Semantic Feature Analysis

Semantic Feature Analysis

Very often you'll find yourself in a situation in which you need to sort out the similarities and differences among a group of events, people, objects or ideas. A technique that can help you do that is called Semantic Feature Analysis.

Semantic Feature Analysis uses a grid to help you explore how a set of things are related to one another. By analyzing the grid you'll be able to see connections, make predictions and master important concepts. You'll also realize things that you don't know yet, so you'll know what additional research you need to do.

Procedure

  1. Identify the general topic to be analyzed.

  2. Make a list of typical examples or ideas related to the topic. From this point on, we'll refer to these as the "elements" to be analyzed.

  3. On an overhead transparency, chalkboard, sheet of paper, or within a computer program begin a sample chart. Put five to 10 of the elements in your list across the top row of the chart.

  4. Make a list in the leftmost column of the grid some features or characteristics that some of the elements might have.

  5. Look at the cells in the grid and ask yourself, does this element have this feature? If the answer is yes, put a "+" sign in the grid. If the answer is no, put a "-". If you don't know, leave it blank.

  6. As you work your way through the grid, ideas will occur to you about additional elements or features to add. Keep adding them as long as they seem to add to your understanding of the topic.

  7. When the grid is completed to your satisfaction, it's time to take a look at it and see what patterns emerge. Ask yourself...

    • Which columns are similar to each other? What features do the elements in these columns have in common? Is there a name for the grouping of these elements? Could you make one up?
    • Which rows are similar to each other? What elements are tagged in the same way in those rows? What does this similarity tell you about these features?
    • Which cells are still blank? Where can I go to find the information I'll need to complete those cells?

  8. When you've completed this first look at your grid, write up a summary of what you've learned. Your summary should answer the questions listed above.

Example

The example is from a social studies class.

  1. Identify the general topic to be analyzed. The topic or category selected was nations of the Pacific Rim.

  2. Make a list of typical examples or ideas related to the topic. Let's look at the U.S, Russia, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Phillipines, Indonesia, Singapore, and China.

  3. Put five to 10 of the elements in your list across the top row of the chart.

  4. Make a list in the leftmost column of the grid some features or characteristics that some of the elements might have.
  5. Place a + in cells in which a given element has that feature, a - where it doesn't, and leave it blank if you don't know. Here is how the grid might look at this point:

    U.S.A.RussiaJapanAustraliaTaiwanPhillipinesIndonesiaSingaporeChina
    Democratic gov't++++++---
    Population more than 100M++
    ---+-+
    Centrally Planned Economy-+----+++

  6. Add more columns and rows as ideas for additional features and elements occur to you.

  7. After completing the grid, summarize what you've found and what you still don't know. (a full blown example will be here in the next version of this document).