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Many essay titles are phrased not as questions, but in the form of instructions to the student. These instructions correspond loosely to the levels of learning outlined in Bloom's taxonomy. The instruction word may be quite specific, or more open in its range of meaning. Some students prefer this type of essay title as it is more open in terms of the directions that you might take, as opposed to a 'real' question. In an exam situation, it might be more reassuring to have this wider range of approach, although you might equally feel that it does not give you a clear enough starting point.

It is important to consider what the instruction word means in concrete terms, and in terms of which level of learning it requires, to avoid aimless and descriptive writing. Below are some of the instruction words most commonly used in English:

Discuss / Consider

These terms can appear deceptively simple. The common meaning of 'to discuss' and 'to consider' is simply 'to talk about' or 'to think about' the topic. To avoid aimless descriptive writing, it is important to remember to ask yourself 'what about the topic?' The terms are an invitation to identify and analyse a problem or debate inherent in the title.

Analyse / examine

Once you know the technical meaning of the term 'analyse', it may be clearer what you are supposed to do in response to this word in an essay title. Break down the concept/theme/literary construct into its component parts or different ways in which it appears or is used, and consider why it is that way, or how those aspects relate to one another. 'Examine' is often used synonymously with ''analyse'.


'Explore' is perhaps less clearly defined as an instruction, as it implies unknown territory, and as such can seem quite aimless or directionless, but it is perhaps best understood in terms of analysis - categorising a concept and ways in which it is used.


'Assess' belongs to the level of evaluation. You are invited to make a statement about the value or validity of a point of view or approach.

Account for

This instruction rests on an assumption contained in the title, and you are invited to explain why it is so. The assumption will be problematic in some way - perhaps the terms of the assumption are unexpected or seem contradictory. You might even challenge the assumption as a proposition, questioning whether it is so.


Having considered what the instruction demands in concrete terms, you could think also about what the end result would look like - a list of reasons, of ways in which something is done, a justification, an evaluation. You could also try to formulate a more detailed thesis statement, summing up the concluding argument you might make.