COMPOSITION WRITING: the main stages

•  Analysing the composition question

•  Key words in composition titles

•  Tips for planning your composition

•  Useful linking words and phrases

•  Produce final copy

•  Proof read for spelling/grammar/punctuation



  • Read the question several times.

  • Underline the words that tell you what approach to take. (e.g. discuss, assess, compare).

  • Highlight key words relating to the subject matter.

  • Note any terms that you need to define.

  • Write the question out in your own words.

  • In your introduction say how you interpret the question (e.g. by rephrasing in your own words).

  • In your conclusion, refer back to the question; show the reader that you are still answering the set question.



You might find that the title you have been given does not contain any of these key words. You will have to look carefully at the way the question is phrased, along with any accompanying guidance as to what is expected, to establish what sort of approach is required.

  • Account for:  Give reasons for; explain why something happens

  • Analyse:  Break up into parts; investigate

  • Comment on: Identify and write about the main issues; give your reactions based on what you’ve read/heard in lectures. Avoid just personal opinion.

  • Compare: Look for the similarities/differences between two things. Show the relevance or consequences of these similarities. Perhaps conclude which is preferable.

  • Contrast: Bring out the differences between two items or arguments. Show whether the differences are significant. Perhaps give reasons why one is preferable.

  • Critically evaluate: Weigh arguments for and against something, assessing the strength of the evidence on both sides. Use criteria to guide your assessment of which opinions, theories, models or items are preferable.

  • Define: Give the exact meaning of. Where relevant, show you understand how the definition may be problematic.

  • Describe: Give the main characteristics or features of something, or outline the main events.

  • Discuss: Investigate or examine by argument; sift and debate; give reasons for and against; examine the implications.

  • Distinguish between: Bring out the differences between.

  • Evaluate: Assess and give your judgement about the merit, importance or usefulness of something. Back your judgement with evidence.

  • Examine: Look closely into something.

  • Explain: Make clear why something happens, or is the way it is; interpret and account for; give reasons for.

  • Explore: Examine thoroughly; consider from a variety of viewpoints.

  • Illustrate: Make something clear and explicit, giving examples of evidence.

  • Interpret: Show the meaning and relevance of data or other material presented.

  • Justify: Give evidence which supports an argument or idea; show why a decision or conclusions were made; answer the main objections which might be made.

  • Narrate: Outline what happened.

  • Outline: Give the main points/features/general principles; show the main structure and interrelations; omit details and examples.

  • Relate: Show similarities and connections between

  • State: Give the main features briefly and clearly.

  • Summarise: Draw out the main points only; omit details and examples.

  • To what extent: Consider how far something is true, or contributes to a final outcome. Consider also ways in which it is not true.

  • Trace: Follow the development or history of an event or process.




  • Keep the question in sight.


  • Start with the "middle".

  • Take each main topic, idea, and write a paragraph about it.

  • Do not worry about style or spelling at this stage: let the ideas flow.

  • Each paragraph needs a "topic sentence" that makes it clear what that paragraph is about. The rest of the paragraph will include information and evidence related to that "topic".

  • Write the conclusion: it should sum up the content of the "middle" and relate back to the title.

  • Write the introduction: it is easier to say what your composition sets out to do once you’ve done it.


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