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Common assignment terminology

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Common Assignment Terminology
If the assignment requires you to… Your essay or project should …

Analyze (Outline/Explain)

  • separate the matter at hand into key parts, essential elements;
  • break things down, consider the details;
  • identify causes/key factors or features/possible results.


  • note similarities and differences between two or more things (not a list, but an argument based on similarities and differences).


  • note differences, dissimilarities, tensions between two or more things (not a list, but an argument).

Examine (Explore/Investigate)

  • take a diagnostic approach;
  • inquire or look into closely, perhaps to uncover a hidden motive, cause, theme, etc.;
  • seek out core issues, suggest possible interpretations/solutions.


  • take a position on a given subject and support that approach;
  • give reasons for or against something.


  • present opposing viewpoints on a given subject, deliberate;
  • give reasons for and against something.

Evaluate (Judge/Criticize/Assess)

  • determine the value or significance of something.


  • depict, present or delineate in words;
  • place more emphasis on how something occurs than on why it does.


  • give the meaning of something;
  • present its nature or essential qualities.


  • follow the course, development, history of something.


  • summarize the key aspects of the material at hand.


  • like “TRACE,” follow the development, course or history of something, but emphasize the use of written sources, references and citations in supporting your approach;
  • prove using written support material, sources and evidence.


  • comment on, talk over, write about the topic at hand using whatever approach seems appropriate (i.e., any of the approaches listed in this chart).
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