Interpreting the key words in assignment questions

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.


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.


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


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


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.


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


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


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


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


Look closely into something


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


Examine thoroughly; consider from a variety of viewpoints


Make something clear and explicit, give examples of evidence


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


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


Give the main features briefly and clearly


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


Writing an academic essay


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