Common directive words and their meaning
Account for give the reasons for something. Do not confuse with “give an account of”, which is purely descriptive.
Analyse establish the essence or important features of something by breaking it down into its component parts and examining each part in detail.
Argue put forward the reasons and evidence for a particular viewpoint.
Assess consider the value of, or judge the strengths and weaknesses of something, e.g. an argument or idea, and state your conclusion.
Comment give your opinions in a measured way on a particular subject.
Compare look for and discuss similarities in the subjects you are discussing. It may be appropriate to note differences, but the focus should remain on similarities.
Contrast look for and discuss differences in the subjects you are discussing. It may be appropriate to note similarities, but the focus should be on the differences.
Criticise similar to assess. Make sure that you consider all the evidence, and state your point of view.
Define give the exact meaning of something. If there is more than one explanation, give them all. If there is anything that limits the definition, explain it.
Describe convey the main details or characteristics of a subject in an objective way.
Discuss give a complete or detailed examination of a topic by means of argument, debating the pros and cons of the subject.
Enumerate give a list or outline, specify and describe.
Evaluate form a judgment about something by presenting the advantages and disadvantages relevant to that situation.
Examine look at in detail, weigh all the evidence.
Explain make something clear by describing or defining it in more detail.
Explore adopt a questioning approach and examine different points of view.
Illustrate give examples to help clarify issues.
Interpret similar to explain, but you should add comments or judgements.
Justify implies that you should provide evidence to back up your opinions or conclusions.
Narrate tell the story or give an account of an event or experience.
Outline concentrate on the main points or general principles of something in a structured way, leaving out minor details.
Prove show the truth of something by reasoned argument, backed up by evidence.
Relate show how things are connected and how far they affect and resemble each other.
Review critically evaluate the issues in a systematic way.
Sketch provide an overview of the main points with just enough detail to enable the object of discussion to be clearly identified.
State give the main points, briefly and clearly, omitting any detail.
Summarise condense the main issues in a concise manner, omitting details.
Trace follow the development of something from the beginning.