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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsFor many university assignments you are given a question that you have to answer in an essay, and therefore one very important aspect of academic writing is answering the question with relevant content. This means you need to ensure that you understand the essay question completely. The following technique will show you how to analyse a question and understand what you need to write about.

Skip to 0 minutes and 39 secondsWhat is the topic of the essay? What is the question asking you to do? Pause the recording now to think about these questions.

Skip to 0 minutes and 53 secondsThis question comprises two sentences. The first is a statement, and the second gives you some instructions.

Skip to 1 minute and 4 secondsThe first sentence gives you the topic, which is the fact that the average age of people in many countries round the world is going up - we have more elderly people than in the past.

Skip to 1 minute and 19 secondsThe question asks you to focus on the problems caused by an ageing population and on possible solutions. You have to discuss those problems, suggest solutions and then evaluate them, so there will be three parts to your essay. On university programmes you will generally be expected to answer all parts of the question, so you need to ensure you are doing this here; discuss problems, suggest solutions, evaluate those solutions.

Skip to 1 minute and 55 secondsBy “discuss” you would be expected to describe the problems and possibly assess how serious those problems are, and what impacts they have.

Skip to 2 minutes and 8 secondsBy “evaluate”, you would be expected to compare the different solutions and decide which one is likely to be the most effective.

Skip to 2 minutes and 20 secondsOne way of approaching an essay title is to ask questions, which you would try to answer, and which help you establish what you already know and what you need to find out about the topic. It also helps you to begin to develop a viewpoint. And here are some possible questions

Skip to 2 minutes and 38 secondsyou might have: Why is the population of the world ageing? What are the potential problems of an ageing population? What are the possible solutions? How feasible are these solutions? And, what other impacts might these solutions have?

Analysing the question

It is very important that you directly answer the question in an academic essay. In this video, Jonathan shows you how to analyse an essay question and understand what you need to write about using the following example essay question:

“The population of the world is ageing. Discuss potential problems arising from this situation, and suggest and evaluate possible solutions.”

Think about the topic of the essay and what the question is asking you to do. Can you think of any other questions not listed in the video, that would help you to establish what you already know and what you need to find out about the topic? Share your thoughts in the comment area below.

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This video is from the free online course:

An Intermediate Guide to Writing in English for University Study

University of Reading