Terms and Concepts frequently used to ask Academic Questions.

Reference as: Mkandawire, S. B. (2015). LTC1100 Terms and Concepts frequently used to ask Academic Questions. The University of Zambia, Lecture notes for week 1. Retrieved from https://sitwe.wordpress.com/2015/12/14/terms-and-concepts-frequently-used-to-ask-academic-questions/

There are many terms and concepts used to ask academic questions in assignments, tests and examinations. Answering these questions correctly and adequately demand that you understand the key words used in such questions. In this unit, we have explained or defined some of the key terms and concepts frequently used to ask assignment, test and examination questions. You must understand these terms very well as they are applied in all academic disciplines.
(a) Define
When you are asked to define you are expected to give the exact meaning of the topic and, in some cases, how it differs from others of its type. Sometimes you may have to examine different views advanced by different scholars.
(b) Describe
To describe is to tell what happened or what happens or what the topic is. You concentrate on the primary or most important features. State and say something about each of the features. For example their implications on the topic. Description is writing about the way persons, animals, or things appear. It may take various forms such as informative description, analytical/technical or evocative description.
An informative Description simply enables the reader to identify an object. An analytical or technical description enables the reader to understand the structure of an object. It involves describing the peculiar structure of something. An evocative description re-creates the impression made by an object. The words used should evoke both the visual effect of the object and the felling that its appearance excites. Evocative description can appeal not just to the eye but also to all the other senses. A good evocative description may include abstract terms but whatever else it does, an evocative description should always to one or more of the senses. Only then can it re-create the impression that a person or object makes.
(c) Illustrate/exemplify
When you illustrate, you give one or more examples of the topic relating to the topic. You can also draw or add a picture to help illustrate a particular issue at hand.
(d) Relate
To relate is to show how a topic has an effect on something else. You show the extent to which they are alike and the connections between two or more things.
(e) Correlate
Correlation involves establishing a relationship between things or showing that two things are related and that they exist side by side.
(f) State
To state is to present the issue at hand in brief and clear form the way it is designed or made.
(g) Trace
Tracing involves giving a series of important steps in the development of historical event or a process or any sequence of happening from some point of origin.
(h) Outline/survey
An outline gives main feature or a general picture or general principles of a subject, omitting minor detail.
(i) Specify
To specify is to identify, state, definitely or exactly the details or aspects of something.
(j) Indicate
To indicate is to show, identify or make something known and understood.
(k) List/enumerate
Listing or enumeration involves entering in a catalogue or inventory and stating in order of importance or least importance objects or things. It requires one to specify item by item in order of considered importance.
(l) Elucidate/clarify
To elucidate or clarify is to make clear, bring out the meaning, throw light on or explain something.
(m) Comparison
Comparison involves showing how two things are both alike and different. You outline the similarities and differences and reach a conclusion.
(n) Contrast
When you contrast two things or situations you show only the difference between things, set in opposition in order to bring out the differences.
(o) Distinguish or differentiate between
This involves bringing out the essential features of things or ideas which make each distinctive from the other.
(p) Agree/degree
This involves giving your opinion about a topic expressing either a positive or a negative opinion. Support your opinion with appropriate examples.
(q) Analyse
To analyse is to break down the topic into its parts and explain how the parts relate to each other and to the whole.
(r) Examine
To examine is to investigate, scrutinize and inquire into a subject, theory or statement with a view to establishing the truth or falsity of the subject, theory or statement.
(s) Asses
When you asses, you weigh up, measure, estimate, the value of the subject considering points for, as well as points against and reach a conclusion.
(t) Evaluate
Here you examine, find the worth, desirability, importance, accuracy, merits or validity of a statement, idea, argument or view.
(u) Discuss
When you discuss you examine or expound the various views held upon or the various factors to be considered or involved, have a conclusion as to which interpretation is the most valid in your opinion or which aspects are the most important, giving your reasons.
(v) Comment on
To comment on something is to make explanatory remarks or criticisms upon. Pick out the most important or interesting features, as you see them.

