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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION


1. Introduction
Commoncriteriaofundergraduateessaywritingfocusonthefollowingrequirements:
studentsneedtobeanalyticalandcriticalintheirresponse
studentsneedtostructuretheirwritinglogically
studentsneedtobepersuasivewriters
studentsneedtoanswerthequestion

Thisbookletlooksat,howtoanalyseyouressayquestion.OtherLearningCentrebooklets
inthisseriesdealwiththeotheraspects:

AnalyticalWriting

PlanningandStructuringanEssay

DevelopingandSupportinganArgument dealswithpersuasion

dealswiththedifferencebetween
analyticalanddescriptivewriting
dealswithlogicalstructures

Expectations of student assignments


Oneofthedifficultiesexperiencedbystudents,particularlyinfirstyear,isunderstanding
whatstandardisexpectedinessaysattertiarylevel.Aswellasthis,eachsubjectdiscipline
hasitsownwaysofdoingthingsanditsownconventionsaboutessaystructureandwriting
style.Forinstance,insomesubjectsitisacceptabletowriteverypersonallyandput
forwardyourownopinionsandfeelingsonatopicandinotherssuchapersonalresponse
wouldnotbeappropriate.Youneedtofindouttheexpectationsandconventionsofyour
subjectssothatyoucanwriteessaysthatarevaluedwithinthecontextofyourdiscipline.
Youmaybeluckyenoughtohaveinformationandsupportprovidedbyindividualsubject
teacherse.g.modelessays,assessmentcriteriasheets.
Youcanhelpyourselfby

readingFacultyhandbooks,whichwilloftengiveinformationaboutthedisciplinary
expectations.SomeFacultieshaveprovidedspecialpublicationstohelpfirstyear
studentswithwritingtheiressays.

readinginthesubjectasmuchaspossible,whichwillhelpyouunderstandthe
technicallanguageandthestyleconventionsoftheparticularsubjectarea.

Aims and Objectives

Thisbookletwillhelpyoudevelopusefulstrategiesforanalysingessayquestions.In
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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

particular,itaims
toexplorethefunctionsofdifferentsectionsofthequestion
toanalysetheinstructionsofthequestion
tolookattherelationshipbetweeninstructionsandstructureofaresponse

2. Essay Questions
Essaytopicsareusuallysetbysubjectteachersinfirstyear.Althoughmanytopicsarenot
phrasedasquestionswewillusetheterm'essayquestion'.Lateryoumayhaveanessay
whereyouarerequiredtodevelopyourownquestion,whichismuchmoredifficultthanit
sounds.Setquestionsareusuallywritteninordertojudgeyourabilitytounderstanda
topicortheme,andtorelategeneralideastospecificapplications(orviceversa).Inorder
todemonstratethatyoucandothesethingsyoumustbeableto
correctlyidentifythefocusofthequestion

dealwithitconsistentlyandwithinthetermsoftheessayanddiscipline
That is, you must answer the set question.
Exercise 1

Firstyearstudentswereaskedtowriteanessayonthefollowingquestion:
The science of ergonomics is central to good modern design. Discuss this statement.

Abouthalfofthegroupwroteessaysthatansweredthisquestionappropriately.Theother
halfwroteessayswhichreallyansweredotherquestions.Readtheessayextractsbelowand
matcheachessayextractwiththequestionitappearstobeanswering.Writethelettersa)
d)intheboxes.
Essay extracts:
a)

Ergonomics is important in design as it can cut down workloads and the energy needed to
perform a task.
During the industrial revolution, the word "ergonomics" had a rather negative implication
about it. .... However, the word has taken on a different meaning through time.
Whilst the statement seems straight forward enough I take issue with the words "modern"
and "good".
If we were to design a chair we should have an understanding of the purpose of
the chair will it be used for work or just to sit on and eat.

b)
c)
d)

Essay questions:
[
[
[

]
]
]

Discuss the wording of this question.


Why is ergonomics important?
Describe an ergonomically designed object.
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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

What is ergonomics?

Check your answer in the Key, page 15.

