various defining techniques one practical way W r i t i n g
Significant disagreements are often founded in debate over the meaning of terms. The term “wetland,” for instance, has a range of meanings, depending upon the context. The federal government alone has numerous, inconsistent definitions for a wetland depending on which agency is using (or enforcing) the term. Given the important policy implications, land developers and environmentalists routinely disagree about how, precisely, to define a wetland, just as they disagree about how to apply an existing definition to some particular piece of land.
Thus, definitions are tools for establishing the terms of a discussion. For this assignment, choose a term related a potential research topic. Investigate the term and present—in your own words—a meaningful extended definition of that term.
Define your audiences and purpose
In deciding upon a term, consider an appropriate audience and occasion. Here are two examples:
- Explain what electronic medical records are to the board members of a global health organization looking to fund a project to help rural health centers in Uganda digitize paper records. This definition will be included in the board book sent out before the next meeting.
- Define intellectual property to an audience of college students to help them understand rules for downloading material. Prepare this definition as an FAQ page on library section of the university website.
Try out various defining techniques
One practical way to begin is by exploring how various definitions function in your field, perhaps by collecting several distinct definitions of an important term and examining their differing contexts. You should start by developing the best language for establishing the genus and differentia. Your definition should then employ some of these standard defining tactics:
- Etymology: Explaining the origin of the word itself
- History: If relevant and helpful for explaining the term, discussing the history of the term/its use/controversies associated with it
- Cause and Effect: Discussing how the situation came about and what effects it may have
- Description: Listing and defining the component parts
- Principles of Operation: Discussing how topic in question functions, including any special materials or conditions required; “how it works”
- Classification: Showing how the topic fits into a larger category
- Contrast/Negation: Showing how the topic differs from others in the same class
- Comparison: Explaining how the topic is similar to others in the same category or class
- Analogy: Explaining by comparing two dissimilar topics, where the second is familiar to the audience
- Examples: Anecdotes or instances of this term from the real world
- Illustrations: Visual aids
Try out these different techniques on your word and decide which ones generate the best content, given your audience. Then decide on the best order for the different types of definition. I encourage you to conduct research to help you provide a full definition of your term. However, do not include any sentences that begin, “According to Webster’s Dictionary …” or similar language.