Describe or Discuss? Applied to a biological approach question.

easter-3204589_640Every question on your IB Diploma exam paper, indeed every question you answer in class, begins with a command term.  A command term is a word (or a few words) that tells you the focus to take in your answer.  If it is a response to a short-answer question, then one of the most common command terms is ‘describe’:

Describe one ethical consideration in research at the biological approach.

However, an essay question might be:

Discuss ethical considerations in research at the biological approach.

For describe you will need to think of one ethical consideration that is very important for biological research, and describe it in detail – why it is particularly relevant to the biological approach, why it is necessary for studies to implement this consideration, and what the implications are if it is not applied.  Then find one biological study and show why this ethical consideration is vital for this study.  It doesn’t have to be a study where there is an ethical problem, and should be a study that you will be using anyway for other answers.

Discuss requires you to review at least two ethical considerations, say why they are particularly relevant to the biological approach and how they can be assured. There will need to be discussion over the role of ethics in biological research, which are the most important (two is plenty to discuss), and an in-depth analysis of the role of these two ethical considerations in specific studies.  There should be an argument (How important is anonymity? Is fully informed consent given by parents for children and young teenagers enough, or should the youngsters have to consent as well? Is it ever possible to meet all ethical requirements and have a valid study?)  Your conclusions should be supported by empirical data from studies that show a good knowledge of the research you have chosen.

But you knew this anyway, really: if a parent says to you, ‘Describe your new girlfriend/boyfriend’ you are not nearly as ready for an argument as if they say ‘Let’s discuss your new girlfriend/boyfriend.’  Are you? So – apply the same thinking to your writing, and you’ll be fine!

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