Common Assignment Terminology

To determine what you are being asked to do, it is helpful to start with the terminology used in the assignment description.

Analyze (or outline, or explain)

  • break the topic down into key elements and details

  • identify and describe causes, key factors or features, possible results, and relationships among these elements
  • offer your informed, critical interpretation of the above.

Compare (and/or contrast)

post it notes on a board

Examine (or explore, or investigate)

  • take a diagnostic approach

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


  • take a position on a topic and support your position with evidence and interpretation
  • give reasons for or against something.


  • present opposing viewpoints on a topic
  • give reasons for and against something.

Evaluate (or judge, criticize, or assess)

  • determine the value or significance of something; offer evidence to support your evaluation.


  • depict or delineate in words
  • place more emphasis on what something is and how it occurs, than on why it occurs.


  • give the meaning of something
  • describe its essential qualities.


  • follow the course, development, or history of something.


  • summarize and perhaps evaluate the key aspects of the material.


  • follow the development, course or history of something, but emphasize the use of scholarly sources, references and citations in supporting your approach
  • prove, using scholarly sources and evidence.


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