Instruction words are a type of keyword also known as directive words, task words, assignment words, command words or clue words. In this post, I will offer a comprehensive list of instruction words used in Australian university exams and assignments along with the expectation they convey for you. Also, I will provide links to Australian university web pages which offer the universities’ own lists of instruction words.
Instruction words are used in the questions you need to address in your exams, assignments or thesis. They sound straightforward but they’re not always, because they convey nuanced meanings which carry unique expectations. They’re incredibly important since, if you fail to address the nuanced expectation accurately, your grade will be negatively impacted as a result. In fact, you may even fail the task altogether!
Instruction Words: Bookmark this List!
Bookmark this webpage for your future reference. The following list is a guide you will need to use again and again for every assignment. Furthermore, ensure you know the meaning of each word before your next exam.
As usual, check with your university (professor, tutor or supervisor) regarding their expectations of you for every assignment and write to meet their specific expectations. Check their expectations for the instruction words used in the task assigned to you.
|Instruction Word||Task Expectation|
|Account for||Explain, clarify and give reasons for something. This is quite different from ‘give an account of’ which is more like describe in detail.|
|Analyse||Divide into parts or elements to discover the nature of something. Describe the function and relationships of the parts, possibly also evaluating them in terms of strengths and weaknesses.|
|Argue||Make a case for accepting or rejecting a position by systematically giving reasons and evidence for or against it. Demonstrate that you are aware of opposing viewpoints and provide grounds for rejecting them.|
|Assess||Consider the value or importance of something. Give attention to its positive, negative and disputable aspects, and cite the judgements of any known authorities as well as your own.|
|Clarify||Make clear or identify the key points or issues of something.|
|Classify||Divide into categories or logical parts, naming them and possibly describing them briefly.|
|Comment on||Present your views and judgements about a topic, using supporting evidence, examples and reasons.|
|Compare||Express similarities and differences between two or more objects, systems, ideas, theories, arguments or events. ‘Compare’ often appears with ‘contrast’ in essay questions.|
|Contrast||To set two or more items or arguments in opposition so as to draw out differences and indicate whether those differences are significant. If appropriate, give reasons why one item or argument may be preferable as result. ‘Contrast’ often appears with ‘compare’ in essay questions.|
|Critically analyse /|
|Examine the features or parts of something and show their strengths and weaknesses or advantages and disadvantages, and possibly also to draw attention to any unanswered questions.|
|Critically evaluate||To weigh arguments for and against something, assessing the strength of the evidence on both sides. Use criteria to guide your assessment of which opinions, theories, models or items are preferable.|
|Criticise||Spell out your judgement of something based on its perceived value, merit or truth. Preferably indicate the criteria on which you base your judgement, citing specific instances of how the criteria apply in this case and definitely back your judgement with a discussion of the evidence presented. ‘Criticise’ does not mean you have to be negative.|
|Critique||Analyse systematically from different perspectives and identify positive aspects as well as limitations. Draw conclusions from the analysis and express an informed judgement. This does not mean to criticise in only negative terms!|
|Debate||Weigh both sides of a controversial argument fairly and thoroughly, reviewing each side.|
|Define||Set down the precise meaning or interpretation of a word or phrase. Keep the definition concise yet with sufficient detail so that it is clearly distinguished from similar things. Show why the limitations and/or distinctions implied in the definition are necessary for clarity by expanding on particular elements that may be sources of confusion or misunderstanding. You can use a dictionary definition if it’s helpful but explain the term in the specific context of your essay. Examples may be useful.|
|Demonstrate||Show that something is true or valid by giving examples or evidence.|
|Describe||Systematically recount, explain, characterise, outline, clarify and relate in sequence where relevant the appearance, function, process, events, systems, size, cost and/or texture of something. You are not being asked to make judgements.|
|Develop||Create or invent your own idea, theory, concept or model using a reasoned and logical process.|
|Devise||Create your own idea, theory, concept, model, etc.|
|Differentiate||Identify specific characteristics between two or more things that are unique or different. You may potentially also touch on integral similarities where appropriate but only briefly.|
|Discuss||Present two or more different points of view about a topic such as strengths and weaknesses, pros and cons or advantages and disadvantages. Or, alternatively, present different theories, reasons or understandings of something. A discussion usually finishes with an opinion, position or judgement on the best point of view, with that opinion supported by logical arguments and evidence.|
|Distinguish||Highlight the differences between two similar or possibly confusing items.|
|Enumerate||Name and list the key points, possibly in continuous prose rather than note form, and perhaps describe them as well.|
|Evaluate||Consider both the strengths and weaknesses of something to assess its worth, importance, usefulness or validity, preferably in relation to a standard or criteria and using evidence.|
|Examine||To look at a subject in depth or detail and, if appropriate, consider its implications.|
|Explain||Tell how things work or how they came to be the way they are, using perhaps models, examples and reasons to help clarify, elaborate and interpret your explanation. An explanation usually involves cause and effect or reasons and consequences for differences of opinion or results.|