Elementsoftheseresponsesareofcourserelevanttotheoriginalquestion,butthese
studentsincorrectlyidentifiedthemainfocusrequired,whichwastotakeapositiononthe
statementanddiscussevidencetosupportthepositiontaken.
Possiblepositionsthatmaybetakenontheabovestatementare:
thatthescienceofergonomics

2.1

[is
[isnot
[maybe

]
]
]

centraltogoodmoderndesign

Essay processes and types

Somedisciplinessetessayquestionsrequiringdescriptiveresponses.Forexample,
Outline the characteristics and behavioural significance of European Upper Palaeolithic art.
(Archeology)

Theremayalsobesomesectionsofyouressaywhereyouwillwritedescriptively.However,
mostdiscipines,especiallyintheArts,HumanitiesandSocialSciences,willsetessay
questionsthatinvolvetheprocessofanalysis.
Analysis is the process of
breaking down a topic/concept/group of facts into components or categories

looking for relationships between them

understanding how each component contributes to the whole picture

drawing conclusions about their significance

Forexample,anessayquestionsuchas
How does play contribute to the development of the primary school-aged child?

(Education)

requiresyouto
understandwhatismeantbythetwokeyconceptsofplayanddevelopment

identifydifferenttypesofplay,forexample,boardgames,groupgames,solitary
play,imaginativeplay,...

First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

organisethesedifferenttypesofplayintologicalgroupingsorcategoriesforyour
discussion,forexample,insideversusoutsideplay,groupversussolitaryplay,
organisedversusspontaneousplayandsoon
identifydifferentareasofdevelopment,forexample,social,cognitive,emotional,
physical,languageandpsychologicaldevelopmentandsoon
thenbyreferringtotheresearchliteratureshowhow(=inwhatways)thedifferent
categoriesofplaycontributetodifferentareasofdevelopment.
- { inside
- { outside

Categories
of Play

- { group
- { solitary

Areas of
Development

- { organised
- { spontaneous

- {social
- {cognitive
- {emotional
- {physical
- {language
- {psychological

[For more practice in setting up analytical categories and in understanding the difference between
descriptive and analytical writing see the Learning Centre Booklet, Analytical Writing].

Thedemandsoftheessayquestionsusuallyinvolveotherprocessesaswell,sometimes
argumentationtosupportaposition,oftenevaluation.Theremaybeacontroversyinvolved
wherethereisnoonerightanswer.Thusthereareanumberofprocessesthatmayoverlap
accordingtotherequirementsoftheessayquestion.
Essayquestionsrequiringanalysismayalsoinvolvesome(orall)ofthefollowing
processes.

PROCESS/TYPE

PURPOSE

EXPLANATION

to offer explanation on why things happen

INTERPRETATION

to look at assumptions/ information in terms of key/ model/


framework

EVALUATION

to present and justify a value judgement about certain information

ARGUMENTATION

to take and justify a position on some issue/ debate

(Adapted from Martin, J. R. & Peters, P. [1985] "On the analysis of exposition" in Hasan, R. (Ed)
Discourse on Discourse, ALAA Occasional Papers, No. 7, p. 88.)

Letslookatsomeexamplesofeachoftheabove.
EXPLANATION
Why was the early 19th century so important for the development of archaeology?
(Archaeology)

Thisessayquestionassumesthatthe19thcenturywasveryimportantinthe
developmentofarchaeologyandisaskingyoutoexplainwhyitwassoimportant,
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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

andtogiveyourreasonsforeachofthepointsmadeorissuesraised.
INTERPRETATION
'Jemma (aged 14 years) fights a lot with her parents but not with her friends. She used to
be a keen student but now seems to have lost interest in both her school studies (she
wants to leave school next year) and outside school activities. She does however take a
passionate interest in the environment and in boys.'
Interpret these behaviours in the light of Erikson's stage theory on adolesence.
(Education)

Thisessayquestionisaskingyoutointerpretparticularbehavioursinabriefcase
studyofanadolescentintermsofErikson'stheoryonadolescence.
EVALUATION
Evaluate the role of J.S.Mills in the transition from Classical, Political Economy to Modern
Economics, with particular reference to value and distribution.
(Economics)

Thisessayquestionisaskingyoutomakeajudgementonthecontributionmade
byJ.S.Millsgivingthereasonsforyourjudgement.Bymakingajudgementyou
arealsotakingapositionthatheplayedamajorroleoraminorone.
ARGUMENTATION
Nursing practice has been crucial in preventing the spread of disease. Do you agree?
(Nursing)

