Essay Question Words: A Key to Better Writing

Essay Question Words: A Key to Better Writing

Essay question words, also known as directive words, are keywords or phrases used in an essay question that tell you what approach they need to take when writing their answer. Understanding the meaning of these words and how to apply them to an essay question can help you write a more focused and organised response. Here are some of the most common essay question words and what you should do in the essays. Those marked with * are particularly common for law essays.

Advise*
When asked to advise, you are expected to provide guidance or a recommendation about a particular situation or issue. This involves analysing the given scenario thoroughly and suggesting a course of action, supported by relevant evidence such as case law, statutes, or empirical data. Your response should outline potential options and justify why a particular course is preferable, considering possible consequences and implications.

For example, if the question is "Advise Mary on her legal options after being injured in a car accident caused by a negligent driver," you would need to analyse Mary's situation, identify relevant personal injury laws and precedents, and recommend actions such as filing a lawsuit for damages or seeking a settlement. Your advice should be backed by specific case law and statutes related to negligence and personal injury to ensure it is well-founded and practical.

Analyse*
It means to examine something in detail to uncover its essential elements or structure. This involves breaking down the topic into its component parts and exploring the relationships between them. An analysis should provide a comprehensive understanding of the subject by investigating each part's meaning, significance, and interconnections. It often requires critical thinking and the integration of various perspectives or sources.

For instance, in the question "Analyse the impact of social media on adolescent mental health," you would break down the topic into components such as anxiety, depression, and self-esteem. You would then examine how social media influences each aspect, using studies and statistics to support your points. Discussing the interrelationships between these components would provide a comprehensive understanding of the overall impact of social media on adolescent mental health.

Assess*
It requires you to make an informed judgment about the extent to which something is true, valid, or effective. This involves evaluating evidence, weighing the strengths and weaknesses, and considering different viewpoints. The goal is to reach a well-reasoned conclusion based on a balanced assessment of the available information. It typically includes considering both positive and negative aspects and substantiating your judgment with relevant evidence.

Consider the example "Assess the effectiveness of renewable energy sources in reducing global warming." You would present evidence supporting and opposing the effectiveness of renewable energy sources. This might include weighing the benefits, such as reduced carbon footprint, against potential drawbacks, like the environmental impact of manufacturing solar panels. Your conclusion should state how effective you believe renewable energy sources are overall, based on the evidence presented.

Clarify
It means to make something more understandable or simpler. This involves explaining a complex concept, process, or relationship in a clear and straightforward manner. The aim is to remove ambiguity and enhance comprehension, often by breaking down intricate ideas into more manageable parts and using clear, precise language.

In response to "Clarify the concept of cognitive dissonance," you would explain cognitive dissonance in straightforward terms, such as the mental discomfort experienced when holding conflicting beliefs. Using real-life scenarios, you would simplify the concept and discuss its psychological impact, ensuring that the explanation is clear and accessible.

Comment
It involves identifying the main points on a subject and expressing your opinion on them. This requires you to provide a critical analysis or insight, supported by logical arguments and relevant evidence. Your commentary should go beyond mere description, offering an informed perspective that reflects your understanding of the topic and engages with the existing discourse.

For example, "Comment on the significance of the 2008 financial crisis" would require you to highlight key events leading to the crisis, like the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the subprime mortgage crisis. You would then provide your analysis of the long-term impacts on the global economy, using evidence from economic reports to support your points and give a well-rounded commentary.

Compare
When asked to "compare," you are required to identify the similarities and differences between two or more phenomena. This involves a detailed examination of each aspect to highlight commonalities and distinctions. The aim is to provide a balanced analysis that shows how the phenomena are alike and different, and to assess the significance of these similarities and differences.

In the question "Compare the leadership styles of Steve Jobs and Elon Musk," you would discuss their approaches, highlighting similarities like innovation and risk-taking, and differences such as management style. Analysing which similarities and differences have the most significant impact on their respective companies would provide a balanced and insightful comparison.

Consider
It requires you to reflect on and discuss your thoughts about a topic, supported by appropriate evidence. This involves examining the issue from various angles, weighing different perspectives, and integrating evidence from external sources or personal experience. The goal is to provide a thoughtful and balanced discussion that explores the topic in depth.

For instance, "Consider the role of ethics in business decision-making" would involve reflecting on ethical practices in business, such as corporate social responsibility. You would support your points with examples of companies with strong ethical policies and their benefits, and include opposing views on profit maximisation versus ethical responsibility to provide a balanced discussion.

Contrast
It means to focus on the differences between two or more phenomena. This involves highlighting what sets them apart and explaining why these differences are significant. The aim is to provide a clear and detailed examination of the distinctions, often with the intent of understanding how these differences impact the overall subject.

