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Important Words in Essay Questions

By KSU Counseling Services Staff

The following terms appear frequently in the phrasing of essay questions. You should know their meaning and answer accordingly. (The list and the sense of the definitions, though not the exact words, are adapted from C. Bird and D. M. Bird, Learning More by Effective Study, Appletome Century Crofts, New York, 1945. pp.195-198).

Compare- Look for qualities of characteristics that resemble each other. Emphasize similarities among them, but in some cases also mention differences.

Contrast- Stress the dissimilarities, differences, or unlikeness of things, qualities, events, or problems.

Criticize- Express your judgment about the merit or truth of the factors or views mentioned. Give the results of your analytics of these factors, discussing their limitations and good points.

Define- Give concise, clear, and authoritative meanings. Don't give details, but make sure to give the limits of the definition. Show how the things you are defining differ from things in other classes.

Describe-Recount, characteristics, sketch, or relate in sequence or story form.

Diagram-Give a drawing, chart, plan, or graphic answer. Usually you should label a diagram. In some cases, add a brief explanation of description.

Discuss- Examine, analyze carefully, and give reasons pro and con. Be complete and give details.

Enumerate- Write in list or outline form, giving points concisely one by one.

Evaluate- Carefully appraise the problem, citing both advantages and limitations. Emphasize the appraisal of authorities and to a lesser degree, your personal evaluation.

Explain- Clarify, interpret, and spell out the material you present. Give reasons for differences of opinion or of results, and try to analyze causes.

Illustrate- Use a figure, picture, diagram, or concrete example to explain or clarify a problem

Interpret- Translate, give examples of, solve, or comment on a subject usually giving your judgment about it.

Justify- Prove or give reasons for decisions or conclusions, taking pains to be convincing.

List- As in "enumerate", write an itemized series of concise statements.

Outline- Organize a description under main points and subordinate points, omitting minor details and stressing the arrangement or classification of things.

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