|Types of Definition|
|Dictionary or formal definition|
This is the
default. Use this only as a beginning to help you see what terms might be
used to define a concept. To simply go only to Webster's for your
definition is to give an over-simplified explanation to a complex term.
Frequently used when the term or concept is
complicated. This means you write a paragraph or page or paper (or even
book!) to make your concept known to your audience. Our assignment is in
effect an example of this method. Sojourner Truth's famous speech, "Ain't I
a Woman?" demonstrates this method powerfully.
|Historical or Etymological definition|
the history or root of a word to further explain a word. How a word has been used through history can also be
instructive. Words such as "silly" or "pity" or "luxury" have
the years to mean something new today--and often quite different--than what
the words used to mean long ago. The words "education" or
"enthusiasm," for examples, picked
apart etymologically can be surprisingly instructive.
|Definition by example|
Perhaps the easiest way to define, and frequently the most helpful, is to
give an example of how the term is used. For longer definitions, an example or two
frequently can make a complex or abstract concept understandable.
|Definition by negation|
something by showing us what it is not is to define by negation. Frequently,
this tactic can be used to shatter a stereotype or to undercut conventional
|Definition by synonym|
|Difficult or abstract terms can be made understandable by simply throwing
other words at them. I said our paper assignment was an expository
paper, but that word "expository" may not be familiar. So I defined by
synonym, saying that this was also called an "information" paper, where the
writer passes information to an audience. You probably had no trouble
recognizing that synonym, and now in your brain you can associate the two words
so that when you hear one, you know it also refers to the other.
Definition by analogy
assumes a concept is difficult to define and so uses something much less
complicated and much more understandable as a comparison to shed light on
the difficult term. The thinking is that if your readers knows the simpler
concept, they can infer the meaning of the more complicated concept.
To stipulate is to define
a term by certain criteria. When you use a stipulative definition, you will
hear language such as "What I mean by this term is..." or "For the purposes
of our discussion, this term means..." This confines the discussion about a term to
a limited scope of possibilities. If the audience agrees, then it doesn't
matter if the term has many other meanings--you are just
agreeing to accept a certain definition for your discussion.
Here's a very personal, stipulative set of definitions, for example.