Study Skills: Essay Writing



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Study Skills: Essay Writing


As the essay paper has evolved it has become more demanding with much more emphasis on posing questions which allow candidates to display the higher order skill. The following pyramid demonstrates those skills as they rank from lower, the base, to higher at the peak.



The pyramid of skills: the bottom two layers are "Lower-order skills", while the top four layers are "Higher-order skills".

COMMAND words in essay titles

It is important to follow the key words of the essay question. Many students under-perform because they fail to interpret the key words of an essay title. Below is a glossary of some of the most frequently used command words with suggestions for interpretation:


"Account for ...."
Explain how a particular event or situation came about i.e. 'Which factors would have led a large retailing company to.......'

"Analyse ...."


Break down an argument or information into component parts and identify ways in which

these parts are related. Always recognize the underlying assumptions.

"Analyse the extent to which ...."
Show judgment over the relevant importance of different arguments or events.

"Assess ...."


Make some kind of judgment on the relative importance of a particular aspect of economics or business studies, discussing the influence of other factors or events that influence the topic.

"Compare ...."


Describe two or more situations and show the difference and similarities between them.

"Criticize ...."


Present a view on a particular argument, point of view or theory, based on the evidence available.

"Define ...."


A simple statement is not enough. Use appropriate examples or formulae to illustrate and elaborate on your precise definition of a concept.

"Describe ...."


Usually more than a mere description is expected, instead a critical review of some particular set of circumstances or events is usually expected.

"Discuss ...."


Consider the arguments for and against the issue raised in the question.

"Distinguish ...."


Candidates need to show that they understand the differences between two (probably frequently confused) concepts. Similarities and differences need to be discussed and illustrated in distinguishing between the two concepts.

"Do" or "Does ...."


Make a judgement on whether one set of circumstances is preferable to another.

"Evaluate ...."


Make reasoned judgements about the validity of a particular argument or statement, presenting evidence and reasoned argument of all relevant issues involved.

"Examine ...."


Candidates need to unravel the events that led to a particular set of circumstances or the validity of the reasoning that underlies a particular point of view. Stress the relative importance of the different arguments and their relevance to the basic issue under consideration.

"Explain ...."


Interpret the meaning of a particular concept with an example to illustrate understanding.

"Outline ...."


Only a brief description is required. Usually there are follow up parts to this question.

"To what extent ...."


This implies there is no definite answer to the question posed. Present both sides of the argument and exercise judgment by stressing the strength of some arguments over others.

How to improve your technique : some general principles



The Essay Plan - a suggested model






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