Identify, Explain, Analyse … essay question words

essay question words
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If you’re struggling with essay questions and wondering what they mean and how to answer them, you’ve come to the right place. While writing essays can be difficult, it’s important to do thorough research and present your arguments convincingly. However, understanding the different question words such as ‘discuss’, ‘examine’, and ‘justify’ is crucial to crafting a well-structured essay. Many students need help understanding the question requirements, but our guide on essay question words will help you avoid this pitfall and excel in your essay writing.

what are Question words?

Question words like ‘analyse’, ‘evaluate’ and ‘explain’ in essay titles indicate how to structure your essay. These words often require critical responses of varying degrees, while some may only require a descriptive answer. It’s important to always adhere to the question words regardless of their nature, as failing to do so can result in irrelevant and low-scoring essays. For instance, a question asking to compare the British and French upper houses of parliament requires more than just pointing out the differences between the two systems.

To avoid such mistakes, it’s recommended to read this guide. The guide categorises the question words as either ‘descriptive’ or ‘critical’ depending on their nature, which will help you identify the type of response required for your essay. Regardless of your level of knowledge in the subject area, misinterpreting the question words can lead to poor essay writing.

Question words that need a critical approach

Certain interrogative words necessitate a crucial response, and the extent to which your responses must be critical varies based on the specifications of the inquiry. We have outlined these distinctions for you below:

  • Analyse

When essay questions use the term ‘analyse’ about a particular argument or topic, they require a comprehensive dissection. You must break down the topic or argument into its basic components. Additionally, you must conduct a critical examination of each of these parts. To do so, you should draw upon important debates and evidence to explore the arguments for and against the topic and consider how the different parts of the topic or argument are connected. Your analysis should not simply summarise key debates in the literature; rather, you should take a clear stance based on the evidence and tie your position to the literature.

  • Evaluate

To respond to an essay question that uses this particular term, the primary objective is to offer your own opinion or judgment about the accuracy of a set of research findings or an argument. You may also need to show the degree to which you concur with a argument or specific hypothesis. It is important to present information from various academic sources that support both sides of the argument. After providing an overview of the evidence, you should clearly state your position and support it with the evidence that led you to your conclusion.

  • Justify

When presented with a question that uses the term ‘justify,’ it is necessary to clarify the reasoning behind your argument by providing evidence that influenced your perspective. You must persuasively present your evidence in your response, showcasing valid reasons for adopting your stance. Additionally, it would be best to address opposing arguments before concluding your argument. This demonstrates a balanced view of the topic and a broad understanding of the relevant literature. To do this effectively, a critical approach is necessary. You should explain why alternative arguments are insufficient and why your argument is superior.

  • Critically evaluate

To respond to a ‘critically evaluate’ question, you need to express your opinion on the validity of an argument or research results. To achieve this, you must evaluate the statement or research finding carefully and critically. Your essay response should be assertive and present your thoughts on the accuracy of the topic in question. It is important to support your claims with enough evidence and present a balanced analysis by critiquing alternative perspectives. In addition, it is important to draw evidence from various sources to make your essay response more convincing. To conclude, state your position clearly, explain your reasoning, and provide evidence that influenced your perspective. Finally, it is important to justify your position by presenting a well-reasoned and convincing argument to the reader.

  • Review

If you encounter a question that includes the term ‘review,’ you are required to undertake a critical examination of a particular subject or argument. This involves summarizing the main themes or points and analyzing them in a critical manner while expressing your viewpoint. In essence, questions that use the term ‘review’ require you to assess the validity of the essay question.

For instance, if the question prompts you to review the literature on electoral reform in Great Britain, you should provide an overview that includes any significant arguments or issues that emerged. Next, you must logically and analytically comment on this material. This includes stating your agreement or disagreement with other scholars’ views and discussing contrasting perspectives. To support your assessment, it is essential to provide evidence, and you should clearly state your position.

Review answers should not be descriptive; instead, they must showcase high analytical skills. The objective is not to repeat the ideas of other scholars but to critically evaluate their work.

  • Assess

When faced with an ‘assess’ question, your task is to evaluate a particular argument or topic’s value, strengths, or weaknesses. Unlike other essay questions, ‘assess’ questions require you to consider multiple viewpoints rather than just expressing your opinion. To create a compelling argument, it is essential to express your ideas on the subject matter explicitly and substantiate them with evidence obtained from secondary sources in literature. The reader should be able to comprehend the robustness of your evaluation through evidence that supports your stance. Besides, it is crucial to recognize the limitations of your argument and tackle any opposing viewpoints that may emerge.

  • Discuss

When you come across a ‘Discuss’ question word, you must provide a comprehensive answer encompassing all facets of the argument or research topic. To demonstrate your reasoning skills, you should utilise evidence to support or oppose the argument/research topic.

To conduct a comprehensive examination of the topic, it is advisable to take into account various viewpoints articulated by other researchers. After considering the key arguments presented in the literature, present your perspective on the topic. Clearly expressing your stance and substantiating it with all the relevant evidence is critical.

  • Examine

To conduct a comprehensive investigation of a research topic or argument, it is essential to closely examine the crucial facts and significant issues. Therefore, ‘examine’ question words necessitate an analytical approach. It is also crucial to provide some background information to explain why these issues and facts are important. Have other scholars examined these issues and facts differently? If so, it is necessary to note these differences, the reasons behind them, and compare them to your approach.

