How do you know whether a word is a key term?
In some ways, you can tell what is a key term in the same way you can tell whether or not something is a hub in a network: by its connections. Of course, looking from the outside it is hard to detect both. One therefore has to just dive in sometimes and start experiencing the individual connections before a larger structure starts to become clear. In some works, it is already clear what will likely be key terms, whereas in others you will have to discover it. The animation to the left is an interactive presention where you can have a go at finding key terms in Uncle Tom's Cabin. Click the arrow to begin.
Kenneth Burke suggested some short-cuts to his students and readers:
- Look at beginnings, endings, and transitions which are natural points of summary or laying out a new course.
- Pay attention to climactic moments.
- Look at where it is clear that the author's meaning of words deviates from the dictionary or common meaning of words. If something which is usually seen as something good is seen as something bad you may have found a clue.
- Frequency is another hint, look at words that occur often and seem to gather other words around the.
- Intensity can also be a key, look at moments and words which seem to carry strong emotional meaning in the text.