Information Sheet #149
[Essay exams and paper assignments are often constructed around key verbs intended to guide student writers in constructing their responses. Of course, problems may arise when student definitions may not match with faculty usage. This information sheet provides an abridged version of a "verb"handout created by Paula Gillespie, Director of the Writing Center at Marquette University. Sharing these definitions with students might help them understand the academic intent of such words as analyze, discuss, enumerate, etc. The definitions were adapted from the second edition of Your College Experience: Strategies for Success by John N. Gardner and A. Jerome Jewler. -Bob Marrs]
Analyze: divide something into its parts in order to understand it better, and then demonstrate how the parts work together to produce the overall pattern. May require identifying and analyzing smaller issues that are part of the primary topic.
Compare: describe the characteristics or qualities of several things and identify their similarities. Instructions to compare often assume that contrasting qualities will also be discussed.
Contrast: identify the differences between things.
Criticize/Critique: analyze and judge something. Criticism can be either positive or negative, as the case warrants. Criticism usually allows for expression of personal judgments (supported by evidence) in addition to opinions of authorities.
Define: give the meaning of a word or expression. Definitions should be clear and concise and should conform with other people's understanding of the terms. Giving examples can help clarify a definition, but examples are not definitions.
Describe: give a verbal sketch or account of the subject.
Diagram: show the parts of something and their relationships in pictorial form, such as a chart. Diagram should be clearly labeled but full account usually accompanies visual representation.
Discuss: identify important questions related to an issue and attempt to answer these questions; discussion may involve presenting a variety of perspectives on an issue and weighing relevant evidence and information.
Enumerate: respond with a concise list or outline rather than lengthy, detailed commentary.
Evaluate: judge the worth or truthfulness of something, discussing strengths and weaknesses. Although similar to criticism, evaluation stresses judging how well something meets a certain standard or fulfills a specific purpose.
Explain: clarify or interpret a subject. Explanations focus on why or how something has come about. Explanations may address evidence that appears contradictory, revealing how apparent differences in evidence can be reconciled.
Explicate: present in clear, precise detail the meaning of a text.
Illustrate: provide one or more examples of something, typically relating abstract ideas to concrete experience. Illustrations may show how something works in practice.
Interpret: explain the meaning of the subject, revealing what the evidence shows and conclusions to be drawn from the evidence.
Justify: argue in support of some decision or conclusion, using both logical reasoning and concrete examples.
Label: point to and name specific parts of a figure or illustration.
List: present information in a series of short, discrete points; similar to "enumerate."
Narrate: tell a story, rendering a series of events in the order they occurred; faculty may expect a narration to include an interpretation and explanation of the story.
Outline: (1) present a series of main points in appropriate order, omitting lesser details; (2) present information in the form of a series of short headings, each major idea followed by headings for supportive points or examples.
Paraphrase: express the meaning of a passage, translating the text into fresh words in order to emphasize the key points; typically a paraphrase is similar in length to the original passage (in contrast to a summary, which will be much shorter).
Prove: give a convincing logical argument and evidence in support of the truth of some statement. Note: academic disciplines differ in their methods of inquiry and therefore differ in what they require in statements of proof.
Relate: show the relationship between things, demonstrating mutual influences or revealing how a change in one thing seems to depend on or accompany a change in the other.
Review: (1) summarize and comment on the main parts in an issue; (2) lay out a series of statements or events in order. A review question may be asking the student writer to evaluate or criticize some aspect of the material.
Summarize: give information on most important points but omitting most of the details.
Trace: narrate a course of events, showing connections from one event to the next.
Writing the Academic, Argumentative Paper: They Say / I Say
Imagine that we consider college writing assignments as an opportunity for students to enter into an "unending conversation."
. . . you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress. [Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form]
The writing assignments faculty give in college are invitations for students to put in their oar, to enter into this conversation by making sense of what has been said before and adding their own observations to the conversation. A key aspect of this complex drama is helping students recognize how their compositions are appearing in the midst of a long series of commentaries.
. . . the best academic writing has one underlying feature: it is deeply engaged in some way with other people's views. Too often ... academic writing is taught as a process of saying "true" or "smart" things ... as if it were possible to argue effectively without being in conversation with someone else. If you have been taught to write a traditional five-paragraph essay, for example, you have learned how to develop a thesis and support it with evidence. This is good advice as far as it goes, but it leaves out the important fact that in the real world we don't make arguments without being provoked. We make arguments because someone has said or done something (or perhaps not said or done something) and we need to respond. [Graff and Birkenstein, They Say / I Say]
They Say / I Say Templates: Presenting Ideas in Response to Others
These templates are intended to identify basic strategies for helping student writers learn how to introduce their positions by structuring an appropriate response to what has previously been said on the topic. Rather than providing students with the exact wording for their papers, the templates are intended to offer starting points for the students' imaginative adaptations to fit specific audiences and assignments. These templates are adapted from They Say / I Say by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein. A "They Say / I Say" handout, with more template examples, is available in the Writing Center.
Examples of specific templates:
Agreement [but with a difference]
- She argues . . . . . . . . , and I agree because . . . . . . . .
- Her argument that . . . . . . . . is supported by new research showing that . . . . . . . .
- X's theory of . . . . . . . . is extremely useful because it sheds insight on the issue of . . . . . . . .
- I agree that . . . . . . . . , a point that needs emphasizing since so many people believe . . . . . . . .
- If group X is right that . . . . . . . . , then we need to reassess the popular assumption that . . . . . . . .
- One implication of X's position is that . . . . . . . . [arguing for something implied or assumed]
Disagreement [and explain why]
- He claims that . . . . . . . . , but I believe that . . . . . . . . [disagreement focusing on the reasons for the disagreement]
- X's claim that . . . . . . . . rests upon the questionable assumption that . . . .
- X's claims are contradictory. On the one hand, she argues . . . . . . . . ; however, she also says . . . . .
- By focusing on . . . . . . . . , X overlooks the deeper problem of . . . . . . . .
- Although X does not say so directly, she apparently assumes that . . . . . . . .
- In discussions of this topic, one controversial issue has been . . . . . . . . On the one hand, X argues that . . . . . . . . On the other hand, Y contends . . . . . . . . My own view is . . . . . . . .
- An initial study of this topic would suggest . . . . . . . . , but more careful examination will reveal . . .
- In their recent work, Y and Z have offered harsh critiques of X; however, I think that . . . . . . . .
- Although it is true that . . . . . . . . , it does not necessarily follow that . . . . . . . .
- Although some readers might think that this poem is about . . . . . . . . , it is really about . . . . . . . . [responding to hypothetical readers]
- It may initially appear that this is a case of . . . . . . . . , but closer examination reveals . . . . . . . .
Simultaneous Agreement and Disagreement
- He claims that . . . . . . . . , and I have mixed feelings on this issue. One the one hand, I agree that . . . . . . . . On the other hand, I still insist that . . . . . . . .
- Although I grant that . . . . . . . . , the evidence would nevertheless indicate that . . . . .. . . [making a concession while still raising a point of disagreement]
- While it is true that . . . . . . . . , it does not necessarily follow that . . . . . . . .
- Proponents of X are right to argue that . . . . . . . . , but they exaggerate when they claim that . . . . . .
- Proponents of X make an important point when they suggest that . . . . . . . . , but they overlook the essential point that . . . . . . . .
- Whereas X's research provides ample evidence that . . . . . . . . , the research by Y and Z on this issue demonstrates that . . . . . . . .
- Although we discussed in class how . . . . . . . . , it is also important for us to understand that . . . . .
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Email Dr. Bob Marrs with any questions, comments or suggestions.