Answering Complex Assignment Questions

In order to decide how to answer an assignment question, you need to identify what it requires in terms of content and genre. This guide outlines some methods to help you analyse assignment questions.

Implied or complex questions

Some assignment questions are more complex than the example in the last section. They might have a number of parts or may not include a clear task word, which can seem confusing.

In order to understand how to answer, look at the entire question. Look for clues in the limiting and content words and in the relationships between words and phrases.

Elements of complex questions

  • Some questions consist of a statement or a proposition that requires a discussion. Such questions often provide a quotation or statement, followed by a task word such as 'discuss'.
  • Other questions include a direction such as 'explain the significance' of' a given statement.
  • Some questions include specific instructions. They might require you to include certain material, use specific sources or to take a particular approach. Make sure you follow these instructions.
  • Other questions include guidelines as to the scope of the essay. They will specify a time period or location, or specify a framework for the discussion.
  • Sometimes an assignment task consists of a number of related questions. There may be several parts to the question, including a number of task words or specific questions. In this case, make sure you address each part of the task, and also recognise the relationship and links between the different parts of the assignment when forming your conclusions.

Sample questions

The sample assignment questions below are examples of implied tasks.

Questions which require a discussion or explanation:

'The ideal of human rights is not universal. Discuss.'

'Account for the economic success of the 'tiger' economies of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea during the 1960s.'

Questions which imply a comparison and /or contrast:

'The development of ethics is as important to medicine as the development and use of antibiotics.'

Questions which ask for the cause and/or effect relationships to be exposed:

'Indigenous Australians experience lower levels of access to health services than the general population. Discuss the factors determining access.'

Questions which imply an opinion needs to be given:

'Why did the ideas of Martin Luther cause such an upheaval in 16th century Europe? Would there have been a Reformation without him? How would you measure the success of the lutheran Reformation? Give reasons for your view.'

Questions which imply evaluation:

'To what extent did the subcultural research project demonstrate that youth cultures were "counter-hegemonic"?'

'What traits distinguish Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism from each another? Has society influenced these religions or have these religions influenced society?'

What if I don't have a question?

Some assignments let you choose a topic to explore within a particular framework or context. For example:

'Write a report on the significance of your chosen topic for the Engineering program.'

If you are given a general topic to research for an assignment, you need to form your own focus.

  • First consider the current trends, issues or debates on the topic (this may require some preliminary research).
  • Then form a focus question that indicates how you will approach the topic.
  • You should also discuss your question with your tutor. 

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