Assignment direction words
Below is an explanation of the key words commonly used in assignment questions.
Do not assume that these terms are used with exactly these meanings by academics setting essay topics. As you can see, there are often no hard edges between many of these so called "direction words". The explanations are intended as a guide only.
Identify the essential elements of an issue/process/text/argument/event and show how they are related. Weaknesses or disadvantages may come to light in this process.
Present the case for and/or against a particular proposition.
Point out the important features, criticise.
Identify characteristics or qualities that resemble each other. Emphasise similarities and also mention differences where appropriate.
Stress the dissimilarities and differences between concepts, ideas, qualities, events, problems, or other writers' findings.
Express your judgement about the merit or truth of the factors or views mentioned. Draw conclusions, discussing both the limitations and the strong points.
Often, rather than asking you to "criticise", assignments add "critically" to another direction word: "critically analyse", "critically examine", etc. This means analysing, examining etc. in a questioning way: "How does this work?" "Why is it like this?" "What are its strengths and weaknesses?"
Provide concise, clear, and authoritative meanings. Give the limits of the definition, but omit detailed explanations. Show how the item defined differs from items in other classes.
Recount, characterise, outline, and relate in sequence.
A drawing, chart, plan, or graph. Diagrams should be labelled and there should be an accompanying explanation.
Examine, analyse carefully, and give reasons for and against. Be complete and give details, usually with a view to assessing how satisfactory something is.
Carefully appraise in relation to some standard, referring to advantages, limitations, and costs and benefits as appropriate; attempt to form a judgement.
Investigate critically, appraise a subject in detail.
Clarify, interpret, and elaborate on the material presented. Give reasons for differences of opinion or results, and try to analyse causes.
Use a concrete example, diagram, or figure to explain or clarify a problem.
Identify, then focus attention so as to clarify.
Prove or give reasons for conclusions or decisions.
Present the essential features, showing main points and subordinate points. Omit minor details. Stress the arrangement or classification of things.
Examine a subject critically, analysing and commenting on the important or controversial statements.
Present the main points in a brief and clear sequence, usually omitting details or examples.
Give the main points or facts in condensed form.