What is an Essay Command Term?
When writing an essay for a test, SAC or exam there are specific essay command terms that you must interpret in order to answer and write what the teacher or examiner wants in that particular essay.
A very common essay command term used as a prompt in years 11 and 12 is the essay command term “discuss”. It is very important that you follow this directional prompt carefully. Do not just discuss the topic only. You must also include both sides of the topic ie. the pros and cons as well as the implications they might have in context.
Here are some of the most important essay command terms with an explanation of what you are required to write:
Account for – requires an explanation or reason for an event or situation. For example, account for the apparent rise in the average IQ – this does not mean write at length about who noted it or how they found it, or describe the history of IQ testing, or even debate whether IQ exists. Rather, look at social, statistical, intellectual or procedural reasons why it might have happened. These should include explanations from existing sources, but it’s worth trying to think of an original idea to add to the mix.
Assess – explain how important it is, e.g. assess the effect of television violence on children who watch it. This would require evidence from research studies, together with an opinion on what it all means about the effect, and whether indeed it is a real effect.
Compare – consider the two or more subjects given: how they are alike, and how they are different. If appropriate, views on whether one has more benefits than the other, or more negatives, would add substance.
Contrast – look just at the difference between what the question mentions. If it fits into the wording of the question, add what is better about each one, and why. Differentiate is similar, but is often used where two things are easily confused.
Define – explain the meaning of a topic word. This is usually followed by another instruction, possibly from this list, which will be at least as important as defining the term.
Discuss – a broad term. Usually a brief explanation of the topic or item to discuss could be helpful, but the main thrust is to give the pros and cons, and then to go on to mention the implications they might have.
Evaluate – similar to assess. It requires an in-depth look at the positives and negatives, with reference to research and any other sources.
Illustrate – explain the topic clearly, then quote examples and actual evidence which is relevant to it. This is not a term which demands personal opinion.
Relate – an explanation of the relationship and links between the two or more things. It is all too easy to digress from this clear direction, for example lurching into a detailed description of each term or topic in great detail.
Trace– describe and explain the progression of the topic. For example, “Trace the Development of the Superstore” would require a description of how it evolved to its present form from the earliest shops, or even from local market trading or bartering unless the question says otherwise. Some explanation of why each step may have arisen would be good, providing time and word count permit – again unless the question specifically says not to do so.
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I am NOT an on-line free tutoring service. My resources on this website are for general use only. I do not write student’s essays for them or give advice on essay prompts. However, for more intensive tutoring in a specific area of English, I will visit students in their own homes for private tutoring sessions that are paid on an hourly basis.