Interpreting the key words in assignment questions

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Assignment key words are the first important things you need to understand before you tackle your assignment. They are there to give you direction on what exactly you are supposed to do! It is therefore absolutely important for you to recognise and correctly interpret the key words in your assignment question. Here is a simple guide.

Analyse

Break up into parts; investigate

Comment on

Identify and write about the main issues; give your reactions based on what you’ve read/ heard in lectures. Avoid just personal opinion.

Compare

Look for the similarities between two things. Show the relevance or consequences of these similarities concluding which is preferable.

Contrast

Identify the differences between two items or arguments. Show whether the differences are significant. Perhaps give reasons why one is preferable.

Criticise

Requires an answer that points out mistakes or weaknesses, and which also indicates any favourable aspects of the subject of the question. It requires a balanced answer.

Critically evaluate

Weigh arguments for and against something, assessing the strength of the evidence on both sides. Use criteria to guide your assessment of which opinions, theories, models or items are preferable.

Define

Give the exact meaning of. Where relevant, show you understand how the definition may be problematic.

Describe

Provide a detailed explanation as to how and why something happens or happened.

Discuss

Investigate or examine by argument; sift and debate; give reasons for and against; examine the implications.

Evaluate

Assess and give your judgement about the merit, importance or usefulness of something using evidence to support your argument.

Examine

Look closely into something

Explain

Make clear why something happens, or is the way it is: interpret and account for; give reasons for

Explore

Examine thoroughly; consider from a variety of viewpoints

Illustrate

Make something clear and explicit, give examples of evidence

Justify

Give evidence that supports and argument or idea; show why a decision or conclusions were made

Outline

Give the main points/features/general principles; show the main structure and interrelations; omit details and examples

State

Give the main features briefly and clearly

Summarise

Draw out the main points only; omit details and examples

To what extent…

Consider how far something is true, or contributes to a final outcome. Consider also ways in which it is not true.

Other articles for your to read:

Writing Clear Sentences

Paraphrasing

Writing an academic essay

 

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