Essay Key Words


Key terms to remember: Often the response expected is determined by key words used within the essay question.

• Analyze:
Give good reasons for decisions, actions or conclusions. Break the subject down into various parts, examine and evaluate them closely, and explain them.
• Compare: Show the similarities or likeness of qualities or characteristics against a background of differences between two or more topics.

• Contrast: Stress differences or dissimilarities against a background of similarities between two or more topics.

• Criticize / Critique: Examine closely and give your opinion or judgement of the merits and / or demerits, strengths and weaknesses, and good / bad points of views mentioned; may include approval and / or disapproval supported by convincing factual evidence; include limitations and good points.

• Define: Give clear, concise, and authoritative meanings. Make sure to give limits of the definition. Show how the thing you are defining differs from other things in a class.

• Describe: Give a verbal account or word picture; give characteristics of or relative in sequence or story form. Include who, what, where and why.

• Diagram: Give a drawing, table, plan, or graphic answer. Label and add a brief explanation or description.

• Discuss: Consider the topic from various points of view; dig into causes, results and possible implications; give details. Give a complete and detailed answer. Give as many important main points about the subject as you can.


More Key Terms



• Evaluate: State your opinion pro and / or con about the value of something, its advantages, disadvantages, limitations, etc. You may include appraisal of authorities as well.

• Explain or Interpret: Make a concept clear, plain or easy to understand, usually in simpler or more familiar terms; give examples, clear reasons, facts or details; make it as concrete as possible. Tell about the importance of the subject. Explain the results or effects of something.

• Illustrate: Explain or argue using specific examples.

• Justify: Give good reasons, proof, or evidence for opinions, actions, conclusions or decisions; present facts to support your opinion, position or argument. Be convincing.

• Prove: Establish convincing support that something is true by giving factual evidence or logical reasons.

• Relate: Show how things are alike or connected with each other, how one causes another, correlates with another, or is like another.

• State: Present the main points in brief, clear sequence, including necessary illustrations or examples, but avoid excessive details.

• Summarize: Briefly give the main points in condensed form, omitting details and illustrations.

• Trace: Follow the course of a movement, event, or process, from some point of origin, giving a description of the progress or highlights.


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