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Writing Strategies and Grammar

Understanding Writing Prompts

Essay Prompts have keywords that indicate writing aims. Identifying these keywords will help you choose a writing style, understand the audience, and develop better organization.


  • Compare & Contrast: Differences vs. Similarities. Demonstrate how ideas are connected.
  • Evaluate: Find advantages and disadvantages. Back up opinions with examples and/or research.
  • Inform: Explain through example and research. Demonstrate knowledge.
  • Argue: Defend ideas. An argument has three necessary body components: claim, opposing point of view, and refutation.
  • Analyze: Break down parts. Provide a unique point of view on a known topic.
Note: Take the time to understand the materials given. 
  • ​​Read the prompt carefully to make sure you understand what is being asked of you. 
  • Underline key words to focus on them as you plan your essay. 
  • Restate the prompt in your words to help you think clearly about the prompt and absorb it,  even if it doesn’t remain in the draft after revision. 
  • When in doubt, ask the instructor for clarification.


Example: Analyze Billy’s actions and how they resulted in his death.

This is not asking the writer to summarize. The writing asks for interpretation of his actions and explanation in greater detail how they contributed to his end. 

Example: Argue against Becky’s decision to save John’s life.

Use evidence from the text, from research, and persuade the reader of the choice.

Example: Contrast John’s views on rattlesnake first aid in comparison to Billy’s.

How are their ideas on first-aid different?