Answering The Question

The Nuts & Bolts Of Essay Writing

Answering The Question

Writing Letter

Addressing the Question

According to teachers, the biggest problem that students have in essays is answering the question. Students will often present a thesis that is related to the subject, but doesn’t actually answer the question or prompt. Not only should students pay significantly more attention to this issue, but teachers need to spend more time explaining these issues.

Students need to remember that questions have 3 “axes” of specificity in essays that are called: Time, Place, and Topic. If your essay (and especially your thesis) does not include these 3 axes of specificity then you are missing the basics of the question. The most difficult part of these is the ‘Topic’ since it forces the student to pursue this essay in very specific ways depending on the wording used. Writing a compare and contrast (C&C) essay is different than writing a change over time (CoT) essay in structure and focus. Understanding these differences are important and require practice to master.

So How Do You Do This?

The 3 Axis

Please make sure that you read each question or prompt with these 3 concepts in mind. This will help in making sure you don’t miss parts of the question. It will also help write a thesis that covers everything you must. 

If the question asks:


Analyze the religious and economic effects of the Bubonic Plague along the Silk Routes in the 14th century.


The 14th century (1300-1399)


On the ‘Silk Road’ Routes


Religious and economic effects of the Bubonic Plague

Specific Example

1st Step:

The first thing you need to do is to read the WHOLE prompt, every word of it. This is especially true if the prompt is in two sentences like this one.

Compare and contrast German foreign policy after the 1st World War and after the 2nd World War. Consider the periods 1919-1928 and 1945-1950.


2nd Step:

Underline the verbs and analyze what you are being asked based on websites like this.

Compare and contrast German foreign policy after the 1st World War and after the 2nd World War. Consider the periods 1919-1928 and 1945-1950.


3rd Step:

Analyze what you know of the subject and try to organize the information into groups that would help you answer the question/prompt in a direct manner.

4 Paragraph Graph
2 Paragraph Graph Good
2 Paragraph Graph Bad

One option you have is to make 4 separate paragraphs that each take an individual aspect of this question on. This covers all parts of the question and is easy for the reader to follow. 

Another option is to unify similarities and differences and cover both aspects within the time periods given. This is acceptable but can be a bit difficult for readers unless you write in a very clear way. 

A last option would be to group similarities and differences across the time periods. This is a very poor way to handle an essay since it is so easy to get confused about the time period you are referencing. I would recommend not doing this one, however, if you do it please format your paragraph based on which dates came first. 

Copyright 2016 – Dunnings Class