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Ron Cooley, English Faculty

Assignment Language

I'm having trouble understanding the language of the assignment, such as the word 'discuss'; what should I do?

"Discuss" is obviously one of those...academic code words, and students can think that it means to treat both sides of an issue in an even-handed way. If that's all they do, then the paper is never going to have a thesis. So [the essay] has to consider what is the most pertinent evidence to the topic, but the discussion still has to be pointed. [The discussion] still has to be directed, leading toward a specific conclusion that the writer has in mind from the beginning of the paper. So,...taking all the evidence into consideration, what's the best argument that you can make? So the discussion is the taking all the most important evidence into consideration. In terms of the language of the assignment, obviously you have to look for other key words, other than just "discuss," and sometimes the best thing to do is to sit down with your professor, or if it's a class with tutorials, sit down with your tutorial leader and brainstorm ideas. Most professors are willing to spend a lot more time and give you a lot more help if you take the time to go see them than most students do. The recipe for success is to take advantage of the resources that are available. Go talk to the person who wrote the question, and get clarification, and say, "I was thinking of doing this, what do you think?"