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Content What is the topic about? Instruction

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Content What is the topic about?

  • Instruction What have you been asked to do in relation to the topic?

  • Scope How has the topic been limited – is there a focus on particular organisations/ countries, /year(s)?

    Underline key words and draw circles around the action/instruction words. Below is an example of an essay question.
    Compare and contrast the financial reports and ratios of two Australian companies
    It is important that you fully understand what the instruction words are telling you to do.
    Table 13 provides a list of words and definitions that are often used in your assessment tasks.

    Table 13

    Action/instruction words used in assessment tasks



    Separate or break the subject matter into its parts to discover their nature, proportion, function and relationships.


    Systematically support or reject a position by presenting reasons and evidence for acceptance or rejection, while indicating your awareness of opposing points of view.


    Make critical observations about the subject matter; be careful not to cast too wide a net here, or to write in too many generalisations.


    Find similarities and differences between two or more ideas, events, interpretations etc. Ensure you understand exactly what you are being asked to compare.


    The remarks on ‘compare’ also apply to ‘contrast’. Usually the difference is that you should concentrate on dissimilarities.


    Provide clear, concise, authoritative meanings, in which you address the nature or essential qualities. Details are not necessarily required, but you may wish to cite the boundaries or limitations of the definition, since meanings can extend beyond simple definitions.


    Recall facts, processes or events. You are not asked to explain or interpret. Try to provide a thorough description, emphasising the most important points.


    Present a point of view, that of others and/or your own. This is likely to entail both description and interpretation. Your opinion should be supported by arguments and evidence.


    Here you are asked to appraise in order to make a judgment, which means considering both strengths and weaknesses.


    Clarify, exemplify or elucidate by presenting a figure, picture, diagram or concrete example.


    Give an organised description or an ordering of information in which you state the main point, but omit details. Present the information in a systematic arrangement or classification.


    Re-examine, analyse and comment briefly (in an organised sequence) on the major points of an issue.


    Provide a brief statement or an account covering the main points in sequence or by assimilating parts into a general comment: omit details.

    Step 4 Brainstorm - What do you already know about the topic?

    • Using your reading, lectures and your own experiences think about what you already know about the topic.

    • On a blank piece of paper, write down all the ideas that you think might be related to the topic.

    • A brainstorm is the beginning of a mind map – these random ideas can be organised into a structured mind map that will provide you with a guide for your research and your writing.

    Step 5 Starting your research

    Although you are required to read and research widely, it is better to gain an overview of the topic by firstly reading the recommended texts – don’t go straight online unless instructed to do so by your lecturer / tutor.
    The texts will give you a broad understanding of the main ideas, writers and theories associated with the topic.
    By familiarising yourself with the key concepts, the next stage of your research will be more targeted.
    Step 6 Mind mapping
    A mind map is a visual way of gathering your ideas about a particular topic.

    Mind maps help you to identify the main ideas and what research needs to be conducted to provide the evidence that supports these ideas.

    Your mind map is a good time management resource. It will help you to focus your search for information more efficiently and to organise your ideas into a coherent argument when you write your essay.

    Table 14

    Mind mapping for essays

    Topic question

    On a blank piece of paper, write down the topic.

    Key ideas

    Use the brain storming notes and information gained from general reading to jot down the key ideas. This is the first step in developing a mind map.


    As you continue to do research, start to put the information into groups so that you can see the connections between ideas/theories. This will help you to sort out which are the key ideas and what is the supporting information.

    Delete any unnecessary ideas

    Once you have completed this task, you can delete any unnecessary ideas that you have now identified as irrelevant.

    Single page

    Keep your mind map to a single page.

    For more information on mind mapping go to the Learning Lab - Study Skills <>.
    Step 7 Focus your research

    As Business students you need to be familiar with current trends and thinking. Websites, newspapers and journals will be important resources for your research.
    When you are using the online resources use the search engines provided by the university such as Factiva, Proquest, Blackwell Synergy, IBIS world, Informit. These will provide you with sources that can be relied on for accuracy and integrity.
    At this stage you must read with a purpose and only make notes when you are sure that the text has the information you need to use in your assessment task.
    Always make sure you have recorded the full reference list entry details – you will need this information later.
    For more information on recording your research go to the interactive online referencing resource for Business students <>.
    Refer to your course guide for recommended reading lists. If there are no recommended texts, you will need to use resources available through the Library data bases <>.
    Hints and Tips on Efficient Reading Strategies

    • Once you have identified the key words and concepts relating to the topic, use these reading strategies to make your research more efficient and to maximise the use of your time.

    • Skim and scan. Use key words and concepts to quickly locate information

    • Use chapter headings, abstracts, introductions, conclusions to find the main ideas the writer is exploring – if they are relevant – continue

    • Make notes when key information has been identified

    Contact the Library Liaison Officer for your course if you need assistance.

    For additional help with reading more efficiently visit the Learning Lab <>.
    Hints and Tips on Critical Reading

    One of your tasks when researching is to determine the validity, accuracy and credibility of your sources. This requires you to consider carefully what you are reading. It is always important to critically examine the statements being made and the evidence being used.

    For your assessment tasks you will often be using the websites of companies and organisations. The information they provide will be positive and promotional so it is important to question the objectivity and reliability of the data.
    Do this by considering the following questions:-

    • Who is the writer?

    • When was the article written?

    • What evidence has the writer provided to support their argument?

    • How convincing is it? Why? - What are the grounds for saying so?

    • How logical is it? - Again, what are the grounds for saying so?

    • What assumptions / overgeneralizations does the writer make?

    • What are the implications of this work?

    • What has the writer failed to consider? Where are the gaps?

    • Is there evidence of bias?

    • Do you agree or disagree with this writer’s standpoint?

    • With which parts of the argument do you agree/disagree, and for what reasons?

    • Is the methodology / the analysis appropriate?

    • Are there any weaknesses or errors in the writing or calculations?

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