Essay Keywords

Every essay question will generally contain a key word that tells you what kind of answer your teacher wants. Here is a list of some key words commonly found in essay questions:


Separate out the parts and show how they relate to the whole. For example, whether you are asked to analyze a poem, story, or play, you will need to look at individual elements such as point of view, setting, characters, plot, imagery or symbolism, and motifs or themes. See how each of these elements contributes to the overall meaning of the work.


Give reasons for or against. Be sure to use specific examples to back up your points.

Compare and contrast

These words often appear together but not always. If you are asked to compare, show the similarities and the differences. If you are asked to contrast, show only the differences.


Write about a subject in detail, often so that the reader gets a clear mental picture or image of what you are describing.


Write about a subject in detail, giving reasons and examples.


State the main ideas briefly, leaving out specific examples.

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