By Vlad Mackevic

How often do you look at your essay question and fail to understand what on earth your lecturer wants from you?

Lecturers DO like phrasing assignment questions vaguely and it takes time to decipher them. This video will help you understand essay questions and answer them better.

Academic Vocabulary:

In addition, i decided to give you a small glossary of academic words that lecturers like to use.

There are certain words that you find in assignment briefs which can be quite hard to understand. They are vague and it is often hard to figure out what they mean.

Here are some of the most popular ones:

Account for


Compare (and contrast)

Critically evaluate






They are explained below, one by one:

  • Account for

Explain, clarify, give reasons for. (Quite different from “Give an account of” which is more like “describe in detail”).

  • Analyse:

Study something in detail. Break into the main components (parts) or characteristics and explain how they relate to each other.

  • Compare (and contrast)

Take two (sometimes more) objects – or ideas, or methods or whatever you’re asked to compare – and find what they have in common. Write about it. Then find what their differences are – and describe them too. Make a summary of the similarities and the differences at the end.

  • Critically Evaluate

Weigh arguments for and against something, assessing all evidence. Based on this, decide which opinions, theories, models or items are preferable.

  • Discuss

This one is my favourite. It is used in essay questions quite often. It means that you need to carefully examine and analyse the object of your study and then present all the pros and cons regarding any issues or items involved. this requires meticulous work.

The main point is to present both sides – the pros and the cons. This shows that you KNOW both sides. It does not ask you to agree with opposing opinions – you have to merely show that you’re familiar with many points of view.

  • Enumerate

This word has the word “number” hidden in it. In other words, it asks you to number something, or to make a list of something. You should recount the one by one.

  • Evaluate

In an evaluation question, you are expected to present a careful appraisal, emphasising both its advantages and limitations. Evaluation implies that you need to base your arguments regarding the benefits and drawbacks on the literature you’ve read. you personal opinion should be kept to a minimum.

  • Justify

When you are instructed to justify you answer, you must prove, or show grounds for, decisions. In such an answer, you should present your evidence in convincing form.

The main point is to convince. You do not have to convince your reader that you are right – it is enough to show that there is logic in your words and that your ideas are coherent.

  • Outline

Present the main features or the general principles of a subject only and emphasise their structure or arrangement. The main point is to explain.

Thank you for reading. Have fun and enjoy writing!

Vlad Mackevic

P.S. This article is based on Vlad Mackevic’s book From Confusion to Conclusion: How to Write a First-Class Essay. You can download sample chapters of the book for FREE by clicking here or by entering your email address below.

The book can also be purchased on in paperback and Kindle eBook formats. If you do not own a Kindle reader, Amazon provides a range of FREE applications for your computer, Smartphone or Tablet.

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