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I am currently discussing with someone whether this question means one or two things.

The question is as follows:

With reference to a business you have studied, assess the use of two strategies by this business as an effective strategy.

Note: the word “strategy” is referring to a limited set of strategies provided (however this is irrelevant).

My question is, are both these approaches to the question linguistically acceptable or only one:

  1. Assessing whether the two strategies are “effective strategies” (e.g providing one effective and non-effective strategy and assessing them)
  2. Assessing two “effective strategies” (e.g providing two already deemed effective strategies and assessing them)

The first approach assumes the question asks us to assess the effectiveness, whereas the second approach assumes the question asks us to assess strategies that are already deemed effective.

Which interpretation of this question is most acceptable, or due to ambiguity are both equally acceptable?

Edit: A few of you have pointed out the poor wording of the question - yes, it is quite poorly worded. However, to resolve the plural/singular issue I believe the question is meaning the “two strategies” are two choices from the list of strategies and the “strategy” in “effective strategy” is a more generic use of the word something you could substitute for “implementation”. You could think of the question as: “With reference to a business you have studied, assess the use of two strategies by this business as an effective implementation”

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  • Take any two strategies used by a business you've studied, and discuss their effectiveness. Effectiveness can range from wholly ineffective to superbly effective.
    – TimR
    Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 21:44
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    Note that the word "question" refers to a particular English structure requesting information. It's often written with a question mark. What you've pointed to as the question is in fact an order. Do you understand the difference? Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 21:46
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    @JohnLawler In a quiz or exam, it's common to refer to each problem statement as a question, even though they may not be stated in question form.
    – Barmar
    Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 21:49
  • Yes, that's for your school. This is a Question-Answer site, and we don't do homework. The order as stated is simply unclear English, so you should ask your professor (or whatever they're called) what it means. Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 21:55
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    We're not doing their homework, just helping them understand the English in the problem statement. @JohnLawler
    – Barmar
    Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 21:56

5 Answers 5

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Since the problem statement ends with the singular "an effective strategy", I believe you're expected to treat the combination of two strategies that were used as a single combined strategy. Then you should assess the effectiveness of this combination.

If they had wanted you to assess each strategy individually, they should have said "as effective strategies".

Of course, it's possible that the person who wrote the question didn't consider his precise wording this carefully. You can always ask for clarification, since it's worded in a confusing way. They could have made it clearer by saying "as an effective combination of strategies".

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  • I’m with @Barmar. The question does permit, even encourage, the interpretation that it’s asking you to assess whether “the use of two strategies by this business [is] an effective strategy.” The question is worded fairly unclearly. Is the two uses of the lexeme strategy just a coincidence? If so, it’s a sign of sloppiness. Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 22:01
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    Very poorly worded question, I agree. See my edit regarding what I think about how they used plural/singular for “strategy”.
    – Tyler
    Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 23:01
  • I don't think the question is worded clearly enough to conclude that the strategies are supposed to be considered to be complementary. "Assess the use of two strategies ... as an effective strategy" could be taken that way, but why only two?
    – TimR
    Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 14:48
  • @TimR Perhaps just to limit the scope of the answer, so the student doesn't have to go into depth regarding all the strategies.
    – Barmar
    Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 15:28
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With reference to a business you have studied, assess the use of two strategies by this business as an effective strategy.

I strongly suspect that this is a typo of some sort, or an extremely badly worded statement. While there may be ways of trying to make sense of it, it's extremely unidiomatic to describe assessing two strategies (plural) as one strategy (singular).

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The assignment is the assessment of the use (of two strategies) on condition this use has been assessed to be a strategy. There is nothing to say about the two initial strategies; that implies that neither of the two possibilities you mention can apply: you do not have to assess that either of them is effective, and you assess the particular use of the combination.

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Which interpretation of this question is most acceptable, or due to ambiguity are both equally acceptable?

The literal interpretation of "assess the use of two [X ...] as an [Y]." would be that the combination of two Xs is to be assessed. If that makes sense in context, and there is no contextual reason to favor a different interpretation, then literal should win.

But since you raise the question, I suppose the literal interpretation does not make sense, or there is some other reason to think that a different interpretation is meant. Indeed, upon reading the original, I wondered whether the author actually meant "choose two strategies and assess the use of each one", or similar. If so, however, then they expressed themselves poorly.

In fact, even if the author really meant the literal interpretation, they still expressed themselves poorly on account of the ambiguity. They could instead have said something along the lines of my above rephrasing, such as, "choose two strategies and assess the use of that combination".

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Assessing whether the two strategies are “effective strategies” (e.g providing one effective and non-effective strategy and assessing them)

Assessing two “effective strategies” (e.g providing two already deemed effective strategies and assessing them)

The task doesn't seem to be asking about two "effective strategies" but whether or not two of the proposed strategies, combined, would be effective.

As an example, if the task was to "make people laugh", your intermediate strategies might be to:

  • Wear a clown uniform
  • Do a funny walk

Whether or not it was effective would be judged by whether or not people laughed, not whether or not you "effectively" wore a clown uniform or did a funny walk.

Thus I would suggest that you are tasked with finding if the two strategies combined would be effective.

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