In response to "Contrast Keynesian and classical economics," you would explain how Keynesian economics advocates for government intervention during economic downturns, whereas classical economics supports free-market self-regulation. Highlighting significant differences in their views on fiscal policy and government spending would provide a clear and detailed examination of the distinctions between these two economic theories.

Critically Evaluate*
It means to judge the extent to which a statement or findings are true or valid. This involves a thorough assessment that considers both supporting and opposing evidence. A critical evaluation requires a balanced analysis that includes an examination of different viewpoints, the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments, and a reasoned conclusion based on the most important factors. The aim is to provide a nuanced and well-supported judgment.

For example, "Critically evaluate the statement: 'Globalisation has been largely beneficial to developing countries,'" would involve assessing evidence supporting and contradicting the statement. You would discuss the benefits, such as economic growth and foreign investment, as well as issues like exploitation and environmental degradation. Your conclusion should weigh the evidence and provide a reasoned judgment on whether globalisation has been beneficial overall.

Demonstrate
It means to show how something works or is done, using examples to illustrate your points. This involves providing a clear, detailed explanation that includes specific instances or practical applications. The goal is to make the process or concept understandable by showing it in action.

For example, in "Demonstrate the process of photosynthesis in plants," you would describe how plants convert light energy into chemical energy through photosynthesis. Providing step-by-step details and using diagrams to illustrate the process would ensure clarity and understanding.

Define*
It requires you to provide the precise meaning of a term or concept. This involves stating its exact definition and discussing any issues or different interpretations that may exist. The aim is to ensure a clear and accurate understanding of the term, often by highlighting its essential characteristics and any relevant nuances.

For instance, "Define 'sustainable development'" would involve giving a precise definition, stating that sustainable development means meeting the needs of the present without compromising future generations. Discussing challenges in defining it, such as balancing economic growth with environmental protection, and mentioning various interpretations would ensure a comprehensive understanding.

Describe*
When asked to describe, you are required to state the points of a topic and give its characteristics and main features. This involves providing a detailed account that includes significant details and explanations. The aim is to give a comprehensive picture of the subject, covering all relevant aspects without necessarily analysing them.

In response to "Describe the process of mitosis," you would list the stages of mitosis—prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase. You would then explain what happens during each stage in detail, providing diagrams to illustrate the process clearly.

Discuss*
It involves writing about an issue in depth, presenting a balanced view that includes arguments for and against. This requires a structured approach where you explore different perspectives, support your points with evidence, and critically engage with the topic. The aim is to provide a thorough examination that leads to a well-reasoned conclusion.

For example, "Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of social media" would require you to present arguments for social media, like connectivity and information sharing, and arguments against, like privacy concerns and misinformation. Supporting your points with evidence and concluding with your overall assessment of social media's impact would provide a thorough and balanced discussion.

Elaborate
It means to provide more detail about a topic. This involves expanding on your initial points, offering additional information, explanations, and insights. The aim is to enhance understanding by giving a fuller, more comprehensive account of the subject.

In response to "Elaborate on the causes of World War I," you would discuss in detail the multiple causes such as alliances, militarism, imperialism, and nationalism. Explaining how each cause contributed to the war, using historical evidence, would provide a comprehensive account.

Explore
It means to adopt a questioning approach and consider a variety of different viewpoints. This involves investigating the topic from multiple angles, asking questions, and seeking out different perspectives. The goal is to gain a deeper understanding by examining the subject thoroughly and considering all relevant factors.

For example, "Explore the reasons for the decline of the Roman Empire" would involve investigating various factors such as economic troubles, military issues, and political corruption. Presenting different perspectives from historians and synthesising these viewpoints would provide a thorough understanding of the decline.

Examine*
It involves investigating a topic closely and in detail, identifying key facts and important issues. This requires a critical analysis that looks at the subject from various perspectives, explains why certain facts or issues are significant, and discusses different ways they can be understood. The aim is to provide a comprehensive and detailed understanding of the topic.

For instance, "Examine the factors contributing to climate change" would require detailing each contributing factor, such as greenhouse gases and deforestation. Presenting key statistics and data to support your discussion and explaining why these factors are significant and how they interact would provide a comprehensive examination.

Explain*
It requires you to set out purposes or reasons, making relationships between things evident. This involves providing a detailed account of how and why something occurs, clarifying complex processes or concepts, and defining key terms where appropriate. The aim is to ensure clarity and understanding by making the relationships between elements clear and supported by relevant evidence.

For example, "Explain the relationship between diet and cardiovascular health" would involve describing how different dietary habits can impact heart health. Clarifying the relationships between specific nutrients, like fats and sugars, and cardiovascular functions, supported by relevant research, would ensure clarity and understanding.

Evaluate*
It means to judge or calculate the quality, importance, amount, or value of something. This involves a thorough assessment that considers different perspectives, evidence, and criteria. The goal is to provide a balanced and reasoned judgment that explains the basis for your evaluation.

