supervisor, and contact information of the examiner and second reviewer/supervisor host institute. The information on the general application form allows the programme coordinator and the Board of Examiners to review the content and level of the writing assignment. 

Projects outside UU/UMCU also require a GSLS internship contract, signed by the student, examiner and supervisor host institute. The Internship contract is embedded in the GSLS - General application form3.44 MB and appears when the students select that he/she is going to do an external Writing Assignment. When the student is asked to sign a (non-disclosure) contract from the host institute/company, he/she should consult the research project coordinators first.

A student can only start the writing assignment after both supervisor and student have received approval from the Board of Examiners. This approval is sent in the form of an email by one of the research project coordinators. 

For projects at the UMC Utrecht, students need an UMC Utrecht internship account and UMC card. More information is available here.

The student can either write a literature review or a research proposal (using the NWO/ALW grant application format). The specific format of the assignment should be discussed before the student starts his/her writing assignment.

Content and process

  • The assignment should be written in English.
  • The body of the text (excluding legends, tables, footnotes, references, etc.) should be 6000–8000 words long, but keep in mind that the content is more important than the number of words.
  • The literature section should include between 25 and 60 references.
  • The assignment needs to include a summary of the content written for the general public (plain language summary – in Dutch or English, 500 words, high school Biology or science level).

When writing, the student should start with a writing plan in which an overview of recent literature on their topic is presented. The assignment should have an in-depth discussion, in which the student demonstrates his/her ability to critically evaluate hypotheses and results, present his/her own views, and draw conclusions that point towards new research opportunities. This often requires the student to read additional literature.

Data needs to be presented in one manageable graph or figure that tells the story. This requires the student to select, order, interpret and clearly present data. 

The writing assignment has a study load of 7.5 credits, which corresponds to five weeks of full-time study. The student cannot extend his/her writing assignment for more credits.

The whole assignment should be completed in 3 months*, from the start date of the assignment untill submission of the final version. However, we urge students to finish the assignment within the allotted five weeks, giving them the opportunity to practise working under a tight deadline and experiencing the pressure that goes with it.

This is only possible if the scope of the assignment is limited and clearly defined, the student needs to work diligently and the agreements between supervisor and student about the content and scope of the assignment need to be clear. During the first meeting with the student, dates should be set for discussion of the writing plan, discussion of the first draft, and feedback on the final version.

*If your student exceeds these three months, they can find the instructions to ask for an extension of the end date here.

Learning Objectives
After finishing the writing assignment, the student is capable of independently:

  • Conducting literature research, using scientific secure literature databases (e.g. PubMed).
  • Using scientific literature and insights in a critical manner.
  • Summarizing literature using own words.
  • Integrating results and models of papers read into new models.
  • Formulating hypothesis for future research.

In order to assess whether the student has achieved these learning outcomes or to discuss the specific criteria beforehand, the rubric for literature reviews or research proposals28.75 KB can be used.

When assessing the writing assignment please keep the following points in mind:

  • The examiner and second reviewer must complete the assessment within 10 working days after the student has handed in the final version. To make sure there are no delays, make agreements with your student beforehand about the date for handing in the final version.
  • The examiner determines the final grade expressed with one decimal figure. Grades lower than 6.0 will be rounded off mathematically according to article 5.4.1 of the EER.
  • A mark lower than 5.5 for the final grade is unsatisfactory. In this case, the student will be given a once-only possibility to sit an additional or substitute test.
  • If the examiner's and second reviewer's or host supervisor's grade differ by 2 or more points, the Board of Examiners should be notified by the examiner.
  • In order to meet the cum laude requirements, a student should receive a 8.5 or higher for their writing assignment.
Note: If the student you are supervising takes part in the pilot 'Osiris Zaak' (this relates to all students from Cancer Stem Cells and Developmental Biology, Bio Inspired Innovation and Science and Business Management Master's programmes), please log in to Osiris Begeleider to register your grades and upload the documents there instead of sending an Assessment form to the administration office. More information is available here.

