Essay Titles Writing: Compare, Discuss, Assess – What the Key Terms Mean

It may seem obvious but inspired an essay might be, if it does not address the title then it won’t be the perfect essay as an essay writer free states, and won’t get the grade it might otherwise deserve. So often, especially in exams, the keen student spots some topic words in the title and starts to write all he or she knows about them.

The Common Mistake

An example is the student of English history who read the question, “Which of Henry VIII’s Wives Did Most For Her Country?” He knew all about the six wives, and described them in sequence, including their rise and fall.

He was devastated to gain a poor grade, of course. But failing to analyze the title or question is a hazard not only when under stress in exams, but also when writing an essay.

Focus On the Essay Title

The first approach is to focus on the exact wording of the title. Reading it aloud repeatedly can help, and writing it in large print on a card propped up on the desk and visible all the time. In an exam, the title could be underlined on the exam paper, and the keywords highlighted (if permitted), or written in bold print at the top of page 1 of the answer sheet. The student is then continually prompted to keep on track.

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Key Words in Essay Titles

These are “command” words that indicate what the setter wants. While “compare and contrast” is a familiar phrase, there are other terms that it is vital to understand and respect. Here are some of the most important directional terms in essay titles.

Account for – requires an explanation or reason for an event or situation. For example, account for the apparent rise in the average IQ – this does not mean write at length about who noted it or how they found it, or describe the history of IQ testing, or even debate whether IQ exists.

Rather, look at social, statistical, intellectual, or procedural reasons why it might have happened. These should include explanations from existing sources, but it’s worth trying to think of an original idea to add to the mix.

Assess – explain how important it is, e.g. assess the effect of television violence on children who watch it. This would require evidence from research studies, together with an opinion on what it all means about the effect, and whether indeed it is a real effect.

Compare – consider the two or more subjects given: how they are alike, and how they are different. If appropriate, views on whether one has more benefits than the other, or more negatives, would add substance.

Contrast – look just at the difference between what the question mentions. If it fits into the wording of the question, add what is better about each one, and why. Differentiate is similar, but is often used where two things are easily confused.

Define – explain the meaning of a topic word. This is usually followed by another instruction, possibly from this list, which will be at least as important as defining the term.

Discuss – a broad term. Usually, a brief explanation of the topic or item to discuss could be helpful, but the main thrust is to give the pros and cons and then to go on to mention the implications they might have.

Evaluate – similar to assess. It requires an in-depth look at the positives and negatives, concerning research and any other sources.

Illustrate – explain the topic clearly, then quote examples and actual evidence which is relevant to it. This is not a term that demands personal opinion.

Relate – an explanation of the relationship and links between the two or more things. It is all too easy to digress from this clear direction, for example lurching into a detailed description of each term or topic in great detail.

Trace – describe and explain the progression of the topic. For example, “Trace the Development of the Superstore” would require a description of how it evolved to its present form from the earliest shops, or even from local market trading or bartering unless the question says otherwise.

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Some explanation of why each step may have arisen would be good, providing time and word count permit – again unless the question specifically says not to do so.

To eliminate mistakes in essay writing is to launch straight into the subject of the question. Instead, it is vital to analyze the exact approach which the title requires, and to keep this in mind throughout. There are standard terms that students need to understand, plan, research (or recall), write up, and hand in an essay that will get the best grade.