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Instruction Words

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Assignment and exam questions include a topic and instruction words which indicate how you are to address the topic. Below is a list of some instruction words you may encounter, with their meanings. It is intended as a guide only and further clarification should be sought from your class tutor if you are unsure what is expected.

Instruction Word
Meaning

Account for

Give reasons, explain why it happened.

Analyse

Break the subject up into its main ideas, and describe the relationships between them. Focus on ‘how’ and 'why’. Do not simply describe or summarise.

Argue

Present a convincing, soundly reasoned case for and/or against.

Assess

Critically judge the value of a subject.

Comment on

Discuss, explain, and give your opinion on the ideas expressed. Use analogies or examples to support your response.

Compare

Look for similarities between the things mentioned. Emphasise similarities but mention differences where appropriate.

Contrast

Stress the differences between the things mentioned.

Critically analyse

Break up the subject into its main ideas and identify the underlying assumptions and questions that are NOT being asked.

Criticise

Make a judgement about the merit or truth of the facts or views mentioned, discussing both positive points and limitations. Support with evidence.

Define

Clearly state the exact meaning. Give the limits of the definition.

Describe

Give a detailed account of the characteristics of a subject, or retell the essential features of a story.

Discuss

Analyse a subject from different points of view and come to a well-reasoned conclusion.

Evaluate

Examine the various sides of a subject, citing positive and negative features. Then make a judgment as to its significance, relevance, value, importance or quality.

Examine

Inspect in detail and investigate the implications.

Explain

Make clear the details; show the reason for, or underlying cause of, or the means by which something occurs. You may provide examples to support the explanation.

Illustrate

Use examples. Or where appropriate, provide a figure or diagram.

Indicate

Point out, make known or show.

Integrate

Join together in a logical way.

Interpret

Translate, solve, or comment on a subject, usually giving your judgement about it.

Justify

Provide evidence or give reasons for decisions or conclusions. Should be presented in a way that will convince the reader or listener.

Outline

Give the main features or general principles of a subject. Leave out minor details.

Prove

Show the truth of a statement by logical argument, experiment or test.

Relate

Show the connection between the things mentioned in the question.

Review

Provide a summary, usually a critical one. A review usually also implies commenting on the important aspects of the questions.

State

Present the main points in a brief and clear sequence, usually omitting details or examples.

Summarise

Give the main points in order of importance or trace the argument briefly.

Trace

Identify and describe the development or history of something from some point, or from its origin.