The procedure for registering grades is as follows*: 

  1. The student downloads the Assessment Form from the Study Guide and uploads their assignment to Urkund/Ouriginal to check for plagiarism. More info on this software here: https://urkund.sites.uu.nl/en/
  2. The examiner fills in the grade and signs the Assessment Form, after ensuring the grades of the second reviewer or host institute supervisor are correct.
  3. The examiner saves the form and sends it, together with the (Urkund/Ouriginal ) plagiarism check results to the Master’s administration officeMaster’s programme coordinator and the student. The student can provide the contact information.
  4. Once the examiner sends the Assessment Form to the administration office (either via email or via OSIRIS Case if it relates to a CSDB, BINN or SBM student), students will receive an email asking them to upload a copy of their thesis via OSIRIS Student (see the section below about OSIRIS - Thesis Archive). In communication with the examiner or Supervisor Host Institute if applicable, students can also choose to publish (a version of) their thesis (read the section below about OSIRIS - Thesis Archive for more information).

The examiner (Utrecht supervisor) should be allowed to have access to the writing assignment at all times. The Board of Examiners should be allowed to have access to the final writing assignment upon request, as well as third parties concerned with the evaluation and accreditation of the Master's Degrees.

In case of confidentiality, the following assessment procedure applies*:

  1. The student downloads the Assessment Form from the Study Guide.
  2. The examiner fills in the grade and signs the Assessment Form, after ensuring the grades of the second reviewer or host institute supervisor are correct.
  3. As of September 1st 2021, theses/reports are archived in Osiris Thesis Archive (see section below). In case of confidentiality, the examiner can indicate via the Assessment forms (or via OSIRIS Case when supervising  a SBM, BINN or CSDB student) whether (a version of) the thesis/report should be published.
  4. The Writing Assignment should be checked via the plagiarism check software Urkund/Ouriginal. The examiner has to upload the file to Urkund/Ouriginal with 'Private check‘ on. The information in the report will not be stored in the Urkund/Ouriginal database.
  5. The examiner saves the form and sends the following to the Master’s administration office, Master’s programme coordinator and the student. The student can provide the contact information.
    1. the Assessment Form, 
    2. the written motivation for the final grade (e.g. rubrics) and
    3. the summary of (Urkund/Ouriginal) plagiarism check (< 10%)
  6. The student will be asked by OSIRIS Thesis Archive to upload the Writing Assignment for archiving purposes and a version for publishing if this has been previously indicated.
*If you are supervising students from the Master's programmes of Science and Business Management, Bio Inspired Innovation or Cancer, Stem Cells and Developmental Biology that participate in the pilot 'Osiris Case (Zaak)', all of these processes take place digitally. Please log in to Osiris Begeleider(link is external) to register your grades and upload the documents there. More information is available here.

From 1 September 2021 onwards, reports from Major Research Project, Profile Projects and Writing Assignments will be archived in OSIRIS.

Additionally students can choose to publish their thesis/report, including the timing and version to publish. The theses/reports become open-access after the publication date and can be found through search engines like Google and WorldCat. Together with the Examiner/Supervisor Host Institute (if applicable) they agree upon and decide if, when and how their thesis/report will be published.

After the administration office has received the final assessment of their thesis/report from the examiner, they will initiate the archiving process and students will receive an email about it asking them to upload their thesis. This process takes place through OSIRIS Student.

More information on the digital Thesis Archive of the University Library can be found here.

Fraud or plagiarism are absolutely not allowed and will be dealt with as described in the Education and Examination Regulations (article 5.14). 

The examiner:

  • has the responsibility to ensure that no fraud or plagiarism took place. When you find or suspect that your student is committing fraud or is plagiarizing during his/her research project, this must be reported to the Board of Examiners (BoE). You are invited to contact the BoE first for advice. More information on how to deal with plagiarism or fraud can be found here.
  • should check the final research report for plagiarism using URKUND/Ouriginal, in a stand-alone-function or in Blackboard. When the reported percentage of plagiarism in Urkund is >10%, but there is no case of plagiarism, a motivation written by the examiner explaining this should accompany the assessment form. 

Hand in the printed report
The printed report (summary in pdf) from Urkund/Ouriginal should be handed in together with the assessment form.

Upload the final version of the report without the reference list to Urkund/Ouriginal . There are two ways of uploading: a student can email or upload it to Urkund/Ouriginal or the examiner can do the upload.

Important: Upload it as Word file and not as a pdf.

Upload by student:
The student can upload the file to the receiver address of the examiner by simply emailing to the URKUND/Ouriginal analysis address.

This analysis address is Initials.Lastname.uu@analysis.urkund.com. For instance John Anne Doe: J.A.Doe.uu@analysis.urkund.com (N.B. this is an non existing example). You can find this address when you log in to Urkund/Ouriginal .**

The student will get a message from noreply@urkund.se with as topic [URKUND] Confirmation of receipt.

