Here is a list of command words commonly used in essay questions (and in examination questions as well), together with their explanation. You may find it worthwhile to check your understanding of these key words each time you come to write an essay.
|Analyse (analysis)||Resolve into its component parts. Examine critically or minutely.|
|Assess||Determine the value of (see evaluate).|
|Compare||Look for similiarities and differences between: this may lead to a stated preference, the justification of which should be made explicit.|
|Contrast||Set in opposition - black against white - to point out differences sharply.|
|Criticise||Make a reasoned judgement (backed by a discussion of evidence or the opinions of acknowledgement authorities) about the merit of theories or opinions - or about the truth of facts.|
|Define||Set down the precise meaning of a word or a phrase. Sometimes several co-existing definitions may be used.|
|Describe||Give a detailed account of...|
|Distinguish or differentiate||Look for differences between two or more theories, concepts.|
|Evaluate||Make an appraisal of the worth/validity/effectiveness of something.|
|Explain||Make a plan, interpret and account for; give reasons why.|
|Give||Use in preference to 'state' e.g. give two reasons why.|
|Identify||List, name, give names of.|
|Illustrate||Make clear and explicity; usually requires the use of carefully chosen examples.|
|Interpret||Explain what is mean by; more often closely akin to illustrate.|
|Justify||Show adequate grounds for decisions or conclusions; answer the main objections likely to be made from.|
|Outline||Give the main features or general principles, or a subject, omitting minor details and emphasising structure and arrangement.|
1. Narrate; give an account of history of something.
2. Explain how variables are related or connected, and how they affect each other.
|State||Give a concise, clear explanation or account of|
|Suggest||No unique answer but expects responses to demonstrate students knowledge of that subject area and offer a plausible answer.|
|Summarise||Give a concise, clear explanation or account of...presenting the chief factors and omitting minor detail or examples (see also Outline)|
|Trace||Outline or follow the development of something from its initiation or point of origin.|