Thisessayquestionisaskingyoutodiscusstherelationshipbetweennursing
practiceandthepreventionofthespreadofdisease.Youwouldselectandshow
howdifferentexamplesofnursingpracticeshavepreventedthespreadofdisease/s
andyouwouldtakeapositiononthisrelationship,i.e.thatnursingpracticehas
beencrucialorhasnotbeencrucialinpreventingthespreadofdisease.
Intheaboveexamples,briefdescriptionshavebeenprovidedtoguideyouonwhatwould
beapossibleresponsetoeachoftheessayquestions.
Thisbookletcannotprovideyouwithdefinitiveanswersforallthedifferentkindsofessay
questionsthatmaybeset.Intheaboveexamples,theremaybeotherpossibleresponses.
Inaddition,yourtaskofansweringanessayquestionmaybemademoredifficultbybeing
setanessayquestionwhichisstatedinsuchawaythatitisnotclearwhattherequirements
are.

If you are in doubt about your interpretation of an essay question please check with your
tutor or lecturer.
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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

Thetypeofresponserequiredcanbechangedbymakingfairlysmallchangestothe
wordingofaquestion.
Forexample,let'slookatthefirstessayquestionabove.
Why was the early 19th century so important for the development of archaeology?

Byrewordingthisquestionitcouldbechangedfromanessayrequiringexplanationto:
one requiring evaluation where you are asked to make a judgement on the
importanceoftheearly19thcenturyandpossiblytotakeaposition.
How important was the early 19th century for the development of archaeology?

onerequiringanargumentwhereyouareaskedtotakeaposition,suchas(a)itwas
veryimportantor(b)itwasnotveryimportantor(c)itwasveryimportantinsome
waysandnotinotherways.
The early 19th century was very important for the development of archaeology. Discuss.

Exercise 2

Belowisoneoftheessayquestionsyouhavealreadylookedat.Initspresentformit
requiresaresponseofargumentation.Writetwonewessayquestionsbychangingthe
requirementofargumentationtoonesthatprimarilyrequire
a)
aresponseofexplanation
b)
aresponseofevaluation

Nursing practice has been crucial in preventing the spread of disease. Do you agree?
(Nursing)

Check your answer in the Key, page 15.

Other considerations
a)

Responding to disciplinary demands


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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

Ahighlyvaluedresponsetotheseessayquestionsrequiresotherconsiderations.As
mentionedearliereachdisciplinehasitsownwayofseeingtheworld.Thismeansthateach
disciplinediffersinthewayitorganisesknowledge,inthetheoreticalperspectivesand
modelsitdevelops,theproblemsitidentifiesassignificant,theresearchmethodologiesit
usesandsoon.
Itispartofyourtasktounderstandandlearnthese'rules'andrespondinwaysthatare
highlyvaluedbyyourdiscipline.So,inapersuasiveessayyouwanttoconvinceyour
readerthattheargumentyoudevelop(andtheevidenceyouprovidetosupportyour
argument)arevalidandsignificantwithinyourfieldofstudy.
b)

Challenging assumptions

Youcanalsochallenge/questiontheassumptionsinanessayquestionifthereisevidence
tosupportyourchallenge.Forexampleintheessayquestionbelowyoucanchallenge(if
youhavetheevidencetosupportthechallenge)theassumptionthattheearly19thcenturyis
soimportantandarguethatitwasofnogreaterimportance(oroflesserimportance)than
otherperiods.
Why was the early 19th century so important for the development of archaeology?
(Archaeology)

Exercise 3

Examineanessayquestionsetinoneofyourcoursesanddecidewhichoftheabove
processesareinvolvedandwhatotherconsiderationsmightbeinvolved.

Remember: if you are currently working on an essay and you are unsure if you have
correctly identified the processes involved, check with your tutor or lecturer.

2.2

Breaking down the essay question.

Manyquestionsareframedasstatements,ratherthanquestions.Somearequite
straightforward,othersareverycomplex.
ConsiderthefollowingessayquestionfromthefieldofEducation.

It has been cited with alarm that modern children spend more hours in front of television
than they spend at school. Is this necessarily cause for alarm? By examining the
relevant research literature, critically discuss the effects of television on children with
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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

respect to at least one of the following:


a) the development of aggression
b) educational television
c) the development of fantasy and imagination
d) the development of sex-role stereotypes

Belowisthebreakdownofthisquestionthewordingfallsinto4sections,eachwitha
differentfunction:

SECTION

FUNCTION

1.

It has been cited with alarm that modern children spend more
hours in front of television than they spend at school.

orientation to topic

2.

