Your Ultimate Guide to Essay Terms

Author: Dan Keating/18 April 2018/Categories: GCSE, A - Level, Examination Advice

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How can you write your essay? Follow this key term guide!

Account for

Give a clear explanation of something and evaluate (possible) causes/reasons. Demonstrate your ability and command of the subject by being able to identify and explain matters in response to the question.

 

Advise (on) -

Provide specific advice about something

 

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Analyse

Examine the topic by dividing it into parts and looking at each part in detail; form judgements about each element and the whole. Close examination of the various factors and perceptive observations are prerequisites for the analytical essay.

 

Argue

Provide reasons for and/or against something, in an appropriate order, citing evidence, which may be other people’s research or other kinds of facts/information.

 

Assess

Judge the significance of something, referring to the special knowledge of experts wherever possible (i.e. referring to/quoting from other people’s work). Make a value judgement about one or more factors. Arrive at an estimation of certain factors or elements, particularly in relation to their effectiveness or

consequences.

 

Clarify

Simplify or make clear. Make certain matters easier to understand through a logical process of explanation

 

Comment on

Give your own opinion about something, supported by reasons and evidence. Make informed comments about a particular issue, factor or event.

 

Compare

Examine one thing in relation to something else, to emphasise points of difference or similarity.

 

Consider

Think carefully about a particular matter. Consider the merits of a particular topic to produce an answer, which is thoughtful and insightful.

 

Contrast

Identify the differences between the stated items, and unique or distinguishing characteristics.

 

Criticise

Express your judgment or correctness or merit. Discuss the limitations and good points or contributions of the plan or work in question.

 

Define

Explain the exact meaning of a word or phrase. Definitions call for concise, clear, authoritative meanings. Details are not required but limitations of the definition should be briefly cited. You must keep in mind the class to which a thing belongs and whatever differentiates the particular object from all others in the class. Test whether a particular (often controversial) term or concept has been understood. Define is usually linked to another instruction, for example, ‘briefly define what you mean by the term … and explain the significance of…’ .

 

Describe

Give a full account or detailed representation of something. In a descriptive answer, you should recount, characterise, sketch or relate in narrative form. Great care should be taken with this instruction if it occurs at an advanced level, particularly if it is not linked to another instruction. By itself, it merely invites a recitation of facts; if this is the case, carefully consider the whole question.


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Discuss

Make a case for or against an argument and reach a conclusion. Point out the advantages and disadvantages. The term discuss, which appears often in essay questions, directs you to examine, analyse carefully, and present considerations pro and con regarding the problems or items involved. This type of question calls for a complete and entailed answer.

 

Distinguish

Highlight the differences. This is often used in the first part of a question or instruction to obtain a clearer picture of two or more issues.

 

Enumerate

List and mention items separately in number order Evaluate Calculate the value/effectiveness of a theory/decision/object etc., including your own opinion, and supporting each point with evidence. In such questions you should recount, one by one, in concise form, the points required.

 

Examine

Scrutinise carefully or in detail; investigate. Conduct a logical, detailed analysis of an issue or case, highlighting elements such as cause and effect.

 

Explore

Look at the issue from different points of view

 

Explain

Give reasons for or account for something, so it is clear/easy to understand. In explanatory answers, it is imperative that you clarify and interpret the material you present. In such an answer it is best to state the "how or why," reconcile any differences in opinion or experimental results, and, where possible, state causes. The aim is to make plain the conditions, which give rise to whatever you are examining.

 

Evaluate

This calls for an examination of the merits of a particular issue or position and, consequently, reaching a considered judgement.

 

How

In what way (to what extent?). This indicates that there is perhaps no one answer to the question. So key issues have to be identified, arguments made, evidence offered and your final position made clear.

 

Illustrate

Use examples or diagrams to explain something. Requires you to explain or clarify your answer to the problem by presenting a figure, picture, diagram, or concrete example.

 

Interpret

Give your own opinion of the significance of something (give reasons/evidence wherever possible). You are expected to translate, exemplify, solve, or comment upon the subject and usually to give your judgment or reaction to the problem.

 

Justify

Give good reasons for decisions or conclusions, perhaps by referring to other texts. You must prove or show grounds for decisions. In such an answer, evidence should be presented in the convincing form.

 

List

Listing is similar to enumeration. You are expected in such questions to present an itemized series or tabulation. Such answers should always be given in the concise form.

 

Outline

Give the main features, facts, or general idea of something, omitting minor details. Give main points and essential supplementary materials, omitting minor details, and present the information in a systematic arrangement or classification.

 

Prove

Show something is accurate/true/valid by using facts, documents and/or other information to build your case. In such discussions, you should establish something with certainty by evaluating and citing experimental evidence or by logical reasoning.

 

Reconcile

Show how apparently conflicting things can appear similar or compatible.

 

Relate

Establish how things are connected or associated, how they affect each other or how they are alike.

 

Review

To examine an area and assess it critically. You should analyse and comment briefly in organized sequence upon the major points of the problem.

 

Show

Explain something giving evidence or examples to establish a strong case.


 

State

Put something clearly and concisely. Express the high points in brief, clear narrative form. Details, and usually illustrations or examples, may be omitted.

 

Summarise

Give a brief, concise account of the main points of something (leaving out details). Trace Follow the cause or stages in the development of something

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