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Some Common Essay Question Terms

In exam and essay questions you are likely to come across a number of different "process words". These words are the key to what is required of you in answering these questions and you should pay particular attention to them. Despite what these words suggest, it is fairly safe to say that, in most cases, you will be expected to offer a critical analysis of the topic in question. It is rare to find an essay question at H le!el that only require description, e!en if the process words sound as though it might. "isted below are a number of key process words together with a description of what these words generally mean. Account for - explain, clarify, give the reasons for. (Quite different from "Give an account of..." which is more like "Descri e in detail".! Analyse - reak an issue down into its component parts, discuss them and show how they interrelate. Argue - make a case, ased on appropriate evidence and logically structured for and"or against some point of view. Assess - consider the value or importance of something, paying attention to positive, negative and disputa le aspects, and citing the #udgements of any known authorities as well as your own. Comment on - it is fairly safe to assume this means something more than "descri e" or "summarise" and more likely it implies "analyse" or "assess". Compare - identify and discuss the characteristics or $ualities two or more things have in common ( ut pro a ly pointing out their differences as well!. Contrast - %oint out and discuss the differences etween two things ( ut pro a ly identifying their similarities as well!. Criticise - spell out your #udgement as to the value or truth of something, indicating the criteria on which you ase your #udgement and citing specific instances and arguments as to how the criteria apply in this case. Define - make a statement as to the meaning or interpretation of something, giving sufficient detail as to allow it to e distinguished from other similar things. Describe - &pell out the main aspects of an idea or topic, or the se$uence in which a series of things happened. Discuss - pro a ly the most common word to appear in essay titles and usually re$uiring analysis and evaluation of evidence as well as weighing up arguments and drawing conclusions.

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Evaluate - like assess in that you need to consider the value and importance of something and weigh up its different aspects, citing evidence and argument in support of your case. Explain - tell how things work or how they came to e the way they are, including perhaps some need to descri e and to analyse. To what extent - explore the case for a stated proposition or explanation, much in the manner of assess and criticise, pro a ly arguing for a less than total acceptance of the proposition. Identify - pick out what you regard as the key features of something, perhaps making clear the criteria you use in doing so. Illustrate - similar to explain ut pro a ly re$uesting you give specific examples or statistics to support your case. Interpret - clarify something or explain it, perhaps indicating how the thing relates to some other thing, or explaining a particular way of looking at it. Justify - express valid reasons for accepting a particular interpretation or conclusion, pro a ly including the need to argue a case. Outline - indicate the main features of a topic or se$uence of events, possi ly setting them within a clear structure or framework to show how they interrelate. eview - survey a topic with the emphasis on assess rather than descri e. !ummarise - give the main points riefly, omitting details and illustrations Trace - descri e in narrative form the progress, development or se$uence of events from some particular point.

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