How to Understand Essay Questions

The first step in essay writing is to understand the given question. It is necessary that you know exactly what you are asked to do.

To enable you to understand essay questions or titles, you should identify their salient parts:

instruction — the task that you must do

subject — the topic you will write about

aspect — the face or side of the topic you must consider

focus — the context or perspective in which you must consider the topic


To identify the significant parts and see to it that you really understand the question, you should:

  • look for the keywords in the question
  • identify the process words and understand them (key part of the question: instruction)
  • determine the topic of the question (important part of the question: subject)
  • determine the limits of the question (salient part of the question: aspect and focus)

If you are given topics to choose from or formulate your own topic from a given scope:

  • select a topic that suits you – it can be one which you are most knowledgeable of, most interested in or has the most number of references you can refer to; then
  • come up with an effective title for it


Example Question: Discuss the relevance of university education to society.

Keywords: discuss, relevance, university education, society

Process word and its meaning: discuss; to debate through writing using reasoning skills, carefully selected evidence to present the pros and cons of the subject within the given scope and arrive at a conclusion

Instruction: discuss (the process word in this example question)

Subject: university education

Aspect: relevance

Focus: society

Use the Question

Here are some tips on how to use the question to help you write your essay better, easier and faster.

When you research for and write your essay, see to it that you always refer back to the title so that you will not go off track or off tangent.

In writing your introduction, refer directly to the title so that you can focus your reader. Tell the readers how you interpret the title.

In your conclusion, refer to the title again to be able to show that you have answered the given question.

About Author: Daphne Coleman