For instance, "Evaluate the success of the Paris Agreement in combating climate change" would require assessing the effectiveness of the Paris Agreement, considering both its successes and shortcomings. Weighing different perspectives and evidence to provide a balanced judgment on its overall success would ensure a comprehensive evaluation.

Give an Account of
It means to provide a detailed description of something. This involves outlining the key points, characteristics, and main features, explaining how and why they occur. The aim is to offer a comprehensive description that covers all relevant aspects.

For example, "Give an account of the French Revolution" would require you to describe the key events, causes, and outcomes of the French Revolution. Covering all relevant aspects and explaining how and why these events occurred would provide a comprehensive description.

Identify
It means to name, select, and recognise key points. This involves determining the main aspects that need to be addressed and their implications. The aim is to pinpoint the essential elements of the topic and highlight their significance.

For instance, "Identify the major theories of motivation" would involve listing and briefly describing key motivation theories such as Maslow's hierarchy of needs and Herzberg's two-factor theory. Highlighting the main points and implications of each theory would ensure a clear and concise identification.

Illustrate
It is similar to "explain" but places more emphasis on using examples and statistics to clarify your points. This involves showing how something works or is done by providing specific instances or data. The goal is to enhance understanding by making the explanation more concrete and relatable.

For example, "Illustrate the impact of technology on education" would involve using specific examples and data to show how technology has transformed educational practices. Discussing various technological tools and their effects on teaching and learning processes would provide a clear illustration.

Interpret
It means to demonstrate your understanding of an issue or topic. This involves explaining the meaning of something, often in the context of particular terminology, findings, or patterns. The aim is to provide an insightful analysis that reveals the underlying significance or implications.

For example, "Interpret the significance of Shakespeare's use of soliloquy in 'Hamlet'" would involve explaining the role and impact of soliloquies in the play. Analysing how they reveal characters' inner thoughts and contribute to the overall narrative and themes would provide a comprehensive interpretation.

Justify
It involves supporting a case with evidence or argument. This requires you to provide a body of evidence that backs up your ideas and points of view. The goal is to present a balanced argument, considering opposing opinions, and concluding with a well-supported justification of your position.

For instance, "Justify the need for stricter environmental regulations" would require providing evidence and arguments to support the case for stricter regulations. Discussing the benefits of environmental protection and addressing potential counterarguments to present a balanced argument would ensure a well-supported justification.

Outline
It requires you to communicate the main points, placing emphasis on overall structure and interrelationships rather than minute details. This involves providing a broad overview that highlights the key aspects and their connections. The aim is to give a clear and concise summary that captures the essence of the topic.

For example, "Outline the main arguments for and against Brexit" would involve summarising the key points of both sides of the Brexit debate. Highlighting the main arguments, such as economic impacts and sovereignty issues, without going into excessive detail, would ensure a clear and concise outline.

Review
It means to look thoroughly into a subject, providing a critical assessment. This involves summarising key points, evaluating evidence, and discussing different perspectives. The goal is to offer a comprehensive critique that highlights the strengths and weaknesses of the subject.

For instance, "Review the literature on the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioural therapy" would require summarising key studies and research on CBT. Providing a critical assessment of the evidence, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the findings, and different perspectives would ensure a comprehensive review.

State
It requires you to specify in clear terms the key aspects connected to a topic without being overly descriptive. This involves providing a straightforward and concise explanation of the main points, supported by evidence and examples where appropriate.

For example, "State the main principles of democracy" would involve clearly listing and briefly explaining principles such as popular sovereignty, political equality, and the rule of law. Providing a straightforward and concise explanation supported by evidence and examples where appropriate would ensure clarity.

Summarise
It involves giving a condensed version of the main facts, leaving out unimportant information. This requires a brief overview that captures the essential points and key details. The aim is to provide a clear and concise summary that highlights the main aspects.

For instance, "Summarise the findings of the recent climate report" would require providing a brief overview of the key conclusions from the climate report. Highlighting the main facts and omitting unimportant details would ensure a clear and concise summary.

To What Extent*
It demands a thorough assessment of the evidence in presenting your argument. This involves exploring alternative explanations, weighing different viewpoints, and concluding with a reasoned judgment. The goal is to assess how far something is true or valid, providing a balanced analysis supported by evidence.

For example, "To what extent does globalisation benefit developing countries?" would involve assessing the benefits and drawbacks of globalisation for developing countries. Presenting evidence supporting both sides, exploring alternative explanations, and concluding with a reasoned judgment on the overall impact would ensure a comprehensive response.

Understanding these essay question words and their application can significantly improve the quality of your essays, making them more focused, relevant, and well-structured. Whether for academic purposes, exams, or other writing tasks, mastering these directive words is an invaluable skill that can help you write more effective and engaging essays.

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