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Typical questions

“Analyse X.”

“What are the components of X?”

“What are the five different kinds of X?”

“Discuss the different types of X.” 

Analysis involves breaking something down into its components and discovering the parts that make up the whole.


This all sounds rather mechanical, but students are typically asked to think analytically about a topic, and to present their arguments in this manner.  Here is an example:

Q: What are the component causes of famine; how may different types of famine be identified?
A: Famines are the result of the decline in the availability of food, either in terms of the absolute shortage of food or the reduction of people’s access to food.  Such reductions in availability and access may be the result of ‘natural’ factors, namely: (i) agricultural drought; (ii) flooding; (iii) unseasonal weather events; (iv) disease affecting stock or crops; and (v) pest infestation.  However, it has become clear that there are a host of ‘human’ factors, less easy to enumerate, but either exacerbating natural factors or producing, on their own, shortages of food or reductions in access to food.  It is widely recognized that conflict and violence, market volatility, disruption to distribution mechanisms and networks, and policies that encourage cash crops rather than food crops, can all contribute to the development of famines.  The complexity of these causes means that it would be wrong to say that famines occur because of food shortages; much recent work suggests that reductions in effective demand are to blame.  Accordingly, it has been suggested that there are ‘slump famines’ and ‘boom famines’ – the first, where famines accompany a general decline in economic activity, perhaps following a persistent drought, but the second where, paradoxically, food shortages occur despite, or because of, economic expansion.

[In this suggested answer, there are a number of elements to note:  there is opportunity here to list a finite number of more or less universally agreed component causes (the (i) to (v) ‘natural’ factors, but also a less precise but still accurate enumeration of contributory factors (which may act in combination).  Do not be afraid to list components; but do not fall into false precision, suggesting that there are there are only five, say, discrete components in an analysis.  Likewise, it is fine to note that some authors have recognized that there are two ‘types’ of famine (‘boom’ and ‘slump’) but you might recognize that these should not be taken to be definitive.]