Skills Hub

Break down your topic

Now that we have an understanding of the focus of our topic, we want to identify the key concepts within that focus. Key concepts are - put simply - the principal ideas in your statement or question. They can usually be listed in a few words. Concepts often form the basis of keywords for searching, which we will explore more in the Indentify Keywords section.


Identifying Key Concepts

 

In order to identify the key concepts, we need to break down our topic statement or question. An easy way to do this is by removing any prepositions and instructive words (see below). Once they have been removed, the words that are left are your key concepts, which is what you use as the basis for your keyword search.

 


What are instructional words?

 

These are words used to demonstrate what needs to be done, or what action needs to be taken.

 

Common instructional words used in academic questions/statements include:


Compare

Interpret
Outline
Review
Summarise
Illustrate
Contrast
Define
Describe
Discuss
Evaluate
Explain

What are prepositions?

 

These are types of words usually used in front of nouns or pronouns, to link a sentence together. They are used to show the relationship between the other words in a sentence.


Examples of commonly used prepositions:


of
in
to
for
through
after
over
between
out
against
during
without
before
under
around
among

 

Putting this into practice

You have been given the following essay question:

Discuss cheating in exams at university.”

In this example we have colour-coded the instructional words and the prepositions; those that remain are the key concepts, which will act as the foundation for our keyword search; i.e.: cheating, exams, university.

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