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Essay Questions

Reading and understanding essay questions is crucial to a student's success in answering them. If you fail to do so, you are likely to give answers that do not satisfy the marker, which may cause you to miss points allotted for that particular question.

Often the instructions in the essay question will reveal how you will apply your knowledge on the topic or issue, and what rules or theories will help shape your answer. For example, when asked to describe, explain, summarise or illustrate you are expected to show how you will apply the knowledge you have acquired from readings and lectures. When asked to analyse, compare, contrast or relate, you are expected to choose from the knowledge you have acquired those which are important to answering the question.

Below are key words used and what they will require of you to address the question:


  • Discuss. Talk about in depth or argue for or against a certain topic or issue. Create a strategy on how you will approach it and what it is you want to say about this issue or topic, then build your arguments around supporting and validating this approach.
  • Define. Write the exact meaning of something that is specific to the course or subject you are studying.
  • Examine. Observe the features of an object or aspects of an issue.
  • Compare. State the similarities and differences of the materials you are being asked to compare.
  • Contrast. Similar to drawing comparisons, except you will only find the differences and analyse them in the context of the question.
  • Describe. Paint a picture of something on the reader's mind using characteristics, parts and qualities of the thing you are asked to describe.
  • Explain. Give details and address the "how" and the "why" in order to make something clear to the reader. When applicable, show the logical development of a concept or give the reason why an event happened.
  • Interpret. Translate your understanding about something in your own words.
  • Relate. Show the larger context of how concepts or events influence one another.
  • Summarise. Write a brief and condensed version of an event or idea. Include key dates, figures, and significant events, and avoid giving unnecessary information.
  • Trace. Explain to the reader how something has evolved or the historical background of an event or idea
  • Analyse. Break the issue or idea into its separate components and discuss or examine each part.
  • Criticise. Make your own judgements by evaluating the comparative value of something. Criticism is often done with analysis.


Should you still find some terms unclear, consult an unabridged dictionary or your tutor or professor. It is important to have an exact idea of how you are expected to write your answers as essay questions often cover a broad range and will have you work with, or around, abstract terminologies and concepts or sweeping ideas or events.

In times when you are in need of guidance on how to better address the essay questions you are given, expert assistance is available at Essay Writer. Our specialists will guide you through looking at the different essay topics, assist you with building arguments and proofread and edit your initial written work to improve its standard as necessary.

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