Terms Used in Essay Questions

Terms Used In Essay Question
If you are asked to interpret something (usually a piece of writing, or the like) you are being asked to tell what it means in
simpler words. The meaning of anything, of course, is the meaning that any good reader would be able to see in it, and
especially the meaning that you are able to see in it.
Criticize or Evaluate
Here you are being asked to make a judgement of value. Your opinion is being asked for. But the opinion alone is not
worth much; you also need to describe the evidence or experience which has led you to hold your opinion. Thus you are
being asked to give an opinion and support it.
Establishment of Purpose
When you are asked to talk about a thing (eg. piece of lab equipment) or idea (eg. literary device) in terms of purpose,
you must tell what it is used or useful for. Usually to make the explanation complete you will need also to explain exactly
how the particular thing or idea works in the process of fulfilling its purpose. Examples help, but be clear in your
How to Do
Here you are being asked to describe (usually in steps) how to perform some particular skilled act. Your object here
would be to make the description clear, simple, and complete, so that it can be readily understood by anyone. (If you
understand something very clearly yourself, you will be able to give clear directions to someone else.)
Cause and Effect
When these terms are used, you are being asked to describe a process sequentially, showing how one event or situation
necessarily must follow some other event or situation. The explanation becomes more clear if you give specific examples
after you have made a general cause and effect statement.
Here you are asked to explain events or situations in relation to each other. Sometimes the relationship is that of cause
and effect. But there are other relationships. Two events may be the result of some other cause, or they both may be
causes of the same effect. A relationship may be very complex, or it might be quite simple. In any case, you are being
asked to show what logical relationship exists. if any. (Usually there is one, or the question would not be asked.)
Compare and Contrast
You are being asked to show some particular relationship in terms of similarities and differences. Usually comparison
implies showing similarities and contrast implies describing differences between things and ideas. (Ideas, of course, may
be expressed by single words or by whole sentences, paragraphs or even books, so judge how much detail to give by the
relative importance of the concept in the course, or the point value of the question on the test.)
This word means specifically to give an example. Concrete examples or illustrations are used to help make the meaning
of a general statement or principle clear. By being able to give a good example, you demonstrate that you understand
how a principle may be applied to specific situations.
Apply Principle
This term also means to give an example. But more specifically, when you are asked to apply a principle, you are being
asked to show by explanation and example exactly how some particular principle or generalization can be used to solve a
particular problem. "Application" implies application to the solution of a problem.
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