(w) Criticize
Here you break into parts (analyse), explain the meaning of (interpret) and give your opinion.
(x) Interpret
When you interpret you explain the meaning of a topic, giving facts to support your answer or your point of view.
(y) Justify
You give reasons why the topic or assertion is true. Respond to and refute the main objections likely to be made or advanced.
(z) Prove/disapprove
In proving or disproving you demonstrate the logical argument and/or evidence connected with a proposition. Prove requires the ‘pro’ (the points for) points while disapprove requires the ‘contra’ (the points against) points.
(aa) Narrate
Narration is like storytelling. It is the writing about a succession of events narration of events can be in Chronological Order or out of chronological order. Chronological order is the simplest kind of narration in which the events are narrated according to how they actually occurred or could have occurred. Events may also be narrated out of Chronological Order. According to Hefferman & Lincoln. (1986:86)

“a short narrative can often follow chronological order with good results. However they indicate that strict adherence to chronological order in an extended narrative can lead to a boring, meaningless string of “and then.” To clarify the meaning of a sequence of events, the writer may need to depart from chronological order, moving backward to explain the cause of a particular event or jumping forward to identify its ultimate effect.
(bb) Explain/account
To explain is to tell the main reasons why the topic or something happened. One of the simplest means of explaining anything is to give an example. You can sometime use an entire story to illustrate or exemplify a point. But examples can also be stated briefly. Explanations can take various forms. These include explanation using analogy, explanation by contrast and comparison, explanation by definition, explanation by analyzing, explanation of process, explanation of cause and effect. We provide below some brief details on each of these.

(i) Using Analogy to Explain
An analogy helps the reader to understand something vast, remote, abstract, or specialized by comparing it to something compact, familiar, concrete, or ordinary. However, you should beware of arguing by analogy, of assuming that because two things are alike in some respect they are also alike others.

(ii) Using Comparison and Contract to Explain
While an analogy involves two things of different kinds, such as an orange and the whole earth, comparison and contrast normally involve two things of the same kind two cities, two schools, two games and two means of transportation. An analogy brings out the similarities between two things that we normally think of as entirely different. But most of the time, writers use comparison and contrast to explain the differences between two things that we normally think of as similar, to explain what is distinctive about each of them.

(iii) Using Definition to Explain
A definition explains a word or phrase. Defining a word can take up an entire essay. But most definitions are brief, taking no more than a sentence. Definition comes in many different forms. According to Hefferman & Lincoln (1986:98-9) the least effective definition is dictionary. They suggest that instead of quoting the dictionary, one use one more of the methods listed below:
– Defining by synonyms. A synonym is a word or phrase that means approximately the same thing as the word you are defining.
Sickness means “illness.’
Large means “big.”
– Defining by comparison, contrast, or analogy. You can define a word by comparing, contrasting, or likening it to another word:
– Defining by function. If the word denotes a person or object, you can define it saying what the person or object does:
A botanist studies plants
A linguist studies languages
A thermometer is an instrument used to measure temperature
– Defining by analysis. You can define a word by naming the class of the person or thing it denotes and then giving one or more distinctive features:
e.g. A botanist is a person who specializes in the study of plants
A hippo is a mammal that lives in water.
– Defining by example. You can define a word by giving examples after naming the class of the person or thing it denotes:
– Defining by etymology. Etymology is the study of the roots of words. You can sometimes define a word by giving its root meaning and thus showing where it came from:
(iv) Explaining Cause and Effect
All situations provoke question about their causes and effects. For example one may be interested in finding out why parents do not send their girl children to school. From this one can develop an essay by considering the answer to a question of this kind. Or one can consider the effects of a situation or event. When you attempt to determine the cause of a situation or event, you often construct a hypothesis – that is, a possible explanation of why it happened. In writing, you can likewise construct a hypothesis to explain a situation or event.
2.3 How to Answer Questions
There are a few issues you need to consider when answering questions of whatever kind:
(a) You must first understand what the question requires you to do by reading through it two to three times. All questions are demanding specific issues which need to be addressed. The reason why many students get low marks in their assignments, tests and final examination is due to failure in understanding what the question requires them to do. When you understand the question, you provide correct and appropriate answers.
For you to understand the question, try to circle the main words or phrases in the question especially the main verb (understand what you are expected to do in the action verb/imperative) in the question and decide on the necessary rhetorical strategy for answering the question (cause-effect, comparison-contrast, definition, classification, problem-solution) and so forth.
(b) Establish exactly what type of answer the main verb demands. Is it a diagram, pictorial, analysis, evaluation or detailed summary?
(c) Plan your work and paragraph it properly. Then write a brief outline of all the points you want to mention in your answer.
(d) When answering academic questions, always relate answers to the question asked. You must also ensure that answers to the questions are according to general rules of academic writing such as use of indentations; begin each paragraph with a topic sentence; support the topic sentence(s) with reasons and/or examples; use transition words to show logical organization; write a conclusion. Use correct punctuation throughout.
(e) When you complete writing the essay, read over your answer again and check if all the main ideas have been included and if the question has been answered.
(f) You must also proof read your work to check your answer for grammar and punctuation and probably on whether or not you have brought out appropriate response to a question.

It should be noted that, answering questions adequately demands an understanding of various components discussed above.


About Sitwe

Sitwe Benson is a citizen of the world based in Zambia. He publishes academically oriented articles.
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