A formal definition is based upon a concise, logical pattern that
includes as much information as it can within a minimum amount of space.
The primary reason to include definitions in your writing is to avoid
misunderstanding with your audience. A formal definition consists of
- The term (word or phrase) to be defined
- The class of object or concept to which the term belongs.
- The differentiating characteristics that distinguish it from all others of its class
- Water (term) is a liquid (class) made up of molecules of hydrogen and oxygen in the ratio of 2 to 1 (differentiating characteristics).
- Comic books (term) are sequential and narrative publications (class) consisting of illustrations, captions, dialogue balloons, and often focus on super-powered heroes (differentiating characteristics).
- Astronomy (term) is a branch of scientific study (class) primarily concerned with celestial objects inside and outside of the earth’s atmosphere (differentiating characteristics).
Although these examples should illustrate the manner in which the
three parts work together, they are not the most realistic cases. Most
readers will already be quite familiar with the concepts of water, comic
books, and astronomy. For this reason, it is important to know when
and why you should include definitions in your writing.
When to Use Definitions
- When your writing contains a term that may be key to audience understanding and that term could likely be unfamiliar to them
“Stellar Wobble is a measurable variation of speed wherein a
star’s velocity is shifted by the gravitational pull of a foreign
- When a commonly used word or phrase has layers of subjectivity or evaluation in the way you choose to define it
“Throughout this essay, the term classic gaming will refer
specifically to playing video games produced for the Atari, the original
Nintendo Entertainment System, and any systems in-between.”
Note: not everyone may define “classic gaming”within this same time span; therefore, it is important to define your terms
- When the etymology (origin and history) of a common word might prove interesting or will help expand upon a point
“Pagan can be traced back to Roman military slang for an
incompetent soldier. In this sense, Christians who consider themselves
soldiers of Christ are using the term not only to suggest a person’s
secular status but also their lack of bravery.’
Additional Tips for Writing Definitions
- Avoid defining with “X is when” and “X is where” statements. These
introductory adverb phrases should be avoided. Define a noun with a
noun, a verb with a verb, and so forth.
- Do not define a word by mere repetition or merely restating the word.
“Rhyming poetry consists of lines that contain end rhymes.”
“Rhyming poetry is an artform consisting of lines whose final words
consistantly contain identical, final stressed vowel sounds.”
- Define a word in simple and familiar terms. Your definition of an
unfamiliar word should not lead your audience towards looking up more
words in order to understand your definition.
- Keep the class portion of your definition small but adequate. It
should be large enough to include all members of the term you are
defining but no larger. Avoid adding personal details to definitions.
Although you may think the story about your Grandfather will perfectly
encapsulate the concept of stinginess, your audience may fail to relate.
Offering personal definitions may only incr
Contributors:Mark Pepper, Dana Lynn Driscoll
Purdue Online Writing Lab
poetry festival at Lincoln University, then in San Francisco. At this
conference, Dr. Kenneth Fan called for poems of a new form: “Hsin Ku”, or “New
Classic”. Its form and rules are summarized by these two hsinku I wrote:
who prayed for world peace. Alas, I could not resist delivering the following
screenwriter, John Berger began his career as a painter in London. Among his
best known works are Ways of Seeing (1972), a series of essays about the power
of visual images, and G. (also 1972), an experimental novel which was awarded
both the Booker Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction.
Photos (1984), Berger draws on the writings of Mircea Eliade, a Romanian-born
historian of religion, to offer an extended definition of home.
komi, meaning “village”) has, since a long time, been taken over by
two kinds of moralists, both dear to those who wield power. The notion of home
became the keystone for a code of domestic morality, safeguarding the property
(which included the women) of the family. Simultaneously the notion of homeland
supplied a first article of faith for patriotism, persuading men to die in wars
which often served no other interest except that of a minority of their ruling
class. Both usages have hidden the original meaning.
geographical, but in an ontological sense. Mircea Eliade has demonstrated how
home was the place from which the world could be founded. A home was
established, as he says, “at the heart of the real.” In traditional
societies, everything that made sense of the world was real; the surrounding
chaos existed and was threatening, but it was threatening because it was
unreal. Without a home at the center of the real, one was not only shelterless,
but also lost in nonbeing, in unreality. Without a home everything was
where a vertical line crossed with a horizontal one. The vertical line was a
path leading upwards to the sky and downwards to the underworld. The horizontal
line represented the traffic of the world, all the possible roads leading
across the earth to other places. Thus, at home, one was nearest to the gods in
the sky and to the dead of the underworld. This nearness promised access to
both. And at the same time, one was at the starting point and, hopefully, the
returning point of all terrestrial journeys.