When interpreting an assignment question, it is important to identify the type of task you are being asked to do. To do this, look for command words that tell you what to do. Some questions only have one command word, but others have more than one.
Common command words
Account for: To give reasons, explain why something has happened.
Analyse: To break the subject up into its main ideas, and evaluate them
Assess: To judge the value of a subject critically.
Comment on: To discuss, explain and give your opinion on the ideas expressed.
Compare: To show the similarities and differences between two or more subjects.
Criticise: To make your judgement about the views expressed and support your judgement with evidence.
Define: To give the meaning of a word term, distinguishing it from closely related subjects, sometimes by examples and illustrations.
Describe: To give a detailed account of the characteristics of a subject.
Discuss: To investigate and present the different aspects of a problem or subject, usually in support of a position or argument.
Evaluate: To appraise or estimate the worth of something, to some extent an explained personal opinion.
Examine: To inquire into and consider a problem carefully.
Explain: To account for a subject's character, causes, results, implications etc., by clearly stating and interpreting the relevant details.
Generate: To propose new ideas or new interpretations of available subjects.
Hypothesise: To propose a supposition which can be used as a basis for testing conclusions.
Illustrate: To explain or clarify a problem using concrete examples, diagrams, or figures.
Integrate: To draw together in a logical related way two or more subjects not previously related.
Interpret: To explain the meaning of something, to make it clear and explicit, and to evaluate it in terms of your own knowledge.
Justify: To provide the reasons for your conclusions or for the statement made in the question.
Outline: To give the main features or general principles of a subject leaving out minor details.
Prove: To show the truth of a statement by argument, experiment, or test.
Relate: To establish the connection between one thing and another.
Review: To survey and critically examine a subject.
State: To describe the subject in precise terms or set down an exact meaning.
Summarise: To make a concise account of the main ideas of a subject or argument, omitting explanatory details and examples.
If the task is not explicitly stated it will be necessary to look for relationships between the words and phrases in the assignment topic to determine what is required.
Electoral procedures differ between New Zealand and Australia. Discuss.
“differ” suggests that this is a comparison and/or contrast question.
New Zealand is leading exporter of agricultural products to the UK and other countries and is seen as having an effect on production of greenhouse gases. Are New Zealand agricultural exports really having this effect?
“really” suggests that this question is asking you to evaluate the evidence.
The pressure on New Zealand health systems is politically, socially and economically determined. Discuss with reference to prescription medicine allocation.
“determined” suggests that this is a cause and effect question.