In contrast to other question words, the questions that use the term ‘examine’ are more focused and less broad, as they require you to analyse specific evidence or facts in a critical manner for your analysis.

  • To what extent

This kind of question requires you to assess your level of agreement with a statement given in the question. To achieve this, you must conduct a thorough analysis of the subject and the evidence cited to support your stance. To address such questions, you must demonstrate your knowledge of the topic and use a critical approach to present your argument. You should examine both sides of the issue and present contrasting evidence. However, you must explain why specific evidence or information is more relevant in supporting your answer.

Question words that need a descriptive response

Sometimes, certain question words only need a description as a response, and this is true for the words listed below:

  • Define

This question requires you to clearly define the subject matter, providing a detailed explanation of its meaning. If there are multiple definitions of the subject, mentioning them and explaining why you’ve chosen to use a particular definition is important. If there is disagreement among scholars regarding the definition, you should discuss this as well. Make sure to provide multiple meanings if they exist, demonstrating your familiarity with the literature.

  • Demonstrate

To effectively answer ‘demonstrate’ questions, it is necessary to provide numerous examples, evidence, and logical arguments. The main objective is to show how a particular research topic or argument is legitimate by offering evidence and arguments to validate your claim. Emphasise your position when addressing such questions. It’s crucial to provide solid evidence to build a strong case.

  • Describe

To answer a “describe” question, it is essential to provide a comprehensive understanding of the primary features of a research topic impartially. As the responses to these questions are primarily descriptive, providing a narrative-style account or depiction is crucial. Rather than focusing on the fundamental meaning of the subject, “describe” questions emphasise its specific qualities, which should serve as the foundation of your answer.

  • Elaborate

In ‘elaborate’ questions, providing a comprehensive and detailed account of an argument or a research topic is necessary. Such questions typically require descriptive responses, so you must show that you have conducted thorough research to substantiate the information you provide.

  • Explain

To answer ‘explain’ questions, you must detail a research topic or argument. Pretend you describe it to someone who knows nothing about the subject and provide as much detail as possible. You should also define any jargon or key terms that you use. Additionally, you should support your claims with academic research. Your response should demonstrate your clear understanding of the topic or argument and present a coherent interpretation to the reader. To achieve coherence, it is helpful to consider the ‘what’, ‘how’, and ‘why’ questions and structure your response logically.

  • Explore

It is important to approach “exploratory” essay questions with a questioning attitude. Objectivity is crucial because you must present all viewpoints before stating your arguments. A detached, unemotional tone is often more effective than an assertive, argumentative tone. The objective is to provide a comprehensive description of an argument or research topic by analyzing its different components.

  • Identify

When presented with an essay question that uses the term ‘identity’ in relation to a research topic or argument, your task is to provide a succinct and well-structured explanation of the main ideas. This is similar to what has been done in this paragraph.

  • Illustrate

To respond to these questions, you must usually provide various examples, such as graphs, figures, tables or specific research data and evidence. The purpose of including these examples is to showcase your understanding of the topic and to provide additional explanations or support for your answer.

  • Outline

To provide an outline answer, you must present a structured summary of an argument or a research topic. Including only the main points and essential supplementary information is essential instead of getting bogged down in minor details. Ensure that your response is presented in a clear and organised manner.

  • Summarise

When you’re tasked with summarising a research topic, you must provide a concise version of its main points or facts. Your focus should be on the most important information, and you should leave out all minor details. Summaries are usually short and straightforward, conveying the primary facts clearly and efficiently. The goal is to present the main points briefly and impactfully.

  •  Clarify

This means to elucidate a topic or argument and make it more understandable. This may involve clarifying a topic or an argument by presenting it in simpler terms. These questions need you to clarify or simplify a complex subject or topic. It is crucial to maintain coherence when answering such questions and to present your response systematically.

  • Compare

You must find commonalities between two or more discussion topics if asked to’ compare’. To go beyond a simple comparison, you should attempt to comprehend the origins of the similarities and their importance. Additionally, you should highlight differences, but your essay should focus on establishing similarities.

  • Contrast

To answer ‘contrast’ questions, you need to highlight and explain the disparities between multiple subjects of discussion rather than their similarities, unlike ‘compare’ questions. The main focus should be on outlining the differences and identifying what distinguishes them from one another. When dealing with ‘contrast’ questions, keep these broad queries in mind.


By providing an explanation of the meaning of essay question words, we hope to offer guidance on how to approach them in your essay writing. Additionally, here are some tips to keep in mind when answering essay questions:

Firstly, make sure you fully comprehend the question and understand what is required of you. Thoroughly examine the question words and their meaning before you start planning your response.

Secondly, read the question multiple times and attempt to uncover any underlying assumptions or subtext. Highlight key phrases and create a basic outline of your response. This outline doesn’t need to be complex, but it will help you structure your response coherently.

Finally, before submitting your essay, review it carefully for inconsistencies and grammatical or spelling errors. It may be helpful to have a professional editor examine your work to provide fresh insights and identify areas for improvement.

Author Bio: Mark Edmonds is a seasoned academic writer and a proud member of the Academic Assignments team. With over a decade of experience in assignment writing services, Mark has helped numerous students achieve academic success through his expertise and guidance. He holds a Master’s degree in English Literature and has a keen eye for detail, which enables him to craft top-notch assignments that meet the highest standards of academic excellence.