Writing essays

Understanding essay questions

Recognise the limits of the question

Limits provide the key to a focussed and manageable paper. Look for obvious instructions that set limits.

For example:
...any two examples of...

...within the last ten years...
...in the 20th Century...
...with reference to...

Important little words include:

  • 'Any' -indicates there must be several available for you to choose from.For example: ‘Describe any two processes...’, suggests there must be more than two processes available to describe. You have to choose which two to write about.
  • 'Or'- gives you a choice. For example: Evaluate one method of preventing illness or one method of preventing injury' gives you a choice between illness or injury – you must not write about both.
  • 'And' -presents the opposite – you must write about both.For example:Evaluate one method of preventing illness and one method of preventing injury’ asks you to write about both illness and injury.