Is this necessarily cause for alarm?

proposition

3.

By examining the relevant research literature, critically


discuss the effects of television on children

instruction

4.

with respect to at least one of the following:


a) the development of aggression
b) educational television
c) the development of fantasy and imagination
d) the development of sex-role stereotypes

scope

Thisessayquestionisaskingyoutopresentandjustifyavaluejudgementandtotakea
positiononthepropositionsuchas(a)yes,itiscauseforalarmor(b)no,itisnotcausefor
alarmor(c)maybesometimesitis/sometimesitisnot....
Thepositionyoutakewilldependuponthesupportforitintheresearchliterature.Itis
sometimeshardertoargueandsupportanextremeposition,especiallywhenresearch
reportsmixedandinconsistentresultsandwhenareasgeneratecontroversialdebatesinthe
literature.Inthesesituationsitmaybemorevalidtotakeamiddleposition.
Intheaboveexampleyourdiscussionontheeffectsoftelevisiononchildrenandthe
positionyoutakewillalsodependuponyourselectionofthetypeoftelevisionprogramme
(scope).Belowaresomeexamplesofhowscopemayinfluenceposition.

SCOPE

POSITION TAKEN

The effects of violence on television on the development


of aggression

It is cause for alarm

The effects of educational programmes on the

It is not cause for alarm


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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

development of prosocial behaviours


The effects of both violent and educational television
programmes

Sometimes it is / sometimes it is not depending upon television


programme

Theessayquestioncanalsosuggestthestructureoftheanswer.
Thestructureoftheaboveessaymightlooklikethis:
Introduction:

Statetopic,propositionandscope

Body:

Reasons/evidence1,2...etctosupportyourposition
Dismisscounterpositionsusingreasons/evidence1,2...etc
[Ifyouselectmorethanonearea,youwillhavetodothisforeach].

Conclusion:

Sumup,restateproposition

Exercise 4

Breakdownthefollowingquestionsintosections,anddecidethefunctionofeach.
a)

(Architecture)
FUNCTION

Selecting either post and lintel or arcuated structural systems, and


taking examples from three historical periods, discuss similarities
and differences in the architectural use of that particular structural
system

Howdoesthequestioninfluencethestructureoftheanswer?
b)

(History)
FUNCTION

Do historians working on the witchcraft phenomenon as it appeared


in different areas of Europe come to the same conclusions as to its
nature and causes? Use the documents and two historians, one
from any two of the three areas grouped in the reading list.

Howdoesthequestioninfluencethestructureoftheanswer?
c)

(Anthropology)
FUNCTION

Using the Andean region as your ethnographic focus, explore the


relation between our categories of nature and culture as they seem
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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

to be understood in their belief system(s). You should concentrate


on one kind of animal, plant, geographical / astronomical feature: or
perhaps examine metaphor of the body or the constitution of gender.
In your discussion drew on articles, films and lectures from class, as
well as the readings below, and be sensitive to variations in belief
between different Andean communities and to questions of time (e.g.
colonial vs contemporary). Conclude by comparing / contrasting the
ideas about nature / culture with our own, especially with reference
to anthropological thinking on these issues.

Howdoesthequestioninfluencethestructureoftheanswer?

Check your answer in the Key, pages 16-17.

Remember: there is not one correct approach to questions such as these. There are often
several structures which could adequately address the different parts of the question.

2.3

The focus of the question

Wearegoingtolookmorecloselyatwhattheassignmentrequiresyoutodo.Itcanbeseen
bytheaboveexamplesthattheremaybemorethanonesetofinstructions.Itisimportant
whenyouareansweringthequestiontomakesureyouaddressallinstructions.
Generallythereareseveralelementsthatcanhelpyou:

Instructionwords:e.g.discuss,compareandcontrast,evaluate,explain
Note:
a) sometimestheinstructionisnotstatedbutimplied,
e.g. Whatistheimportanceofresearchintothelinguisticcapabilitiesof
apes?=explaintheimportance.
e.g. HowskillfullydoesDanteportraytheactingofFrancescadaRimini?
=evaluatetheextentofhisskill.
b) aninstructioncanbeaffectedbythecontentofthequestion,e.g.'discuss',can
coveravarietyofmeaningsfromafactual'describe'to'evaluate'.

