Interpreting Assignments What Professors Say and What They Mean

Writing Center
Interpreting Assignments
What Professors Say and What They Mean
Professors sometimes use words that have complicated meanings. Here are translations of some of those
meanings behind words often used in assignments.
When They Say
They Usually Mean
They probably don’t mean
“Analyze the text”
Separate into the parts that
make up the whole and
examine each critically.
Explain it and add your own
"Synthesize the ideas
discussed in these texts."
Combine or bring together
different parts or ideas
Write one essay about all of
these ideas.
"Discuss one of the following
Explain or consider by
argument, comment, etc.
Explore and evaluate the
value of possible solutions.
Make understandable by
making clear or plain; make
known in detail
All I need to do is summarize
the issues.
Identify and evaluate
similarities and differences
Summarize twice.
"Compare and contrast…"
About Primary and Secondary Questions
If a prompt offers multiple questions, try to figure out which is the primary question specifying the main
goal of the assignment and which is/are the secondary question(s) clarifying possible directions for the
assignment. When in doubt, ask a professor
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