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A guide to terms and directives for tests, reports and in writing papers

The words below are "directives" used by instructors when they want you to to answer a question, prepare a report or write a paper in a particular way. Knowing the definitions of these directives and then presenting the information asked for in the correct way will help to insure that you get the grade that your hard work deserves.

Compare - Examine the objects given or selected with the intent to discover similarities between them. How do they resemble each other is of primary concern although differences may also be mentioned.

Contrast - Examine the objects given or selected with the intent to discover differences. How they are unlike each other is of primary concern.

Criticize - Make a judgment as to the merit, effectiveness, utility or correctness of the object in question. Discuss the limitations as well as the good points of the subject.

Define - Become a dictionary. Present a clear, concise definition of the subject, noting the class to which the subject belongs and the characteristics that differentiate it from others in it's class.

Describe - Define the subject and then flesh it out in narrative form.

Diagram - Present a chart, graph, drawing or other graphic representation of your answer. You should label the diagram and explain it if necessary.

Discuss - Give a complete and detailed presentation of the subject matter including all of the main points and essential details, the pros and cons of the problem using illustrations and examples. Show your complete understanding of the subject.

Enumerate - Make a concise list of the relevant points. Similar to an outline without the sub headings.

Evaluate - Present an appraisal of the problem stressing the pros, cons, advantages and limitations.

Explain - State the how and why. Seek to clarify the subject by exposing the method by which it works and what causes it to what it does.

Illustrate - Explain or clarify the subject using a diagram or a concrete example.

Interpret - Similar to explain except that you may give your own personal reaction or judgment of the situation if relevant.

Justify - See prove below.

List - See enumerate above.

Outline - Give an organized description of the main points and essential details of the subject usually in the form of a numbered list with indented sub headings.

Prove - Establish the answer with certainty by using experimental evidence or logical reasoning.

Relate - Show the relationships, connections and associations of the subjects in descriptive form.

Review - Analyze and comment in an organized sequence on the major points of the subject in the form of a critical evaluation.

State - Express the high points in a clear narrative form.

Summarize - Give the main facts in a condensed form. Omit any illustrations, examples, details and elaboration.

Trace - Show the progress of the subject in a historical sequence, or it's development from it's point of origin. Requires a narrative description and may call for probing or deduction.


Essential Writing Resource Materials




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