Contentwords:keyterms
e.g. ourcategoriesof'nature'and'culture',architecturaluse,witchcraft
phenomenon,effectsoftelevisiononchildren
Note:thesetermsusuallyneedtobedefined.

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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

Valueladenwords:
e.g. wordsimplyingnegativeorpositiveemphasis:
"Thisdeadbutcher..."doyouagreewithMalcolm'sdescriptionofMacbeth?
(EnglishLiterature)
e.g. wordsimplyingascaleofdegreeorimportance:
"Thescienceofergonomicsiscentraltogoodmoderndesign."Discussthis
statement.
(Architecture)
Note:thesewordsusuallyindicatethatanevaluativeorargumentativestanceis
required.
Exercise 5

Answerthesequestionsinthespaceprovidednexttothe5essayquestionsbelow.
a)
b)
c)
d)

whataretheinstructionwordsorimpliedinstructionsandthecontentwords?
doanyofthetermsneedtobedefined?
arethereanyvalueladenwords?
whataretheimplicationsforthestructureoftheresponse?

1. Is dreaming a biological necessity? Discuss


the view that dreaming is a
neurophysiologically / neurochemically distinct
state of consciousness.
(Psychology)

a)
b)
c)
d)

2. Critically evaluate the statement that


'inflation is always and everywhere a monetary
phenomenon.'
(Economics)

a)
b)
c)
d)

3. What are the main differences between


pluralist and elitist analyses of power
distribution in liberal democracies?
(Politics)

a)
b)
c)

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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

d)

4. Explain why property is so important in the


formation of class. Explain two theories about
class formation, referring to Australian society.
(Sociology)

a)
b)
c)
d)

5. How are national stereotypes formed? Is


there any truth in them? Can they be
changed?
(Social Psychology)

a)
b)
c)
d)

Check your answer in the Key, pages 17-20.

Exercise 6

Belowareanumberofessayquestionsandextractsfromstudents'essays.Identifywhether
eachresponseis"answering"or"notanswering"thesetquestion.Giveyourreasons.
Question 1 (Education)
Design the ideal school, ideal curriculum and ideal teacher for adolescents,
justifying yourself each step of the way by argument and reference to research.
Essay extract (the introduction)
Before designing the ideal school, ideal curriculum and ideal teacher for
adolescents, it must be realized that such a school as a whole has to exist and
function in society as it is today. Therefore instead of using ideas which could be
deemed to be too idealistic to succeed, I have chosen designs which I feel could
operate successfully in society and benefit everyone as a unit, not just selected
individuals.

Theextractisanswering/notansweringthequestion(circletheappropriateone)
Reason(s)
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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

Question 2 (Government)
What are the main differences between pluralist and elitist analyses of power
distribution in liberal democracies?
Essay extract (the conclusion)
The pluralist and elitist approach to politics support contrasting theories. They
differ in many ways: about how power is distributed, who holds power, who
holds resources of politics (potential power), who successfully uses these
resources, who tries to protect the existing system of government, the role of
government in society and in the economy, even their views of human nature
are distinctively different. On one aspect that they do agree is that in modern
liberal democracies there exists great inequality in the distribution of power,
and that real politics is not what the classical definition of democracy sets it out
to be.

Theextractisanswering/notansweringthequestion(circletheappropriateone)
Reason(s)

Question 3 (History)
The unification of Italy owed more to Cavour that Garibaldi. Discuss.
Essay extract (the introduction)
The fate of unifying Italy lay on the shoulders of the two greatest figures in
Italian history, namely Count Camillo de Cavour and Guiseppe Garibaldi. Yet
the question to consider is who contributed more to the unification. Was it
Cavour's diplomatic and political skills that made him so influential in the
process of unification by achieving the development of a strongly founded
government and monarch? Or was it Garibaldi's initiative that brought North
and South together through his military conquests and development of Italian
patriotism?
The essay will argue that both great figures had an equal influence upon the
unification process. .....

Theextractisanswering/notansweringthequestion(circletheappropriateone)
Reason(s)
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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

Question 4 (Sociology)
What can the concept 'culture' contribute to our understanding of society?
Essay extract (the introduction)
The concept of culture can contribute to our understanding of how social order
is maintained in a society. With the concept of culture one can better
understand that the behaviour of a society is learned. It can give insight into
why there are so many different societies operating in different ways, or on the
other hand, why societies are so similar. The concept of culture can help one to
comprehend why a society may disintegrate.

