Directive Words

It is important to read your academic tasks carefully so that key words are identified. These words will direct the approach you must take to complete your assigned task. Become familiar with these terms and your understanding of set tasks increases.

A number of the most commonly used Directive Words and their meanings are listed below.

Account for

To give reasons for; to explain why something happens


To examine in very close detail; to identify important points and chief features


To present the case for and/or against a particular proposition


To weigh something up and to consider how valuable it may be

Comment on

To identify and to write about the main issues, giving your reactions based upon what you have read or heard in lectures. Avoid purely personal opinion


To show how two or more things are similar; to indicate the relevance or consequences of these similarities


To give the main characteristics or features of something, or to outline the main events.


To bring out the differences between two items.


To list or specify and describe.


Assess the worth, importance or usefulness of something, using evidence. There will probably be cases to be made both for and against.


To clearly express why something happens, or why something is the way it is.


To show similarities and connections between two or more things


To give a concise account of the main points only, omitting details or examples


To follow the order of different stages in an event or process


To check out and report on the accuracy of something


To give the exact meaning of; where relevant, to show that you understand why the definition may be problematic


To examine thoroughly from different viewpoints


To give the meaning and relevance of information presented


To give evidence which supports an argument or idea; show why decisions or conclusions were made, considering objections that others might make


To concentrate on saying what happened, telling it as a story


To give only the main points, showing the main structure


To demonstrate truth or falsity by presenting evidence


To write about the most important aspects of (probably including criticism); to give arguments for and against; to consider the implications of


To set two or more items or arguments in opposition so as to draw out differences; to indicate whether the differences are significant. If appropriate, give reasons why one item or argument may be preferable


To give your judgement about the merit of theories or opinions about the truth of facts, and back up your judgement by a discussion of the evidence; to show the good and bad points of something, looking at any implications.


To look at a subject in depth, taking note of the detail and, if appropriate, consider the implications.


To make a survey of; examining the subject critically


To give the main features in very clear English (almost like a simple list but written in full sentences)


To make something very clear and explicit by providing examples or evidence

To what extent

To consider how far something is true or contributes to a final outcome. Consider also ways in which the proposition is not true. (The answer is usually somewhere between ‘completely’ and ‘not at all’)

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