Analysing the question

You need to use question analysis for assignments, exam essays and short answer questions. If you learn the steps for question analysis and take 10-15 minutes to think through the question in this systematic way, then you will have a good start to writing a successful essay—one that pleases the lecturer! The following information can be applied to all question analysis:

This image is of a woman holding a giant clock. The heading says: Think through the question. There is a list of bullet points: .	Look for instruction words .	Look for topic words .	Look for any other words that restrict the topic in any way .	Follow the steps, then rewrite the question .	Instruction words – what they mean


Read the whole question twice

It is important that you interpret the question accurately and clearly. First impressions can lead to an error which may fail to meet your marker’s expectations.

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Analyse the question

Analysing the question involves looking for and identifying instructions, the topic and any restrictions that may have been place on the topic to narrow the focus.

Instruction words

In most of your university essay questions, you will find one or more instruction words. Instruction words tell you what your essay should do. To interpret the question accurately, you must understand exactly what these words mean.

Topic words

Topic words are usually easy to locate. They tell you what you have to write about: the subject matter.

Restricting words

Restricting words are words or phrases that narrow the topic and make it more specific.

These example questions have been analysed by identifying instruction, topic and restricting words.

1. Instruction words 2. Topic words 3. Restricting words
What is meant by…. ‘economic dualism’ in the Japanese context?
Discuss…. the impact of colonial rule on British Burma before 1870

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Rewrite the question

Once you have analysed the question, check your understanding. Try to rewrite the question in 25 words or less. You should use your own words  i.e. the question is asking me to……

Instruction words – what do they mean?

Words such as what, how and why are, of course, commonly used in questions and require little explanation. Other instruction words include those identified below.

Account for Give reasons for something.
Analyse Focus on the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of an issue or topic. Do not simply describe or summarise.
Compare Find similarities and differences between two or more objects, ideas, events or theories.
Contrast Similar to compare, but differences should be emphasised
Criticise Assess the merit of something. Consider both good points and bad points and give the results of your analysis.
Define Give precise meanings with key details. Examples may be useful.
Describe Recall specific details about size, cost, texture, appearance etc.
Discuss Present a point of view after considering both sides of an issue or question. Your opinion should be supported by arguments and evidence.
Evaluate Consider both strengths and weaknesses and make a judgement.
Explain Relate how something happens in the order in which it occurs, or, clarify reasons, causes and effects.
Illustrate Use examples to demonstrate a point.
Interpret Express in your own words. Examples may be useful.
List Write your answer as an itemised series which may be in point form.
Outline Provide main points and leave out minor details
Prove Give factual evidence, examples or clear logical reasons which demonstrate the validity of a statement/idea.
Relate Tell the story in clear sequence, or, show how things are connected or similar to each other.
Review Examine a subject critically, analysing and commenting on the main points.
State Present the main points in brief, clear sequence.
Summarise Give the main points or facts in condensed form.
To what extent Consider both sides, make a judgment and defend it. Similar to evaluate or discuss.
Trace Relate the progress, development or history of a subject.
Check your understanding

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Appendices Formatting your essay Revising and editing an essay Writing an essay

For more information and diagnostic testing on analysing the question, please visit the ASO online site: Question analysis
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