Theextractisanswering/notansweringthequestion(circletheappropriateone)
Reason(s)

Check your answer in the Key, pages 20-21.

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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

How can the information in this booklet help you?


Weassumethatyouhaveawritingassignmentinprogress.Belowisa
checklistofquestionstohelpyouapplywhatyouhavelearnedheretoyour
ownwork.
Whataretheexpectationsandconventionsforessaywritinginyour
faculty?Ifyoudonotknow,howcanyoufindout?Whatsortofwriting
ishighlyvalued?(Ifyouhavenofeedbackonyourownwriting,think
aboutthereadingyouhavedoneinthesubject.)Areyourespondingto
disciplinarydemands?
Doyouhaveanyinformationabouttheappropriateformatandassessment
criteriaforthisessay(e.g.anassessmentsheet)?Ifnot,
whocanyouask?
Howmanysectionsarethereintheessayquestion?
Whatisthefunctionofeachsection?
Whatwillbethefocusofyouressay?Lookatthewordingofthequestion.
Whataretheinstructionwords?Iftherearenoinstruction
words,whatinstructionsareimplied?
Whatarethecontentwords?
Arethereanyvalueladenwords?
Ifthereismorethanonesetofinstruction,whatistheconnectionbetween
them?

Areyourequiredtowritedescriptivelyand/oranalyticallyinorderto
respondadequately?Areyoubeingaskedforanexplanation,an
interpretation,anevaluationand/orargumentationinyourresponseto
theessayquestion?

Whatcanyoupredictabouttheessaystructurefromthisanalysis?

Areassumptionsmadeintheessayquestion?Doyouhaveevidencethat
allowsyoutochallengeanyassumptionsmade?

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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

Reference list for further reading


Clanchy,J.&Ballard,B.(1991)EssayWritingforStudents:apracticalguide.LongmanCheshire.

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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

KEY TO EXERCISES

Exercise 1
The science of ergonomics is central to good modern design. Discuss this statement.

Readtheessayextractsbelowandmatcheachextractwiththequestion.
Extracts

Questions

Ergonomics is important in design as it can


cut down workloads and the energy needed
to perform a task.

Why is ergonomics important?

During the industrial revolution, the word


"ergonomics" had a rather negative
implication about it. .... However, the word
has taken on a different meaning through
time.

What is ergonomics?

Whilst the statement seems straight forward


enough I take issue with the words "modern"
and "good".

Discuss the wording of this question.

If we were to design a chair we should have


an understanding of the purpose of the chair will it be used for work or just to sit on and
eat.

Describe an ergonomically designed


object.

(i.e. some students gave reasons why


ergonomics is important.)
(i.e. some students defined the term.)

(i.e. some students criticised the


wording of the question.)

(i.e. some students described an


ergonomic object - usually a chair.)

Exercise 2
Nursing practice has been crucial in preventing the spread of disease. Do you agree?
(Nursing)

a)

Aquestionrequiringaresponseofexplanationmightbe:
Whyhasnursingpracticebeensocrucialinpreventingthespreadofdisease?

b)

Possiblequestionsrequiringaresponseofevaluationmightbe:

Evaluatetheroleplayedbynursingpracticeinpreventingthespreadofdisease.
or
Howcrucialhasnursingpracticebeeninpreventingthespreadofdisease?
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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

Exercise 4

a)

(Architecture)

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

FUNCTION
Instruction 1
Instruction 2
Instruction 3

Selecting either post and lintel or arcuated structural


systems, / and taking examples from three historical
periods, / discuss similarities and differences in the
architectural use of that particular structural system

Theprocess/typemightbe:

Analysis

scope (choice)
Instruction 1
scope (choice)
Instruction 2
Proposition
Instruction 3

In this essay you would select and reorganise information on the architectural use of decoration
in the structural system/s you have chosen showing the similarities and differences using
examples from 3 historical periods.

Thestructureoftheanswermightbe:
Introduction:
Body:

State choices of structural system and 3 historical periods (scope),


Use of decoration 1
{similarities
{in different periods
{differences
Use of decoration 2
{similarities
{in different periods
....
{differences
Sum up main similarities and differences

Conclusion:

b)

(History)
FUNCTION
Do historians working on the witchcraft phenomenon as
it appeared in different areas of Europe come to the
same conclusions as to its nature and causes? / Use
the documents and two historians, one from any two

Proposition to
be addressed
Instruction scope (choice)

of the three areas grouped in the reading list.

