Deconstructing your question

Before you start to write any piece of work, whether it is an essay, report or final year project, you need to understand exactly what you are being asked to do. To do this you need to break down the question.

You may find that you are asked to write your own question, this is common in a number of departments in College. We see students who do this and write very specific questions which state very clearly exactly that they want to investigate, compare or run an experiment. Other students write very broad questions or propose an area of research that covers huge geographical areas, timespans, or methodological approaches.

If you are asked to write your own question, you are not being asked to think of something easy, such as ‘what is a suspension bridge?’, but nor will you be expected to present the complete world history of all building materials since 600 BC to the current day when you have three months to write your project.

Any question can be broken down into three parts:

  1. Directional / instructional words
  2. Key concepts / subject matter
  3. Relationship / identification words

The following pages will examine what this means, and if you have to write your own, provide you with ideas of how to frame your question.

Prev: Understanding the question – Learning outcomes

Next: Directional/instructional words


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