Task Analysis

How to understand an essay task.

In order to complete an essay task satisfactorily, you need to understand exactly what the task requires. This means understanding each part of the task description (sometimes referred to as an essay prompt).
Most task descriptions contain the following three types of words:

  • Task Verbs: Words or phrases which tell you what to do (describeSee the glossary definition, discussSee the glossary definition, explainSee the glossary definition, outlineSee the glossary definition, compareSee the glossary definition, evaluateSee the glossary definition, etc). Task verbs are also know as instruction words or command words. This site has an extensive list of task verbsGo to the Task Verbs page.

  • Content Words: Words or phrases which indicate what you are required to write about. They give you the subject matter or topic of your essay.

  • Limiting Words: Words or phrases which qualify the content words in some way. They restrict what you should write about.

Often a description will start with one or two sentences which describe a particular issue. This is then followed by a further sentence (or two) which gives the actual direction about what you should write. For example:


In the next example the description and the direction both contain content and limiting words. Drag the bubbles across to show which words or phrases belong in the instruction, content or limiter categories.


Other Task Requirements

The prompt only tells you what you must write about, but there may be other requirements you need to be aware of. For example, your essay or report may need to be formatted in a particular way. Make sure that you check what these requirements are and that you abide by them.

If your task is examination-based, make sure that you abide by any required word count but don't waste time by writing much more than you need to.

Task Assessment

At some point your essay or report will be assessed. It is useful to be aware of how your assignment will be assessed. Usually, the marker or markers will use a rubricSee the glossary definition and very often this will be made available to you. If it is, use it as a checklist before you submit your work.

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