Theprocesses/typesmightbe:

Analysis,argumentation

In this essay you would select and reorganise information about the nature and the causes of
witchcraft in different parts of Europe and compare and judge the positions taken by historians.
You will probably take a position such as (a) yes, they do, (b) no, they do not, or (c) maybe some do, some do not, and give your reasons .

Thestructureoftheanswermightbe:
Introduction
Body:

State topic and scope...


Indicate your position on the matter
Reasons / evidence 1, 2 ...etc to support your position
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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

Dismiss counter positions using reasons / evidence 1, 2 ...etc


Sum up and justify your position again

Conclusion:

c)

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

(Anthropology)
FUNCTION
Using the Andean region as your ethnographic focus,

Instruction /
proposition to

Instruction - scope

explore the relation between our categories of nature


and culture as they seem to be understood in their belief
system(s).

You should concentrate on one kind of

animal, plant, geographical / astronomical feature: or

Instruction - scope

perhaps examine metaphor of the body or the


constitution of gender.

In your discussion draw on

articles, films and lectures from class, as well as the

Instruction - resources

readings below, and be sensitive to variations in belief


between different Andean communities and to questions

Instruction - approach

of time (e.g. colonial vs contemporary). Conclude by


comparing / contrasting the ideas about nature /
culture with our own, especially with reference to
anthropological thinking on these issues.

Theprocesses/typesmightbe:

Instruction - concluding
analysis

Analysis,interpretation

This essay question is asking you (a) to show how our categories of nature / culture would be
interpreted within another framework, the belief system(s) of other peoples, and (b) to compare
and contrast the two belief systems. In this essay you could select and reorganise information
about the belief system/s of the peoples from the Andean region and relate these to our
categories of nature / culture, then compare and contrast the two belief systems.

Thestructureoftheanswermightbe:
Introduction:
Body:
Conclusion:

State topic, proposition and all your choices (scope)


Aspect 1, 2 .. of belief system/s related to our categories
Present similarities and differences between two systems
Sum up main aspects

Remember: there is not one correct approach to questions such as these. There are
often several structures which could adequately address the different parts of the
question.

Exercise 5

Considerthesequestionsinrelationtothe5essayquestionsbelow.

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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

a)
b)
c)
d)

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

whataretheinstructionwords/impliedinstructionsandthecontentwords?
doanyofthetermsneedtobedefined?
arethereanyvalueladenwords?
whataretheimplicationsforthestructureoftheresponse?

content word needs to be defined

1.

content words - need


to be defined

instruction
word

Is dreaming a biological necessity? Discuss the view that


dreaming is a neurophysiologically / neurochemically
distinct state of consciousness.
(Psychology)

content words need to be defined

Analysis,argumentation

Theprocesses/typesmightbe:
Thestructureoftheresponsemightbe:
Introduction

State your position on the issue

Body:

Reasons / evidence 1, 2 ...etc to support your position


Dismiss counter positions using reasons / evidence 1, 2 ...etc

Conclusion:

Sum up main points and restate your position

content word needs to be defined

instruction words

2.

Critically evaluate the statement that 'inflation is always


and everywhere a monetary phenomemon.'
(Economics)
content words need to be defined

Theprocesses/typesmightbe:

Analysis,evaluation,argumentation

Thestructureoftheresponsemightbe:
Introduction:

Define the nature /scope / limits of evaluation (ie how true is the
statement?) in terms of the theories.

Body:

Evidence / reasons 1, 2 ...etc for evaluation

Conclusion:

Sum up and restate reasons for evaluation

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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

implied instruction =
discuss the main
differences between ...

3.

content words need to be defined

What are the main differences between pluralist and elitist


analyses of power distribution in liberal democracies.

(Politics)
content words need to be defined

content words need to be defined

Analysis

Theprocess/typemightbe:
Thestructureoftheresponsemightbe:
Introduction:

State main categories of comparison and main differences between


pluralist and elitist analyses of ....

Body:

Category 1
Category 2
Category 3

Conclusion:

{pluralist
{elitist
{pluralist
{elitist
{pluralist
{elitist

etc

Sum up main differences

Instruction words

4.

content word needs to be defined

value laden
word

content word needs to be defined

Explain why property is so important in the formation of class.


