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Assignment Brief

It is important to understand what an essay question or assignment brief is asking of you. Before you start to research or write, it is worth spending time considering the wording of the question and any learning outcomes that may accompany it. Each assignment will generally have at least three learning outcomes which you must cover if you are to achieve a pass.

Breaking down an assignment question

Before you attempt to answer an assignment question, you need to make sure you understand what it is asking. This includes not only the subject matter, but also the way in which you are required to write. Different questions may ask you to discuss, outline, evaluate… and many more. The task words are a key part of the question.


Key Words

Key Word


Account Account for asks you to give reasons for.  An account of asks for a detailed description

Make a detailed examination or investigation into something.

Assess Consider in a balanced way the points for and against something
Comment State clearly your opinions on the topic in question.  Support your views with evidence

Look for the similarities and differences. Show the relevance or consequences of these similarities.


Emphasise the differences between two or more things.

Critically evaluate

Weigh arguments for and against something, assessing the strength of the evidence on both sides. Use criteria to guide your assessment of which opinions, theories, models or items are preferable.

Define Give the precise meaning of something.  Show how the distinctions you make are necessary


Give a detailed account

Investigate or examine by argument; give reasons for and against.

Evaluate Make a judgement about the value/importance/worth of something.

Present in depth and investigate fully the implications.


Make plain, interpret, give reasons.

Extent 'To what extent’ – asks you to weigh the evidence for and against something: to state ‘how far’ something is valid.

Use examples, diagrams and so on to explain or make clear.

Interpret Make clear the meaning of something, usually giving your own views also
Justify Show adequate grounds for decisions or conclusions

Give the main features, structure or general principles of a topic omitting minor details.

Review Make a survey of; critically examine the subject.

Specify fully and clearly.


Give a concise account of the main points of the topic.

Trace Follow the development or history of an event or process