You as examiner will receive a message from the same email address with the topic [URKUND] [amount]% similarity, and the information who send in the file. In this email also a direct link to open the analysis is included.

The student can also choose to upload a file to the ‘webinbox’ of URKUND/Ouriginal . The student can login here, and click at the right-top to upload document. Use the analysis address of the teacher (see above), and click on submit.

Upload by Examiner**
Teachers/Examiners can also upload the file themselves. You should go here, select Utrecht University, and log in to URKUND/Ouriginal with your SolisID.

For UU employees: Once there, you can find your analysis/receiver address at the top-left corner when logged into the Web inbox.

For UMC employees: Send an email to Pieter Jan van der Schoot to request an analysis address in Urkund/Ouriginal . At the moment, there is a temporary workaround to log in to Urkund/Ouriginal . The instructions can be found here

Analysis address in Urkund/Ouriginal
Once there, you can find your analysis/receiver address at the top-left corner when logged into the Web inbox.

Click on ‘upload documents’ top right bar.

Select the analysis address (@analysis.urkund.com); type a subject, and select the file.  Click on ‘inzenden/ upload’

Click on the URKUND/Ouriginal logo (top left) to go back to the results section. After a couple of minutes, you can see the analysis result [..]%. See for instance the picture below, where 3% similarity was found.

If you click on this percentages, you will be directed to the analysis page of URKUND.* See example below:

*Some UMCU Examiners get an error at this timepoint. You always get an email of URKUND/Ouriginal though.

Please select Utrecht University, click on Proceed, and sign in with your SolisID.

View the analysis, and click on ‘ watch whole report /geheel overzicht bekijken’ to view the sources and text with similarities. We urge you to to turn on ‘quotes and brackets’ (aanhalingstekens en haakjes).

More information and a manual for Urkund/Ouriginal can be found here for examiners.

No SolisID or questions about Urkund/Ouriginal?
If you do not have a SolisID or have questions about URKUND/Ouriginal , you can contact Pieter Jan van der Schoot (for UMCU examiners) or the Science Keyuser Plagiaat of the Faculty of Science (UU examiners).

Upload under embargo (exempt the file from Urkund/Ouriginal)
In case of confidentiality, you can exclude the file (exempt) it from the Urkund/Ouriginal database.

To do this, click on the analysis address, and go to the submission account (inleveraccount) see red circcle. It ends with @uu.nl in most cases.

You can do this by clicking on the fourth icon (that looks like a paper with an earmark).  In the figure below it is the file with 0% similarity (green bar) is exempted from the database.

If the file is exempt, it means other uploaders can see that there is similarity, but cannot open or access the file. If you click on the forth icon, you will see the following message that includes the definition of this examption:


Previously submitted documents provide comparative material in checking documents later submitted by others. Normally, a previously submitted document – where similarities have been detected - will be recognized as the source, in its entirety, in the URKUND/Ouriginal Analysis.

You can, by clicking the button, exempt the document from being able to be viewed in its entirety if there are similarities found at subsequent inspections of other documents. If you choose to exempt the document, the document will still be stored on behalf of your educational organization and itself checked for potential similarities with other sources, but it will not be shown in its entirety or be downloadable. The analysis of the latter document will still show that there is a similarity to your document and inform when and where it was submitted, but no text from the document will be visible - instead, a text explaining why it cannot be shown will be displayed.

Do note that depending on the settings chosen by your university, your document may still be visible and possible to download within the university to which you submitted it.


Click on proceed.

What if the % of matching text is >10% ?
If the percentage of matching text found by Urkund/Ouriginal is > 10% the examiner should write an explanation why this high percentage is not due to plagiarism. This explanation and the Urkund/Ouriginal summary should be handed in together with your assessment form.

A student always writes his/her assignment under experienced supervision. Their assignment is often part of a larger framework or project. It is therefore not unlikely that part of their work will be published. This can even happen during the writing process.

In this light, it is important to note that the copyright of any written text always belongs to the writer, unless agreed otherwise. That means the student holds the copyright of their writing assignment.

When supervisors, or others, use part of the data or text in their publications, they need to follow the guidelines of scientific fairness and acknowledge the student's contribution. This can be done in a number of different ways and depends on the amount of data/text used, the quality of the work and the student's level of independence during the project. A student can be named in the acknowledgments, their report/writing assignment may be used as a literature reference, or they may be asked to be a co-author on an article.