Explain two theories about class formation, referring to Australian
society.
Instruction
- scope

Theprocesses/typesmightbe:

(Sociology)

Analysis,explanation,evaluation,interpretation

Thestructureoftheresponsemightbe:
Introduction:

State topic, evaluation, and two theories to be examined

Body:

Reasons for 1, 2 ...etc; Reasons against 1, 2 ...etc


Evidence / reasons 1, 2 ...etc for evaluation

Conclusion:

Restate evaluation and main reasons

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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

implied instruction
= explain how ....

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

content word needs to be defined

implied instruction
= evaluate the
value laden word

5.

How are national stereotypes formed? Is there any truth


in them? Can they be changed?

(Social Psychology)
implied instruction
= evaluate to what
extent they can ...

Theprocesses/typesmightbe:

Analysis,explanation,evaluation

Thestructureoftheresponsemightbe:
Introduction:

State topic, main reasons for formation of national stereotypes, state


evaluation on degree of truth and changability

Body:

Reason 1, 2 for formation of national stereotypes


Examples of national stereotypes - evaluate and provide evidence for
degree of truth and changability

Conclusion:

Sum up main reasons and restate evaluations

Exercise 6

Belowareanumberofessayquestionsandextractsfromstudents'essays.Identifywhether
eachresponseis"answering"or"notanswering"theirsetquestion.Giveyourreasons.

Question 1 (Education)
Design the ideal school, ideal curriculum and ideal teacher for adolescents, justifying
yourself each step of the way by argument and reference to research.
Essay extract (the introduction)
Before designing the ideal school, ideal curriculum and ideal teacher for adolescents, it
must be realized that such a school as a whole has to exist and function in society as it
is today. Therefore instead of using ideas which could be deemed to be too idealistic to
succeed, I have chosen designs which I feel could operate successfully in society and
benefit everyone as a unit, not just selected individuals.

Comment:
Thisintroductiondoesnotanswerthesetquestion.Themarker'scommentsare;
"Thequestionaskedfortheidealschool.Itisthereforehardlyappropriatetobegin
bysayingthatyoudonotintendtospecifyanidealschool....."

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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney

Question 2 (Government)
What are the main differences between pluralist and elitist analyses of power
distribution in liberal democracies?
Essay extract (the conclusion)
The pluralist and elitist approach to politics support contrasting theories. They differ in
many ways: about how power is distributed, who holds power, who holds resources of
politics (potential power), who successfully uses these resources, who tries to protect
the existing system of government, the role of government in society and in the
economy, even their views of human nature are distinctively different. On one aspect
that they do agree is that in modern liberal democracies there exists great inequality in
the distribution of power, and that real politics is not what the classical definition of
democracy sets it out to be.

Comment:
Thisextractanswersthequestionset.Itfocusesonthemaindifferencesbetween
thetwoanalysesofpoweraswellasdealingwithsimilaraspects.

Question 3 (History)
The unification of Italy owed more to Cavour that Garibaldi. Discuss.
Essay extract (the introduction)
The fate of unifying Italy lay on the shoulders of the two greatest figures in Italian
history, namely Count Camillo de Cavour and Guiseppe Garibaldi. Yet the question to
consider is who contributed more to the unification. Was it Cavour's diplomatic and
political skills that made him so influential in the process of unification by achieving the
development of a strongly founded government and monarch? Or was it Garibaldi's
initiative that brought North and South together through his military conquests and
development of Italian patriotism?
The essay will argue that both great figures had an equal influence upon the
unification process. .....

Comment:
Thisintroductiondealswiththemainissue,thatofdiscussingwhoofthesetwo
mencontributedmoretotheunificationofItaly.Itisansweringthequestion.

Question 4 (Sociology)
What can the concept 'culture' contribute to our understanding of society?
Essay extract (the introduction)
The concept of culture can contribute to our understanding of how social order is
maintained in a society. With the concept of culture one can better understand that
the behaviour of a society is learned. It can give insight into why there are so many
different societies operating in different ways, or on the other hand, why societies are
so similar. The concept of culture can help one to comprehend why a society may
disintegrate.

Comment:
Theextractisansweringthequestion.Itpresentsanoverviewofthemanyways
thattheconceptofculturecontributestoourunderstandingofsociety.Theseare
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First Year Experience Series: ANALYSING AN ESSAY QUESTION

elaborateduponinthebodyofessay.

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2001 Learning Centre, University of Sydney