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Research Skills

Understanding your research topic


Understand assignment requirements

 Analyse assignment topic: What is really being asked?

 How much do you need to write?

 Refer to marking criteria


Develop research plan

 Highlight and select keywords

 Check for alternative words with similar meanings/synonyms

 Consider and plan appropriate time management


Break down topic

Example screenshot of an assignment topic: Discuss is the task word, factors contribute childhood obesity are the keywords and Australia is a limiting word

Task/Instruction words are the words or phrases used in your assignment topic/question to tell you what to do. These words are also included in the marking criteria of your assignment.

Keywords are the content words that provide the topic of the question, and are the words you use to conduct your search.

Limiting words help you focus or narrow your search and to make your answer more precise and relevant to the topic.

Glossary of task words

A - Z 

A  | D  |  E  |  G  |  H  |  I  |  J  |  O  |  P  |  R  |  S  |  T  |


Account for

Explain why something has occurred.


Take apart a concept or statement in order to consider its elements. Answers should be very methodical and logically organised.


An argument means to make clear, prove or accuse. You must have a particular point of view supported by evidence from reliable sources.


This requires a judgment about an idea or subject. You may need to state whether the idea or subject being discussed is valuable or relevant after acknowledging points for and against it. Your judgment should be influenced by other authors’ views as well as your own opinion (similar to Evaluate).


Comment on

State your opinion on a topic or idea. You may explain the topic or idea more fully. Your opinion must be supported by evidence from reliable sources.


This requires a balanced answer that sets items side by side and shows their similarities and differences.


This requires an answer that points out only the differences between two or more topics.


Often used in conjunction with other directive words, such as critically discuss, critically examine or critically analyse. It does not mean criticise. It requires a balanced answer that points out mistakes or weaknesses and indicates any favourable aspects of the subject of the question. The decision or overall judgment you make must be supported with evidence from reliable sources.



This requires an answer that explains the precise meaning of a concept. A definition answer will include a discussion of a concept and may also state the limits of a concept.


This requires you to describe the attributes or characteristics of a subject.


Explain the item or concept, and then give details about it with supporting information, examples, points for and against, plus explanations for the facts put forward from various points of view. This can be one of the most difficult types of essay question.



This requires you to list or specify and describe items or ideas one by one.


This requires you to investigate a topic thoroughly.


Offer a detailed and exact explanation of an idea or principle, or a set of reasons for a situation or attitude. The explanation should increase the reader’s understanding of a topic or idea.



This often requires you to come up with new ideas or interpretations on a subject.



A hypothesis is a theory regarding particular occurrences. You suggest the reasons for an occurrence and the processes by which it has occurred. You confirm hypotheses through testing.



This requires an answer that consists mainly of examples to demonstrate or prove the topic of the question. It is often accompanied with further instructions.


Very similar to Explain. Describe what your subject means. Examine the key components of a topic or idea and give an evaluation of it.


Research, study and carefully survey all areas of the subject.



Give only the reasons for a position or argument. The proposition to be argued may be a negative one. It should convince the reader of your point of view.



Summarise information about a subject. Only the main points and not the details should be included. Questions of this type often require short answers.



Both of these require answers that demonstrate the logical arguments and evidence connected with a proposition. Prove requires the points ‘for’, and disprove requires the points ‘against’.



Make links or connections between two or more ideas, and show how these ideas are related, as well as the nature of the relationship.


Analyse, criticise and comment on the main ideas of a topic. Your essay needs to be structured in logical order.



This requires an answer that expresses the relevant points briefly and clearly without lengthy discussion or minor details.



Trace is frequently used in historical questions (but not only in History courses). It requires the statement and brief description—in logical order—of the stages in the development of a theory, a person’s life, a process, etc.