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Learning Resource Centre Guides: Instructional Words

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Instructional Words



Instructional words tell you what you need to do. 

There are three main types:

information words, relation words and interpretation words.

i)        Information Words ask you to show what you know about a subject: 

  •       define - give the exact meaning clearly and concisely -sometimes more than one meaning.
  •       describe - write the main points in detail.  No interpretation is required. 
  •        examine - Break down and describe the main points in detail. 
  •       explain - Clarify something:  Look at the reasons why something happened and account for the causes and results or implications. 
  •       illustrate - Explain the ideas with the help of examples.  (Your answers will have phrases such as ‘For example’ and ‘This is shown by …’).
  •        list - Briefly give series of ideas.  Sometimes numbered.
  •        outline - Explain the main ideas or points.  Use general terms without minor detail.
  •        research - gather material from many outside sources, and analyze what you have found.
  •        summarize - briefly list the important ideas you learned.  Leave out details and examples.
  •        trace - Give a step-by-step account.  (Your answer might have phrases such as ‘There are five stages by which …. The first stage is when …’.

ii)      Relation Words ask you to show how things are connected.  

  •        apply - use details that you've been given to demonstrate how an idea, theory, or concept works in a set situation.
  •        compare - show how two or more things are similar/different.
  •        contrast - show how two or more things are different.
  •        discuss – ‘Discuss’ means to come to a conclusion about an issue, giving reasons for and sometimes against your view. 
  •        relate - show or describe the connections between things.



iii)    Interpretation Words ask you to give an opinion that is supported by evidence: use examples, definitions, and concepts from class/ research. 

  •        analyse - Break down into main ideas and show the relationships between them.  Many relationships are causes and effects, and therefore many sentences will have phrases such as ‘because’, ‘as a result’ and ‘A leads to B because of C’.
  •        argue — take a side and defend it with evidence against the other side 
  •        assess - summarize your opinion and measure it against something else.
  •        critically analyse - Break down into main ideas and look at these ideas in terms of strengths and weaknesses.
  •        evaluate, respond - state your opinion of the subject as good, bad, or some combination of the two.  Use examples and reasons to support this.
  •        interpret - Clearly explain the meaning.  May use examples or provide comment on it.
  •        prove, justify - give reasons or examples to demonstrate how or why the statement is the truth
  •        support - give reasons or evidence for something you believe (be sure to state clearly what it is that you believe).
  •        synthesize - bring two or more ideas together, not only saying how they are the same or different - but provide a reason for them.



Further Learning Centre Handouts relating to this topic:

§     Understanding the Assessment Question




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              Instructional Words last updated 15 July 2011