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Writing To Answer an Assignment
Author: ADMIN (ukstudent at gmail dot com)
Published: Sun, 03-Apr-2005
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Writing To Answer an Assignment. Article by David Beach

Here are some tips to help you determine what your professors look for when giving a writing assignment.


If the prompt asks you to write about whether something is x or y, then write about whether something is x or y in the context of a thesis statement or controlling idea. For example, if the prompt asks “Do you think working overtime or a second job is detrimental or beneficial?” a solid, introductory response that sets up your thesis or controlling idea would be something like this:

Working overtime or a second job can help people increase their wealth; however, the extra work takes away valuable time from all areas of one’s life—personal, social, and family. The tradeoff of money over time is only beneficial when one is saving for a down payment on a first home. Many people, wanting to achieve the American Dream of owning their own home, have to save for a long time for the down payment. If interest rates on loans are low, and working overtime or a second job for a few months will increase the savings in order to make the down payment, then the sacrifice is worth the investment. Other than this reason, which ensures future wealth and comfort for a person or a family, working too much harms the body, mind, and soul.


1. Notice carefully the directive verb that tells you what you should do in your answer. Directive verbs that are commonly used in assignments are: explain, enumerate, list, name, compare, contrast, describe, summarize, outline, apply, justify, defend, account for, sketch, clarify, state, illustrate, and discuss.

2. Outline and pre-plan your answer. For this purpose, use plenty of scratch paper, save multiple documents with ideas and/or brainstorming and outlining. Pre-planning will help you to write an organized instead of haphazard answer.

3. Stick to the question. Give the information you have that is directly relevant to the question and present it in an orderly way. Resist the temptation to write about something you know better instead.

4. Begin your answer with a general statement or topic sentence.

5. Read directions carefully. Ask instructors questions if you do not fully understand the directions.

6. Read all questions carefully before answering any of them, and make sure you clearly understand the question. Note key words such as name, describe, explain, compare, etc.

7. Manage your time well. Set a specific amount of time to work on your assignment. Go back to it later (take a breather to clear your head and think more clearly) to review and revise.

8. Before you begin writing, prepare a short outline of the main points you intend to cover. Spend some time organizing your material before you begin writing.

9. Organize your answer in three parts:
a) Introduction
b) Main body
c) Summary
In other words:

10. Follow any formatting guidelines your instructor has given you. Make your papers professional in appearance.

11. Spell-check, proof read, and edit!!


1. Do not repeat in other words what you have already said.

2. Do not digress into material that does not answer the question.

3. Do not use language that is too broad and general, if the question calls for specific detail.


When you are asked to compare, you should examine qualities, or characteristics, in order to discover resemblances. The term compare is usually stated as compare with, and it implies that you are to emphasize similarities, although differences may be mentioned.

When you are instructed to contrast; dissimilarities, differences, or unlikenesses of associated things, qualities, events, or problems should be stressed.

In a criticism you should express your judgment with respect to the correctness or merit of the factors under consideration. You are expected to give the results of your own analysis and to discuss the limitations and good points or contributions of the plan or work in question.

Definitions call for concise, clear, authoritative meanings. In such statements details are not required but boundaries or limitations of the definitions 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, the student is also expected to label the diagram and in some cases to add to 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 you are expected to present a careful appraisal of the problem, stressing both advantages and limitation. Evaluation implies authoritative and, to a lesser degree, personal appraisal of both contributions and limitations.

In explanatory answers it is imperative that you clarify, elucidate, and interpret the material you present. In such an answer it is best to state the “how” and “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 explanation. You are expected to translate, exemplify, solve, or comment upon the subject and usually to give your judgment or reaction to the problem.

An interpretation question is similar to one requiring explanation. You are expected to translate, exemplify, solve, or comment upon the subject and usually to 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 a tabulation. Such questions should always be given in concise form.

An outlined answer is organized description. You should give main points and essential supplementary materials, omitting minor details, and presenting 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 association 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. Detail, and usually 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.

When a question asks you to trace a course of events, you are to give a description of progress, historical sequence, or development from the point of origin. Such narratives may call for probing or for deductions.

© Copyright for this article belongs to David Beach

This document was re-printed with the kind permission of David Beach. Original Source of the article is located here: http://classweb.gmu.edu/WAC/somguide/answeringassignment.htm

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