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Understanding assignment questions

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Instruction words used in assignment titles

Words commonly used in assignment titles can appear to have similar meanings, but there are subtle differences between them.

Always consider the whole question as these instructions may be affected by other words in the question. If you are unsure of what a question is asking you to do, check with your tutor.

These three exercises introduce some of the most common instruction words used in assignment titles.

Example instruction words with explanations

Account for
Give reasons for; give evidence to support your argument
Analyse
Examine a topic by looking at each part in detail
Argue
Give reasons for or against something so that it can be proved
Assess
Decide the importance of something and give reasons
Classify
Put into groups
Comment on
Give your views on something; say what you think
Compare
Examine in what ways two (or more) things are similar or different
Consider
Think about carefully and explain your thinking
Contrast
Set two or more ideas, theories or concepts in opposition, and say in what ways they are different
Criticise
To discuss the good or bad qualities of something, providing evidence for your decisions
Deduce
Reach a conclusion about something
Define
For a short piece of work - write down the precise meaning(s) of a word or phrase. Longer piece of work - describe the nature or basic qualities of the subject matter.
Demonstrate
Show clearly by giving proof or evidence
Describe
Give an account of the topic in words. You may be expected to do a very detailed and extensive description.
Discuss
Write a logical argument which considers the topic from different points of view, assessing the value or worth of the topic referring to established theory or facts.
Enumerate
List and mention separately in order
Evaluate
Give and explain an opinion about the significance or value of something, providing evidence to support your evaluation
Explain
Give reasons for something in a plain and understandable way
Give an account of
Describe something
Identify
Put a name to, point out and describe
Illustrate
Clarify or explain by use of examples or diagrams
Interpret / Analyse
Describe the meaning of the topic in a detailed and methodical way and assess its importance, referring to established theory or facts.
Justify
Give good reasons for something
List
Put in order or sequence
Outline
Describe the main points without including minor details
Prove
Show that something is true or certain by providing facts or examples
Relate
Establish a connection between things.
Review
Examine and assess something critically
Show
Make clear or provide evidence for.
State
Put into words clearly and briefly
Summarise
Give a short account of the main points without including details
Trace
Follow the development of something from a particular point (usually in time)