What are keywords?
Keywords are the words that carry the main meaning of the sentence or phrase. They contain new information. To identify keywords, think about why the sentence exists in the first place and what information the writer is trying to convey by constructing such a sentence.
Why is it important to identify keywords?
We need to do this for a simple reason that we know these words have to be rephrased and cannot be lifted directly from the text, unless under special circumstances.
How to distinguish keywords from non-key words?
Keywords are often content, not function, words. Prepositions such as ‘of’, ‘in’ and some verbs are usually non-key words. However, some verbs can also be keywords if the verbs carry the central meaning of the sentence, such as the word ‘overthrown’ in the following example.
People have overthrown tyrannical regimes.
Keywords: overthrown, tyrannical
Why are they keywords? The word ‘overthrown’ is the verb that carries the main point of what has happened to such regimes. It is the new information that the author wishes to convey by making such a statement. The word ‘tyrannical’ defines the type of regimes that have been overthrown. It is newsworthy or significant, as the author wishes to convey that tyrants are very hard to overthrow because tyrannical regimes are usually characterised by the use of force or suppression and they rule through the use of fear.
Under which special circumstances is the lifting of keywords permitted?
❶ Generic or general words (e.g. people, regimes)
The word ‘people’ is considered a generic or general word. We are not expected to replace ‘people’ with ‘homo sapiens’. Nor do we expect other species to overthrow tyrants; animals obviously cannot overthrow tyrants, so it must be people. Similarly, the word ‘regime’ is also a generic or general word, as the focus of the sentence is what has happened and who has been overthrown.
When does the word ‘people’ become a keyword?
This happens when the author’s intention is to highlight or emphasise the power of ordinary citizens in bringing down authoritarian regimes – that of a people’s revolution, and to highlight the point that if ordinary citizens joined hands, they can be a force to be reckoned with, as seen in the Arab Spring Revolutions. Whether the word ‘people’ is a keyword depends on the context of the whole passage.
Syntactic paraphrasing: changing active voice to passive voice, which focuses on the results or outcomes. The use of synonyms is also seen in replacing ‘overthrown’ with ‘toppled’, ‘ousted’ or the phrasal verb ‘brought down’.
→ Despotic / Authoritarian / Dictatorial rulers/leaders/regimes / Despots have been brought down / ousted / topped.
Syntactic paraphrasing: changing active voice to passive voice, which focuses on the results or outcomes, rather than who overthrew the despots. The explanation technique is also used to explain the concept of ‘overthrown’.
→ Despotic / Authoritarian / Dictatorial rulers/regimes / Despots have been forced to abdicate / are no longer in power / have been forced from power.
The sentence structure remains the same; it follows a subject-verb-object structure. Here, we see the use of only semantic paraphrasing (use of synonyms such as ‘topple’ and ‘ousted’ to substitute ‘overthrown’). The explanation technique can also be used, such as ‘forcing despots to step down’ is explanation of the concept of ‘overthrown’.
→ People / The masses have toppled / ousted / forced despots to step down.
❷ When the word is the topic or the key term and concept
Topic: What can cause illnesses?
Uncontrolled stress responses can cause illness.
→ Unrestrained reactions to pressure can lead to illness. / Illnesses can be a result of […].
Here, the word ‘illnesses’ and even the verbs ‘can cause’ can be lifted as they are the words in the topic itself. Also, the keywords that answer the question are those that have to do with causes, such as ‘uncontrolled’, ‘stress’ and ‘responses’, which cannot be lifted. Note that the word ‘uncontrolled’ is important because if we can control our stress properly, then it may not lead to illnesses. The word ‘responses’ is also a keyword, as it is our responses to stress that can determine whether we allow it to harm us. If we react to stress positively, it can even be a motivational force.
Topic: What is one negative consequence of stress?
Stress can affect the health of people as it affects their mind.
→ Stress can have a detrimental effect on the well-being of people as it exerts a psychological impact on them / affects their mental condition.
Alternatively, you can combine the health and the mind together to prevent long-windedness and repetition:
→ Stress can have a detrimental effect on the mental health of people.
❸ Common or proper nouns (e.g. John, lion, table, zoo, Earth, Sun, Moon); concept words (e.g. Education, Science, Technology); technical words or jargon such as legal or scientific terms (e.g. lex talionis, surety bond, resveratrol, Cobalamine, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Ammonium sulphate). However, if they are meant to function as examples then the summation technique is required to extract the main point. Alternatively, you can use a super ordinate category to sum up the main point.
Cobalamine, thiamine and riboflavin are essential for the health of pregnant women.
→ The group B vitamins are vital / necessary for the well-being of expectant mothers.
This is my first visit to the zoo. I had never seen so many kinds of animals before. I saw lions, racoons, and even komodo dragons and red pandas.
→ This is my maiden visit to the zoo and I am so excited to witness so many species of creatures, including rare ones.
When paraphrasing, pay careful attention to the author’s tone and intention, and think about what he or she wants to convey. Be careful whether a particular word is meant as an example of a main point and idea or used to exemplify a higher or super ordinate category.