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Answering Assignment Questions: Glossary of Task Words
Author: ADMIN (ukstudent at gmail dot com)
Published: Wed, 15-May-2013
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Answering Assignment Questions: Glossary of Task Words. Article by Sue Starfield

Glossary of Task Words

Understanding the meaning of words, especially task words, helps you to know exactly what is being asked of you. It takes you half way towards narrowing down your material and selecting your answer.

Task words direct you and tell you how to go about answering an assignment question. Here is a list of such words and others that you are most likely to come across frequently in your course.

Words and What they (might) mean . . .

Account for
Explain, clarify, give reasons for. (Quite different from \'Give an account of\' which is more like \'describe in detail\').
Analyse
Break an issue down into its component parts, discuss them and show how they interrelate.
Assess
Consider the value or importance of something, paying due attention to positive, negative and disputable aspects, and citing the judgements of any known authorities as well as your own.
Argue
Make a case, based on appropriate evidence for and/or against some given point of view.
Comment on
Too vague to be sure, but safe to assume it means something more than \'describe\' or \'summarise\' and more likely implies \'analyse\' or \'assess\'.
Compare
Identify the characteristics or qualities two or more things have in common (but probably pointing out their differences as well.
Contrast
Point out the differences between two things (but probably point out their similarities as well).
Criticise
Spell out your judgement as to the value or truth of something, indicating the criteria on which you base your judgement and citing specific instances of how the criteria apply in this case.
Define
Make a statement as to the meaning or interpretation of something, giving sufficient detail so as to allow it to be distinguished from similar things.
Describe
Spell out the main aspects of an idea or topic or the sequence in which a series of things happened.
Discuss
Investigate or examine by argument, sift and debate, giving reasons for and against.
Evaluate
Make an appraisal or the worth of something, in the light of its apparent truth;include your personal opinion. Like \'assess\'.
Enumerate
List some relevant items, possibly in continuous prose (rather than note form) - and perhaps \'describe\' them (see above) as well.
Explain
Tell how things work or how they came to be the way they are, including perhaps some need to \'describe\' and to \'analyse\' (see above).
To what extent . . .?
Explore the case for a stated proposition or explanation, much in the manner of \'assess\' and \'criticise\' (see above), probably arguing for a less than total acceptance of the proposition.
How Far
Similar to \'to what extent . . .?\' (see above)
Identify
Pick out what you regard as the key features of something, perhaps making clear the criteria you use.
Illustrate
Similar to \'explain\' (see above), but probably asking for the quoting of specific examples or statistics or possibly the drawing of maps, graphs, sketches, etc.
Interpret
Clarify something or \'explain\' (see above), perhaps indicating how the thing relates to some other thing or perspective.
Justify
Express valid reasons for accepting a particular interpretation or conclusion, probably including the need to \'argue\' (see above) a case.
Outline
Indicate the main features of a topic or sequence of events, possibly setting them within a clear structure or framework to show how they interrelate.
Prove
Demonstrate the truth of something by offering irrefutable evidence and/or logical sequence of statements leading from evidence to conclusion.
Reconcile
Show how two apparently opposed or mutually exclusive ideas or propositions can be seen to be similar in important respects, if not identical. Involves need to \'analyse\' and justify\' (see above).
Relate
Either \'explain\' (see above) how things happened or are connected in a cause-and-effect sense, or may imply \'compare\' and \'contrast\' (see above).
Review
Survey a topic, with the emphasis on \'assess\' rather than \'describe\' (see above).
State
Express the main points of an idea or topic, perhaps in the manner of \'describe\' or \'enumerate\' (see above).
Summarise
\'State\' (see above) the main features of an argument, omitting all superfluous detail and side-issues.
Trace
Identify the connection between one thing and another either in a developmental sense over a period of time, or else in a cause-and-effect sense. May imply both \'describe\' and \'explain\' (see above).

Other Useful Definitions

Assumption
Something which is accepted as being true for the purpose of an argument.
Issue
An important topic for discussion; something worth thinking and raising questions about.
Methodology
A system of methods and principles for doing something. Often used to explain methods for carrying out research.
Objective
It is the point or the thing aimed at. It is what you want to achieve by a particular activity.

Further Reading

Rowntree, D. 1998, Learn How to Study -A Realistic Approach, Warner Books, London.



Copyright for this article belongs to University of New South Wales

This document was re-printed with the kind permission of Sue Starfield. Original Source of the article is located here: http://www.lc.unsw.edu.au/onlib/taskword.html

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