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Simplified Plans Of Action For Common Types Of Question Words

The following question words are often to be found in essay assignments or in essay questions on exams. The "plans of action" here are to be used as guidelines rather than as prescriptive rules. Look through them all, and "mix and match" in ways that you think will be appropriate to your goals. As you practice thinking and writing according to these plans of action, your critical thinking skills will improve.

Evaluate (to assess the worth of something)

  1. Determine use, goal, ideal or whatever, from which you can judge something's worth.
  2. Make value judgement (or judgements) on something.
  3. Make a list of reasons for that judgement.
  4. Develop examples, evidence, contrasts, details, and the like which support your judgement and clarify your reasoning.

Discuss (usually to give pros and cons on some assertion, quotation, policy, etc.)

  1. Make a list of bases for comparing and contrasting.
  2. Develop details, examples, and the like to support or clarify each pro and con.
  3. On the basis of your lists, conclude with the extent to which you go along with what is asserted.

Compare and Contrast (to give similarities and differences of two or more objects)

  1. Make a list of bases for comparing and contrasting.
  2. For each basis, judge similarities and differences.
  3. Supply details, examples, etc., that will support and clarify your judgement.
  4. Assess overall similarity or difference.
  5. Determine significance of similarities and difference in connection with the purpose of the comparison.

Analyze (to break into parts)

  1. Break subject of essay (process, procedure, object, etc.) into its major parts.
  2. Connect and write about parts according to purpose of question: describe, explain, criticize, etc.

Criticize (to judge good and bad points of something)

  1. Make list of good points and bad points.
  2. Develop details, examples, contrasts, etc., to support judgements.
  3. Make overall judgement of quality.

Explain (to show causes of or reasons for something)

  1. In science, usually show what leads to what in producing something, thoroughly presenting details of each step.
  2. In humanities and often in social sciences, make a list of factors that influence something, developing evidence for each factor's potential influence.

Describe (to give major features of something)

  1. Pick out highlights or major aspects of something.
  2. Develop details, illustrations, and the like to give a clear picture.

Argue (to give reasons for one position and against another on something)

  1. Make a list of reasons for position on something.
  2. Make a list of reasons against another position on something.
  3. Refute objections to your reasons for and defend against objections to your reasons against.
  4. Fill out reasons, objections, and replies with details, examples, consequences, logical connections, and so on.

Comment (to make statements about something)

What you do depends upon what the comment calls for, a position, a discussion, an explanation, a judgement, an evaluation, etc. The meaning of comment is determined largely by the context in which it occurs.

Demonstrate (to show something)

How you show something depends upon the nature of the subject matter. To show something, you might provide evidence, clarify the logical basis of something, appeal to principles or laws as in an explanation, to simply supply a range of opinion and examples.

Synthesize (invent a new or different version)

Here, students construct their own answers and make their own meaning from the information they have gathered. They create insight. They can support this with studies/and reference to the literature.

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