Module 1.1: Analysing questions

This early step in the essay writing process may take as much as several hours as it involves an iterative process: careful thinking about the question; referring to your course outline; thinking about the question again; looking at your lecture notes and thinking about the question once more. Look behind the question at the issues that are both explicit and implicit.

Think deeply about the question even before beginning reading. Think about what the lecturer expects from the question. Why did the lecturer set this question? Always think about practices in your field and what you are reading, seeing and experiencing.

A nursing student reports on the process she uses to prepare for writing a successful assignment: "I think about the question very carefully, revolving it around in my mind- what does the lecturer want? What does the lecturer want us to look at? Before I look for books and articles in the Library, I read widely from my reading list and gradually a theme for the essay becomes clear in my mind- the theme that will link my ideas together. Then I find books and articles that fit the view that I want to put. My work experience always gives me ideas to relate to the position I will take."

How do you analyse/ interpret an essay question?

Whether the question is straightforward or more complex, the process of analysis is similar. In the examples below, we will show you how to analysis the key words of an essay question, e.g., the instruction words, topic and focus of an essay.

A simple essay question:

Account for the rapid spread of HIV AIDS in Africa since 1980s. How has HIV AIDS affected infant health?

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(make sure any pop-up blockers are disabled and scripts are allowed)

A more complex question:

Select one health problem you believe is a serious issue for a particular population group in Western Sydney. Justify your choice. Identify the factors that influence or contribute to this problem. Briefly discuss two approaches that are, or could be, undertaken to address this problem.

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What is the purpose of analysing a question in this way?
  • It ensures that you answer all parts of the question
  • It helps you to focus on the essential elements of the question so that your data collection becomes more focused and purposeful.

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