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Georgetown University Qatar Writing Center

How to Read your Assignment

The first step in the writing process is determining what you are required to write about:

How to Read an Assignment - from the Harvard College Writing Center

Key Essay Words

  Identifying key essay terms can help you better understand your essay prompt. Here are some common key terms:

  1. Analyze. Separate, examine, and explain the relationship between the parts of something.
        "Analyze the factors that led to the bombing of Hiroshima."
  2. Comment. Explain the significance of something — its impact, effect, or meaning.
        "Comment on President Obama's decision to close Guantanamo Bay."
  3. Compare. Examine the similarities (and often differences) between things.
        "Compare the causes of World War I and World War II."
  4. Contrast. Examine the differences between two or more things.
        "Contrast the foreign policies of Bush and Clinton."
  5. Criticize. Make a positive or negative judgment about a position, opinion, or argument.
        "Give a critique of President Bush's decision to invade Iraq."
  6. Define. Explain the essential qualities of something.
        "Define Henry VIII's attitude toward the Roman Catholic Church."
  7. Demonstrate. Show, prove, or explain something using evidence.
        "Demonstrate that athletics can be used to cross social and cultural boundaries."
  8. Describe. Provide details about something, including characteristics, qualities, or parts.
        "Describe Japan's treatment of the Chinese during World War II."
  9. Enumerate. Make a list of ideas, reasons, problems, or other things.
        "Enumerate the causes of the American Civil War."
  10. Evaluate. Estimate the value of something.
        "Evaluate the impact of Napoleon Bonaparte's legacy throughout Europe."
  11. Discuss. Examine all aspects of something, causes/effects, a series of events, pros/cons, etc.
        "Discuss the process that led to the Camp David Accords of 1978."
  12. Illustrate. Provide examples that support a point.
        "Illustrate the modern-day dependence on technology, specifically the Internet."
  13. Interpret. State your understanding of the meaning of something.
        "Interpret the political impacts of the 1991 Gulf War within the Middle East."
  14. Outline. Provide the main points in a systematic arrangement.
        "Outline the reasons why Russia invaded South Ossetia in the summer of 2008."
  15. Prove or Justify. Provide factual evidence to establish a statement or conclusion.
        "Prove that the First World War was an inevitable reality by the early 20th century."
  16. Summarize. Give a shortened account, meaning the main points or facts of something.
        "Summarize the causes of the end of the Cold War."
  17. Trace. Explain the steps in the development of something, starting with its origin.
        "Trace the evolution of the Al-Qaeda terrorist movement."