Key Terms

Amid a complicated tangle of lexicon terms — structure, motive, thesis and so on — key terms often get left in the dust. They are overlooked as merely the necessary means to convey information; however, key terms are much more than a linguistic convenience.

Most importantly, key terms signal the subject matter of an argument and the discipline(s) within which it is operating. They represent a microcosm of the relevant scholarly conversation, where an individual term can allude to an entire body of scholarship. When strategically placed throughout the structures of the essay, key terms keep the argument on track and help guide the reader through new points. Motive can rely on key terms in some cases: Why is a certain term important for understanding a particular concept or theory? In what ways do scholars define a term? Is there tension between the definitions of a term or in the arguments revolving around it? One can even think of key terms as algebraic variables: If they are well-defined, then they can be cleverly and clearly manipulated in the thesis like x and y in an equation.

We often conceive of our essays in terms of our theses, but this is just as possible to do so with our key terms. Indeed, paying closer attention to key terms can sometimes lead to innovative arguments or new fields of inquiry altogether. In this “anti-thetical” fashion, the following examples represent the benefits of prioritizing key terms.