parent nodes: [academic field] | [angle] | [copying out a definition] | [design for a reader] | [economy] | [foreword] | [goals] | [inferences] | [intro] | [key issues] | [research]| [reviewing your essay]| [rhetorical situation]| [topics]| [writing process]

question

The questions you are set for a university essay are normally made up of some references to key issues, plus a word which is meant to give you some guidance about how you are meant to relate one key issue to another. Sometimes this might be done in the form of a brief quotation, followed by the word "discuss", but unless a source for the quotation is given, it is likely that your tutor has simply made up the quotation to indicate the key issues with which they want you to engage.

Here are some possible question words, with a description of some of the expectations which go with them. You shouldn't assume that because a question word asks you to focus on one aspect of an essay, you can totally neglect all the other aspects of essay-writing - you are just being asked to emphasize a particular area of your argument. If you can't find exactly the same word as in your question, look for one that is similar (eg "make an argument for" is almost the same as "argue").

account for

You are either being asked to set the topic in a historical or biographical context, or to show how something logically follows on from something else. In either case, you are expected to relate it to the academic field.

analyze

You are being asked to break the topic down into its component parts, in order to produce a new synthesis. Your answer should probably have a hierarchical structure similar to outlining.

argue

You are expected to put forward a particular claim about the topic, which you then support by referencing. This might include disagreeing with the question. You are expected to pay particular attention to the rhetorical situation of your essay.

assess

You are being asked to provide a balanced overview, or synthesis of different views about the topic, rather than take any particular attitude towards it yourself.

comment

You are expected to find a specific angle on the topic, rather than say everything there is to be said about it.

compare

You are being asked to identify a number of shared key issues which allow two topics or areas to be related to each other.

contrast

You are being asked to identify a number of shared key issues which allow the boundaries between two topics or areas to be defined.

criticize

The tutor wants you to provide a context within the academic field for the topic, and evaluate its significance through argument supported by referencing.

define

The tutor does not want you to answer by using a dictionary and copying out a definition, but to discuss possible views on the topic, making use of referencing.

describe

You are not expected just to give facts about the topic, but contextualize the information you give about the topic within the academic field.

discuss

You are expected to provide a synthesis of the topic's relationship to the academic field.

evaluate

You are being asked to place the topic in the context of the rhetorical situation surrounding your essay.

explain

You are being asked to come up with an analysis of the topic on which a synthesis could be based. A structure based on outlining would be particularly appropriate for this essay.

how far...

You are being asked to emphasize the aspects of defining the problem and framing in your writing about this topic.

illustrate

You are expected to come up with examples on the basis of a synthesis set out in the introduction to the essay.

justify

You are being asked to think of a variety of possible arguments taken from the academic field to back up a particular claim, supported by referencing.

outline

Your tutor does not expect an essay structure based on outlining, but wants you to focus on conveying an overall mental picture of the topic.

relate

You are expected to identify a number of key issues which connect two topics.

review

The question is asking for an essay which is mostly a review of the literature.

state

You are being asked to say what the key issues are, and how they relate to the academic field.

summarize

You are expected to convey an overal mental picture of the topic, emphasising synthesis.

trace

You are being asked to provide a narrative of the development of the topic in relation to the academic field.