Understanding the Question & Instruction

When you're faced with a question or a task, taking the time to really grasp what it's asking is crucial. This understanding will help you create a response that directly addresses the requirements. To do this effectively, let's break it down into a few key elements:

1. Subject Matter or Topic

The first step is to identify what the question is about, what the main topic or subject matter is. This gives you a clear starting point for your response.

2. Specific Focus

Next, pinpoint the specific aspect or focus of the topic that the question is honing in on. This helps you narrow down your response and prevents you from going off-topic.

3. Specific Aspect and Point of View

Often, questions express a particular perspective or aspect through phrases like 'the importance of.' Identify this aspect, which guides your response by showing you what the question wants you to explore.

4. Instruction/Question Word

Pay attention to the instruction or question word. It tells you what action you need to take as a writer. Consult a table of question words and their meanings to ensure you understand what's required.

5. Viewpoint to Be Argued

Consider whether the viewpoint presented in the question aligns with your own perspective on the subject. If it doesn't, be prepared to argue your own viewpoint, supporting it with evidence and reasoning.

For example, let's apply these steps to a sample question: "Discuss the impact of social media on the student experience at Queen's."

  1. Social media
  2. Impact on Queen's students' experience
  3. "The impact of" – the question focuses on the effects of social media on students at Queen's.
  4. "Discuss" asks you to share your thoughts on the topic and provide supporting arguments or conclusions.
  5. You need to decide if social media significantly impacts Queen's students, and you'll need to argue your viewpoint.

It's also helpful to visually highlight key components like the question word, the focus, and the viewpoint to keep them in mind as you craft your response.

Tip: These steps and the table of question words can be handy when dealing with questions in exams as well.

Understanding Instruction Word

Instruction Word Definition - What You Are Expected to Do
Account [give an] Describe
Account for Give reasons for
Analyse Give an organised answer looking at all aspects
Apply Put a theory into operation
Assess Decide on value/importance
Brief account [give a] Describe in a concise way
Comment on Give your opinion
Compare [with] Discuss similarities; draw conclusions on common areas
Compile Make up (a list/plan/outline)
Consider Describe/give your views on subject
Contrast Discuss differences/draw own view
Criticise Point out weak/strong points i.e. balanced answer
Define Give the meaning of a term, concisely
Demonstrate Show by example/evidence
Describe Narrative on process/appearance/operation/sequence
Devise Make up
Discuss Give your own thoughts and support your opinion or conclusion
Evaluate Decide on merit of situation/argument
Exemplify Show by giving examples
Expand Give more information
Explain Give reason for – say why
Explain how Describe how something works
Identify Pinpoint/list
Illustrate Give examples
Indicate Point out, but not in great detail
Justify Support the argument for...
List Make an organised list, e.g. events
Outline Describe basic factors
Plan Think how to organise something
Report Make an account on process, event
Review Write report – give facts and views on facts
Show Demonstrate with supporting evidence
Specify Give details of something
State Give a clear account of...
Summarise Briefly give an account
Trace Provide a brief chronology of events/process
Work out Find a solution, e.g., as in a math problem

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