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Command terms for writing essays and other questions

Here are some examples of command words that are the most common in economics and business studies questions and what they mean.

Account for

Asks students to explain a particular situation or a particular outcome. Students are expected to present a reasoned case for the existence of something. For example: Account for the rise in unemployment shown in the table of data.


Here you are being asked to provide a comparison in detail of the causes and any possible effects of how the thing under consideration has developed or happened. Wherever it is possible ,try to give examples, this is especially true if the material offered has examples within it. If the term “critically" is prior to the term analyse. This is telling you that you need to make suggestions as to possibly why or why not something may or may not, in your own opinion, be appropriate considering the issue or event being analysed. Always try to offer support to your findings and/or opinions.  For example: Analyse the extent to which foreign aid promotes economic development.


This as the word suggests is asking you to apply your knowledge of a particular thing, say the monetary or fiscal policy, to a given situation. It is asking you to relate your own specific knowledge of the issue from the syllabus area to the particular situation that has been given to you.


Asks students to measure and judge the magnitude or quality of something. Students may offer differing assessments as they present the reasoning for their conclusion. For example: Assess the economic implications of the movement of many eastern and central European countries from planned economies to market economies.


This type of question is normally asking you to use specific knowledge' that you should have i.e. a formula. When doing a question like this it is important to show each step or stage of an calculation used.  For example: Calculate the PED for a price change of $4.00 to $4.40.


A comment question requires you to draw some conclusions about the issue under consideration.  This is often from the result of your considerations, workings and/or calculations have told you about the problem that you have been given.

Compare/Compare and contrast

Asks students to describe two situations and present the similarities and differences between them. A description of the two situations does not on its own meet the requirements of this key term. For example: Compare the effectiveness of demand-side policies to supply-side policies in reducing the level of unemployment.


A consider question is asking fro reflections on the different options/alternatives that may exist to resolve / solve / defeat or possibly correct the problem that has been posed.


When asked to define it is essential that a very clear and correct definition is given of a specific word or concept. For example: Define what is meant by a free-trade area.


Asks students to provide a description of a given situation. It is a neutral request to present a detailed picture. For example: Describe the main roles of the IMF and the World Bank.


Asks students to consider a statement or to offer a considered review of or balanced argument about a particular topic. For example: Discus the view that trade is more effective than aid in promoting economic development.


Asks students to make clear their understanding of similar terms. For example: Distinguish between normal and supernormal profit.


Invites students to make an appraisal of a situation. Students should weigh the nature of the evidence available and discuss the convincing aspects of an argument as well as its implications and limitations, and the less convincing elements within an argument. For example: Evaluate alternative policies designed to reduce inflation.

Evaluation occurs when a judgment is made. It is the weighing or measuring of factors followed by an attempt to give relative weight to those factors. Questions that begin "evaluate", "assess", "critically assess", "discuss" or "to what extent" require students to show their skills of evaluation in order to reach the highest achievement levels.

There are many ways that students can be encouraged to improve their skills of evaluation.

  • When factors such as causes, consequences or remedies are asked for, students should attempt to identify the most important ones and then to justify the reason for the choice.

  • When advantages and disadvantages are asked for, students should attempt to identify the most important advantage (or disadvantage) and then justify the reason for the choice.

  • When strategies are asked for, students should attempt to assess the short term and long term implications.

  • When data is offered, students may question its validity, in terms of whether it is appropriate, whether it is reliable, or whether it is still relevant

  • When summarizing a theory, students may question its validity, in terms of whether it is appropriate, whether it is reliable, or whether it is still relevant.

  • A stakeholder analysis can also be used as a way of evaluating the effects of an economic policy/decision.


Directs students to describe clearly, make intelligible and give reasons for a concept or idea. For example: Explain why a monopolist may charge different prices to different customers for the same service.


A how question requires the details be explained about how something is achieved or has been stopped or whatever other exercise the question is asking you to perform.


A justify question is asking a student to explain the reasons why or for what reason something is happening or maybe not happening.


Outline really only requires the main features relating to the issue to be given.  Try to say the reason why a thing may or may not happen.

To what extent

Asks students to evaluate the success or otherwise of one argument or concept over another. Students should present a conclusion, supported by arguments. For example: To what extent should LDCs adopt outward-oriented strategies rather than inward-oriented strategies to promote economic development?


Asks students to clarify the nature of something, in contrast to either a temporal dimension (when?) or a spatial dimension (where?) For example: What is the difference between a tariff and a quota?    .

What is

This question calls for the student to give an explanation about something. It should be fairly obvious as to what is the central theme or part of a question and the topic you are being asked to address.


This question is asking you to make a decision from the range of choices, decisions or methods etc. You must offer reasons as to why you chose to support the decision that you did.


Invites students to present reasons for the existence of something. This command word implies a powerful requirement to present a judgment. It is similar to the Invitation "account for". For example: Why do prices tend to be stable in an oligopolistic industry?

Also your may want to read this article: 41 Tips and Strategies to help students get an 'A' Grade

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