Writing Your Definition Paper
Writing Your Definition Paper
Beginning a Formal Definition
A formal definition contains the three parts of a dictionary definition: (1) the term itself—the word or phrase to be defined; (2) the class—the large group to which the object or concept belongs; and (3) the differentiation—those charac- teristics that distinguish it from all others in its class.
TERM CLASS DIFFERENTIATION
A garden is a small plot of land used for the cultivation of flowers, vegetables, or fruits.
Beer is a fermented alcoholic beverage brewed from malt and flavored with hops.
Lunch is a meal eaten at midday.
To write an extended formal definition, you first need to develop a one- sentence definition of the term. Keep the following cautions in mind.
TIPS Writing One-Sentence Definitions
Make sure to include the class. Don’t write, “Baseball is when nine players. . . .” Write instead, “Baseball is a sport in which nine players. . . .”
Restrict the class. Speak of a sonnet not as a kind of literature but as a kind of poem.
Include no important part of the term itself or its derivatives in the class or differentiation. Don’t say that “a definition is that which defines.”
Make certain that the sentence defines and does not simply make a statement about the term. “Happiness is a Madonna concert” doesn’t have the essential parts of a definition of happiness.
Provide adequate differentiation to clarify the meaning. Don’t define a traitor as “one who opposes the best interests of his or her country.” That definition doesn’t exclude the well-meaning person who misunderstands the country’s best interests and opposes from ignorance. Try instead, “A traitor is one who opposes the best interests of his or her country with mali- cious intent.”
Don’t make the definition too restrictive. Don’t define a matinee as “a drama presented during the day.” That definition doesn’t include other forms of entertainment, such as ballets or concerts, which also could be held in daytime.
Approaches to a Definition Essay on the Topic of Happiness
Provide accurate sensory details to describe the face and actions of a happy person you know.
Tell a story about a moment when you were truly happy.
Provide several illustrations (examples) of happiness
Explain how to be happy or unhappy.
Compare one state of happiness with another; contrast happiness with sadness.
Divide happy people into groups or categories.
Explain the conditions necessary for true happiness or the outcomes of happiness in a person’s life.
Argue that happiness is not achievable in America today.
Writing an Informal Definition Paper
Although many terms lend themselves to the three-part formal definition, some are better explained by informal definition. What is a good teacher, for exam- ple? Or a bad marriage? Or an ideal home? Clearly, one can define such topics only in a subjective or personal way; your purpose is to show what the term means to you. In such instances, it is probably wise to avoid a rigid formal defi- nition. Make your conception of the term clear by describing the subject as fully as you can. By the time readers finish the paper, they should understand what the term means to you.
As with formal definitions, you can use any method or combination of methods of development that you have studied to create an informal definition. Examples and anecdotes are especially good for explaining a term. So are com- parison, process, classification, and cause and effect. The idea is to use whatever techniques come in handy to put the idea acros