The Definition Mode
Definition sets the boundaries of a thing, concept, an emotion, or a value.
Ø It answers the questions: “What is it?” and “What is it not?”
by specifying the main qualities of the subject and its essential nature.
Ø We use this mode all the time! (essential for communication)
Formal definition: usually a statement of general class of things to which the word belongs, followed by the distinctions
between it and other members of the class.
A parable is a brief, simple story (class) that illustrates a moral or religious principle (distinction).
Ø Usually involves a dictionary definition (class) or a specialized meaning agreed
on by professionals (distinction).
Stipulative: clarifies the particular way you are using a word; you specify a meaning to fit a larger purpose.
Extended: used just for the sake of defining, for the purpose of exploration until the definition is precise and complete.
(might take a whole paragraph, essay, book to define)
Ø Most often for complex, vague, emotionally laden subjects (that cause people
Ø Purpose might include persuasion (getting readers to agree with your definition).
Ø Synonyms to convey range of word’s meanings.
Ø Negation (saying what a word does not mean) to limit the word’s meaning
Ø Etymology (history of the word) to illuminate its meaning by showing how it has changed
Ø Enumeration: listing its characteristics
Ø Analogies: comparisons that identify similarities bet. the term and something different.
Ø Again, this method may be used in conjunction with other methods.
Ø (in the college application/narration essay, you might have actually defined
Writing in the definition mode
Ø Come up with a subject that you care about enough to go into detail. This should
also be complex and open to interpretation.
Ø Explore the subject by examining and listing the conventional meanings (check
out the dictionary!).
Ø Then consider the different ways you’ve heard/seen the word used (right
Questions to consider:
1. How can the subject be described?
2. What are some examples?
3. Can the subject be divided into qualities or characteristics?
4. Can its functions help define it?
5. Will comparing and contrasting it with something else help sharpen its meaning?
6. Do its causes or effects help clarify its sense?
Consider your purpose when considering the thesis statement. Is it to explain? Make a familiar subject new?
Argue in favor of one definition or persuade readers to think more critically about something?
Do not provide the term you are defining in your definition!