What kind of answer is required?

To determine how you should answer a question, look for instructional words that tell you the approach you need to take in responding to an assignment. Instructional words provide a clear indication of the type of answer expected.

The most common instructional words are listed below.


To analyse or break the subject matter into its parts to discover their nature, proportion, function and relationships.


Make critical observations about the subject matter. Be careful not to cast too wide a net here, or to write in too many generalisations.


Find similarities and differences between two or more events, interpretations, etc. Ensure you understand exactly what you are being asked to compare.
For example, if asked to compare two poems, on which aspects should you focus?
Should you be concerned with poetic techniques, use of language to create effects, the poet's philosophy and perspective? Are you expected to include a comparison of personal social, artistic, and historical influences on the poet's writing?


The remarks on "compare" also apply to "contrast". Usually the difference is that you should concentrate on dissimilarities.


Present a point of view, that of others and/or your own. This is likely to entail both description and interpretation. Your opinion should be supported by arguments and evidence.


Here you are asked yo appraise in order to make a judgment which means considering both strengths and weaknesses.


This will require you to analyse in order to assign or interpret meanings clearly. You should avoid merely describing or summarising for your focus is on the 'why' or 'how' or a particular issue, with the aim of clarifying reasons, cases, effects.


Give an organised description or an ordering of information which you state the main point, but omit details. Present the information in a systematic arrangement or classification.


Re-examine, analyse and comment briefly (in an organised sequence) on the major points of an issue.


Provide a brief statement or an account covering the main points in sequence or by assimilating parts into a general comment: omit details.