Writing short answers

This page explains a method that can help students to give good answers to questions in worksheets and tests.

Applying UDS to short answer questions

The UDS method is a recommended way for you to do work and get good grades for it. The letters in UDS are the first letters in the three parts of the process:

  • Understand what you have to do - exactly
  • Do what you have to do - exactly
  • Show that you have done what you had to do - clearly

The explanation of the UDS method linked to above is generally about long written answers. But many homework or test questions need only a short answer. In some cases a single sentence is enough.

However, you can use the UDS method on short answers too. You can comply with the S of UDS (Understand-Do-Show) by rephrasing the question as the subject of (the first sentence of) your answer. This in turn makes it more likely that you Do what you are asked to do.

Here are some examples of single-sentence answers and paragraph answers:

Single-sentence answers

Give one reason why Germany lost the second world war.
One reason why Germany lost the second world war is that Hitler did not trust his generals and ignored their advice.
What are the main functions of a modern mobile phone?
The three main functions of a modern mobile phone are: communicating with others, taking photographs, browsing the internet.

It is also possible that writing full sentence answers that include the prompt or question text such as those above may help you to remember the details later when you are revising for tests.

Paragraph answers

Question: Why do young people start smoking although they know the dangers?

Answer: Topic sentence: There are three important reasons why young people start smoking, even though they know the dangers. Reason 1: One reason is that teenagers are more likely to experience peer pressure than adults. Explanation of Reason 1: Peer pressure is the pressure young people have from their friends to do risky things. They want to be popular and part of the group, so they do the same things as the rest of the group are doing. Reason 2: A second cause of smoking among young people is that they want to rebel. Explanation of Reason 2: Many adolescents have a strong desire to distance themselves from their parents. Reason 3: A third significant reason why young people take up smoking is that they believe it makes them look cool. Explanation of Reason 3: Self-image and the approval of peers are extremely important at this stage in most people's lives, etc.

The red headings are included to show the outline of the answer. They would not appear in the finished assignment given to the teacher.

If more information or explanation is added, then the answer becomes more like an essay. It should then be separated into paragraphs.

Further advantage of UDS in short answers

There is a further advantage to rephrasing the question as the first sentence of your short answer. Namely, that it gives you practice in writing topic sentences for longer pieces of writing such as essays. This is an essential academic language skill,

Here you can read more about topic sentences. And there are interactive quizzes on topic sentences in the Reading drop-down menu on the Language skills index.