Terms for Essays and Reports


Examine the subject in great detail. Break the subject down into key components and demonstrate how the components do or do not work together.


Take a position either for or against on a topic. Support your position with evidence and critique objections to your position.


Examine qualities or characteristics to discover resemblances. "Compare" is usually stated as "compare with"; emphasize similarities, although differences may be mentioned.


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


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


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.


In a descriptive answer you should recount, characterize, sketch or relate in narrative form.


For a question which specifies a diagram you should present a drawing, chart, plan, or graphic representation in your answer. Generally you are expected to label the diagram and in some cases add a brief explanation or description.


The term discuss, which appears often in essay questions, directs you to examine, analyze carefully, and present considerations, pro and con, regarding the problems or items involved. This type of question calls for a complete and detailed answer.


The word enumerate specifies a list or outline form of reply. In such questions you should recount, one by one, in concise form, the points required.


In an evaluation question you are expected to present a careful appraisal of the problem stressing both advantages and limitations. Evaluation implies authoritative and, to a lesser degree, personal appraisal of both contributions and limitations.


Clarify and interpret the material presented. 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.


A question which asks you to illustrate usually requires you to explain or clarify your answer to the problem by presenting a figure, picture, diagram, or concrete example.


An interpretation question is similar to one requiring explanation. Translate, exemplify, solve, or comment upon the subject and give your judgment or reaction to the problem.


When you are instructed to justify your answer, you must prove or show grounds for decisions. In such an answer, evidence should be presented in convincing form.


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 concise form.


An outline answer is organized description. You should give main points and essential supplementary materials, omitting minor details, and present the information in a systematic arrangement or classification.


A question which requires proof is one which demands confirmation or verification. In such discussions you should establish something with certainty by evaluating and citing experimental evidence or by logical reasoning.


In a question which asks you to show the relationship or to relate, your answer should emphasize connections and associations in descriptive form.


A review specifies a critical examination. You should analyze and comment briefly in organized sequence upon the major points of the problem.


In questions which direct you to specify, give, state, or present, you are called upon to express the high points in brief, clear narrative form. Details, illustrations, or examples, may be omitted.


When you are asked to summarize or present a summarization, you should give in condensed form the main points or facts. All details, illustrations and elaboration are to be omitted.