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Analysing the question

Analysing the question

What's involved in the pre-planning stage of an essay project?

On this page we'll take a look at:

Analyse

Analysing the question: breaking down a title to clearly identify its task

Understand

Understanding the key question words: differentiating between descriptive and evaluative instruction words

Plan

Pre-planning tips, including a template to help you start your planning...

Breaking down your title

You've been given an essay question, but what is it actually asking? This activity takes you through the stages of analysing a question, breaking down an essay title to clearly identify the task.

Choose an essay question:

Arts & Humanities
Sciences
Social Sciences

Analysing the question - Social Sciences

Below is an example question from the Faculty of Social Sciences to show you how to analyse a question to ensure that all elements of the task are addressed:

Outline the ways in which young people criminally offend in society and how restorative justice seeks to modify such behaviour. Critically evaluate the effectiveness of restorative justice in terms of rehabilitating young offenders and also protecting the public.


In the essay question, click on the words or phrases that identify the broad topics you will need to discuss in your answer

Submit

Outline the ways in which young people criminally offend in society and how restorative justice seeks to modify such behaviour. Critically evaluate the effectiveness of restorative justice in terms of rehabilitating young offenders and also protecting the public.


In the essay question, click on the phrase which specifies the context you will need to look at.

Submit

Outline the ways in which young people criminally offend in society and how restorative justice seeks to modify such behaviour. Critically evaluate the effectiveness of restorative justice in terms of rehabilitating young offenders and also protecting the public.


Now select the phrases or instructional words that indicate the tasks which need to be completed - there are two to identify

Submit

Outline the ways in which young people criminally offend in society and how restorative justice seeks to modify such behaviour. Critically evaluate the effectiveness of restorative justice in terms of rehabilitating young offenders and also protecting the public.


Click on the part of the question which will get you the most marks and therefore should get the most attention.

Submit

Analysing the question - Sciences

Below is an example question from the Faculty of Sciences to show you how to analyse a question to ensure that all elements of the task are addressed:

To what extent have approaches to environmental management contributed to our current position on energy production and use? Evaluate the ways in which these approaches may help to shape our energy strategy for the future.


In the essay question, click on the words or phrases that identify the broad topic you will need to discuss in your answer

Submit

To what extent have approaches to environmental management contributed to our current position on energy production and use? Evaluate the ways in which these approaches may help to shape our energy strategy for the future.


In the essay question, click on the two words which specify the contexts you will need to look at.

Submit

To what extent have approaches to environmental management contributed to our current position on energy production and use? Evaluate the ways in which these approaches may help to shape our energy strategy for the future.


Now click on the phrases or instructional words that indicate the tasks which need to be completed - there are two to identify.

Submit

To what extent have approaches to environmental management contributed to our current position on energy production and use? Evaluate the ways in which these approaches may help to shape our energy strategy for the future.


Click on the part of the question which will get you the most marks and therefore should get the most attention

Submit

Analysing the question - Arts & Humanities

Below is an example question from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities to show you how to analyse a question to ensure that all elements of the task are addressed:

Describe how the presentation of gender in children's literature from the 1950s to the present has changed and critically evaluate how the development of feminist criticism has contributed to this change. Illustrate your answer with examples from the module material and wider reading.


In the above text, select the words or phrases that identify the two broad topics

Submit

Describe how the presentation of gender in children's literature from the 1950s to the present has changed and critically evaluate how the development of feminist criticism has contributed to this change. Illustrate your answer with examples from the module material and wider reading.


In the essay question, click on the specific context you will need to look at.

Submit

Describe how the presentation of gender in children's literature from the 1950s to the present has changed and critically evaluate how the development of feminist criticism has contributed to this change. Illustrate your answer with examples from the module material and wider reading.


Now click on the instructional words or phrases that indicate the tasks which need to be completed - there are three to identify.

Submit

Describe how the presentation of gender in children's literature from the 1950s to the present has changed and critically evaluate how the development of feminist criticism has contributed to this change. Illustrate your answer with examples from the module material and wider reading.


Click on the part of the question which will get you the most marks and therefore should get the most attention.

Submit

Your essay question

Here's a template document you can fill in to help you break down your essay question and start planning your project.

Go to File > Make a copy... to create your own version of the template that you can edit.

Key question words

Is your question asking for a critical or a descriptive response?

Being critical

Being critical is an essential skill in higher education. In your assessments, you will be expected to engage in academic debate and demonstrate critical writing skills. The instruction words in your assessment title will provide a clear steer about what kinds of critical writing are expected in your essay.

Definitions

What’s the difference between descriptive writing and critical writing?

Descriptive writing...

  • ...outlines

  • ...states

  • ...describes

  • ...explains

Descriptive writing is less complex and more limited than critical writing. It can include describing what happened, what something is like, or how to do something. It may be outlining theory or stating approaches and methods.

Critical writing...

  • ...evaluates

  • ...gives reasons

  • ...argues

  • ...makes judgements

Critical writing is a more complex skill to develop. It can include identifying the significance or showing why something is relevant to your discussion. It may involve weighing up evidence and evaluating strengths and weaknesses, making links between arguments, and drawing conclusions from evidence.

CC BY-NC-SA Learnhigher / Plymouth University


Instructional words

The following instructional verbs are commonly used in assessment tasks:


Descriptive

Clarify

Identify the components of an issue/topic/problem; make the meaning plain; remove misunderstandings.

Examine

Look at carefully; consider.

Explain

Make plain and clear; give reasons for.

Outline

Give a short description of the main points; give the main features or general principles; emphasise the structure, leaving out minor details.


Critical

Analyse

Break the information into constituent parts; examine the relationship between the parts; question the information.

Evaluate

Appraise the worth of something in the light of its truth or usefulness; assess and explain.

Interpret

Expound the meaning; make clear and explicit, giving your own judgement.

Synthesise

Bring elements together to make a complex whole, draw together or integrate issues.


CC BY-NC-SA Learnhigher / University of Manchester