Business Writing

Understanding common directions

When we write essays in an academic setting we are usually answering a question that has been set for us. At work, when it comes to business reports, we may also be given a question to answer, or directions to follow.

For example:

  • We are planning to buy a new photocopier. Here are the details that three companies have provided us about their models. Can you put together a report comparing them on the basis of the features, initial costs and lifecycle costs (including consumables and maintenance) and make a recommendation?

The vocabulary used for giving directions is fairly standard, but sometimes we may not understand exactly what we are being asked for.

To help you interpret such directions, here’s a list of common words used in questions and simple definitions.


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Analyse Divide the issue into its main parts and discuss each part. Consider how the parts interact and how they work together to form the whole.
Argue Express your opinion about the subject, and support it with evidence, examples, and details.
Assess See evaluate.
Classify Organise the subject into groups and explain why the groupings make sense.
Compare Point out similarities.
Contrast Point out differences.
Define Give the meaning of the subject.
Describe Show readers what the subject is like; give an account of the subject.
Discuss Point out the main issues or characteristics of the subject and elaborate.
Evaluate Make a judgment about the effectiveness and success of the subject. What is good and bad about it? Why? Describe your criteria for your judgment.
Explain Make your position, issue, process, etc. clear by analysing, defining, comparing, contrasting, or illustrating.
Identify Name and describe.
Illustrate Provide examples of the subject.
Indicate Explain what you think the subject means and how you came to that interpretation (what makes you conclude that it means X).
Relate Point out and discuss any connections.
Summarise Describe the main ideas or points
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