Instruction words

analyse to separate and examine the main ideas and issues
compare to look at, and identify similarities
contrast to look at, and identify differences
define explain the exact meaning of a word, term, theory, concept or idea, using examples where helpful
describe give details about something so that it can be understood
discuss examine key points and possible interpretations; give arguments for and against, and draw a conclusion
evaluate give an opinion, supported by evidence, on the worth or value of something
examine similar to analyse; look at carefully; consider
explain give a detailed account of; give reasons for
illustrate make something clear by providing details and examples
interpret explain the meaning of something
justify provide reasons and evidence for something; show that it is reasonable
outline present a description of the most important features
review look over an area and assess its strengths and weaknesses
show demonstrate by examples; make clear; illustrate
summarize present the most important points

Less common instruction words include:

account for give reasons for; explain, give an account of, describe
argue systematically support or reject a position, using evidence
assess decide the importance and give reasons
calculate estimate, determine, weigh reasons carefully
characterise describe
classify arrange into groups
comment on explain the importance of
consider think carefully about
criticise discuss and point out faults
deduce conclude, infer
determine find out something; calculate
differentiate between show how something is different
distinguish between describe the differences between
elaborate discuss in detail, with reasons and examples
elucidate explain and make clear
enumerate name and list, and explain
estimate calculate, judge and predict
express show, describe
identify point out and describe
indicate show, explain
infer conclude something from fact or reasoning
list put in sequence; catalogue; mention
mention describe briefly
name identify
prove show that something is true or certain; provide strong evidence (and examples for)
quantify express or measure the amount or quantity of
relate give an account of
speculate form an opinion without having complete knowledge; suggest
to what extent (how far) discuss how true facts or arguments are
state Formally set forth a position or declare definitively
trace outline and describe
verify make sure something is accurate or true; check

Adapted from:
University of Sydney Service for Students accessed on 17/11/05

R.R. Jordan (2003) Academic Writing Course, Harlow: Longman