Choosing the Verb to Establish Thinking Process Central to a Writing Assignment


The underlying idea here is that there exists some kind of hierarchy of thinking skills (Bloom’s Taxonomy would be one example) in which the higher levels must be built on the foundation of the lower and no steps can be skipped.  For example, you can’t apply principles (a higher-level skill) before you have some concrete knowledge to apply them to.  You can’t analyze something unless you are able to summarize it accurately.


Some verbs that ask for knowledge and comprehension (who/what/when):


NAME                     LIST                       TELL



Some verbs that ask for analytical work (how/why):


ANALYZE                 CONTRAST              EXPLICATE              DEFINE

TRACE                     CLASSIFY                GIVE REASONS         ILLUSTRATE

EXPLAIN                  GIVE EVIDENCE


Some verbs that require evaluation and application:


ATTACK                  PROVE           EVALUATE               ARGUE

DEFEND                   DISPROVE      AGREE                     APPLY

SUPPORT                 JUSTIFY        DISAGREE


Some verbs that can be ambiguous:


COMPARE (could be asking for simple lists of facts or could require analysis)

DISCUSS (can mean just about whatever the user wants it to, including complex forms of argument)

PROVE and DISPROVE need to be shored up with a clear understanding of the relevant standards of proof (if proof is even possible).

EVALUATE, AGREE, DISAGREE, even ARGUE may be taken to mean “have an opinion” and thus produce a completely unsatisfactory piece of writing.  Like standards of proof, relevant grounds of evaluation must be established.


Obviously this handout only scratches the surface of a huge topic, but it’s a start.


You can download this as a Word document here: Crucial Verb in an Assignment

You can download this as a PDF here: Crucial Verb in an Assignment (PDF)