|Explore||Examine a topic or issue and identify different ideas, theories, concepts, factors, etc. related to the issue.|
|Give an account of||Describe or recount the steps in detail.|
|How far||Explore the case for a stated proposition or explanation, probably arguing for a less than total acceptance of the proposition.|
|Hypothesise||Suggest conclusive reasons or a theory for a particular set of occurrences, phenomenon or situation and the processes by which it occurred. Your hypothesis must be testable.|
|Identify||Pick out what you regard as the key features of something, perhaps describing those features and making clear the criteria you use.|
|Illustrate||Use concrete examples, evidence, models, diagrams, figures, graphs, statistics, data, maps or images to demonstrate, clarify or make something explicit.|
|Interpret||Help your reader to understand more about a particular issue, event, theory or model by expanding on it in your own words. Examples or evidence may be useful.|
|Investigate||Examine something in detail.|
|Justify||Show adequate rationale for accepting a particular interpretation or conclusion. You may do this by expressing valid reasons, an appropriate model, sound evidence or relevant examples to support your case.|
|List||Write your answer as an itemised series which may be in point form or another ordered way.|
|Outline||Present the principal features of a topic or sequence of events, possibly setting them within a clear structure or logical framework to show how they interrelate. Include all main points but omit the finer details.|
|Propose||Make a suggestion or recommendation based on evidence.|
|Prove||Show that something is valid and true (or false in the case of ‘disprove’) by presenting irrefutable facts, statistics, examples or researched reasoning. Note: ‘prove’ has a particular meaning in the mathematics/physics context which involves solving a problem.|
|Recommend||Propose a course of action based on reasons and evidence.|
|Reconcile||Show how two apparently opposed or mutually exclusive ideas or propositions can be seen to be similar in important respects, if not identical.|
|Reflect on||Think about an issue or problem and make observations which may be personal and show your opinions.|
|Relate||Show how things are connected to each other and, possibly, how they influence each other.|
|Review||Critically and comprehensively survey, examine and analyse a large amount of information. In your own words, give your perspective on the information by providing a well-reasoned account which describes the whole situation, assesses the main point and comments on any controversial aspects.|
|Show||Give examples or evidence to support a point or idea.|
|State||Present the main points of an idea, argument or topic clearly, and briefly, omitting details and examples.|
|Summarise||Clearly condense the key points, ideas or features of a matter into a shorter list of points expressed in your own words, omitting all superfluous detail and side-issues.|
|Take into account||Consider, think about or include an analysis of something.|
|To what extent||Make a judgement about whether something is accurate, partly accurate or inaccurate, supporting your viewpoint with evidence and examples.|
|Trace||Identify the connection between one thing and another, either (1) in a developmental sense over time or since its point of origin, or (2) in a cause and effect sense.|
Lists of Instruction Words by Australian University
Here are the Australian university web pages which I have been able to find which offer a list of instruction words for your reference.
Not all the universities provide a list of instruction words, so I’ve included only those which I can find. If you know the link for any of these which I couldn’t find, put it in the comments below and I’ll add it to the list.
- Australian Catholic University: Common instruction words you will see in Assignments
- Australian National University: Essay keywords/task words/direction words, p.33
- Bond University: Know the link? Put it in the comments below.
- Central Queensland University: Command Words
- Charles Darwin University: Know the link? Put it in the comments below.
- Charles Sturt University: Common Instruction Words
- Curtin University: Directive Verbs
- Deakin University: Know the link? Put it in the comments below.
- Edith Cowan University: Know the link? Put it in the comments below.
- Federation University: Instructional words
- Flinders University: Glossary of Instructional Words, p.4
- Griffith University: Directive Words
- James Cook University: Essay Writing: The Process, pp.6-7
- La Trobe University: Know the link? Put it in the comments below.
- Macquarie University: Directive Words
- Monash University: Analysing the task requirements
- Murdoch University: Know the link? Put it in the comments below.
- Queensland University of Technology: Task Word Glossary
- RMIT University: Meanings of Instructional Words
- Southern Cross University: Common instruction words you will see in assignments
- Swinburne University of Technology: Know the link? Put it in the comments below.
- Torrens University: Know the link? Put it in the comments below.
- University of Adelaide: Directive or Instructional words
- University of Canberra: Directive Words Handout
- University of Divinity: Know the link? Put it in the comments below.
- University of Melbourne: Clue Words in Exams
- University of New England: Analysing the Question
- University of New South Wales: Glossary of Task Words
- University of Newcastle: Assessment Task Instructions
- University of Notre Dame: Know the link? Put it in the comments below.
- University of Queensland: Common Specific Instructions used in Assessment Questions
- University of South Australia: Understanding assignments and instruction words
- University of Southern Queensland: Know the link? Put it in the comments below.
- University of Sydney: Table of Essay Instruction Words, p.7
- University of Tasmania: Know the link? Put it in the comments below.
- University of Technology Sydney: Instruction Words
- University of the Sunshine Coast: Directive Words
- University of Western Australia: A list of common task words
- University of Wollongong: Identifying Instructional Words
- Victoria University: Know the link? Put it in the comments below.
- Western Sydney University: Common Task Words
Task: Instruction Words
Now it’s your turn. Match the following expectations with their corresponding instruction word.
This article was proofread with Grammarly.