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Definition
Definition
• Tells what a term means and how it differs from
other terms in its class
– Altruism is the performance of an unselfish act.
• As a pattern of behavior, this act must have two qualities
– It must benefits someone else, and
– It must do so to the disadvantage of the benefactor
• It is not merely a matter of being helpful; it is helpfulness at
a cost to yourself
• Essay is not merely a dictionary definition but
must explain what something or even someone
is
Formal Definition
• Three part structure
– Term to be defined
– Class it is part of
– Qualities that differentiate it from the other terms in
the same class
• Example::
– Term: Naturalism
– Class: A literary movement
– Differentiation: Whose original advocates believed
that writers should treat life with scientific objectivity
Examples
• Term: Behaviorism
• Class: A theory
• Differentiation: That regards the objective facts
of a subject’s actions as the only valid basis for
psychological study.
• Term: Cell
• Class: A unit of protoplasm
• Differentiation: With a nucleus, cytoplasm, and
an enclosing membrane
Uses
• To explain:
– Abstractions: Freedom
– Controversial terms: Right to life
– Slang terms
– Words with more than one meaning:
• Unfamiliar words
• Using a word in an unfamiliar way:
– Wife beater
– Untouchable
Combining Rhetorical Modes
• Exemplification: provides examples
• Description: provide a visualization
• Comparison and contrast: provide a
comparison/contrast with something familiar
to the reader
• Process: provide an explanation; suitable for
terms that must be described by what they do
• Classification: identify the class your term
belongs to
Other Strategies
•
•
•
•
•
Synonyms
Antonyms
Enumeration (listing its characteristics)
Analogies
Origin and Development
Example 1
• Introduction (reason)
– Thesis: if you look carefully at your calendar for the month
of December, you are likely to come across the holiday
Kwanzaa, which may be unfamiliar to you but which is
celebrated each year by an increasing number of your
friends, coworkers, and neighbors
– Current importance with examples
• Definition
– Brief formal definition
– Historical background
– Features: seven principles, various activities, clothing,
participants, meaning of celebration, food, stories,
materials and resources
– Present instances – current and growing popularity
• Conclusion
– Summary and sources for further information
Example 2
• Introduction:
– Thesis: Contrary to its critics’ objections, behaviorism is a valid
approach for treating a wide variety of psychological
dysfunctions
• Background:
– Definition of behaviorism, including its origins and evolution
• Examples:
– The use of behaviorism to help psychotics function in an
institutional setting
– The use of behaviorism to treat neurotic behavior, such as
chronic anxiety, a phobia, or a pattern of destructive acts
– The use of behaviorism to treat normal but antisocial or
undesirable behavior, such as heavy smoking or overeating
• Conclusion:
– Restatement of thesis or review of key points
Definition Essay Types
• For subjects that can be observed, measured, and
known:
–
–
–
–
What are its features?
What is its history?
What does it do?
What doesn’t it do?
• For concepts, values, or terms whose meaning
depends on the ways people use them:
–
–
–
–
How do people use it?
What has its meaning been historically?
How has the meaning changed?
How is the set of values or concepts different from/ similar
to others?