As you become more familiar with writing essays and sitting exams, you will notice that certain key phrases occur time and time again in your essay titles. Below are some of the most common, with an explanation of what they mean:
- analyse: look at the concepts and ideas under discussion in depth.
- assess: make comments about the value/importance of the concepts and ideas under discussion.
- compare: look for similarities between the concepts and ideas under discussion.
- contrast: look for differences between the concepts and ideas under discussion.
- criticise: judge the strengths and weaknesses of a particular issue, theory or concept, using reasoned argument (and references) to back up your points.
- critically: analyse as above, but in depth.
- define: state precisely what is meant by a particular issue, theory or concept.
- describe: give a detailed account of.
- discuss: give reasons for and against; investigate and examine by argument.
- enumerate: recount, one by one, in concise form, the points required.
- evaluate: weigh up the arguments surrounding an issue, using your own opinions and, more importantly, reference to the work of others.
- explain: clarify and interpret the material you present; state the “how or why” of the conditions which give rise to whatever you are examining.
- illustrate: make clear by the use of example.
- interpret: translate, exemplify, solve, or comment upon the subject and, usually, give your judgment or reaction to the problem.
- justify: prove or show grounds for something. In such an answer, evidence should be presented in convincing form.
- outline: give the main features of.
- prove: establish something with certainty by evaluating and citing experimental evidence or by logical reasoning.
- relate: show how issues are connected.
- review: list all that is available (or that you have access to) on a particular subject.
- state: present in a clear, concise form.
- summarise: give an account of all the main points of the concepts and ideas under discussion with reference to use specific examples to make the meaning clear.
- trace: give a description of progress, historical sequence, or development from the point of origin.