The Quick and Easy Guide to Definitions
What Is a Definition?
A definition classifies a term and provides distinguishing characteristics.
Terms can be defined either formally or informally.
A formal definition places a term in a category and identifies its distinguishing
Example: Chronometer - a highly accurate timepiece. ("Timepiece"
is the category.)
An informal definition explains the term using a word or phrase as a synonym.
Example: Gray Matter - brain tissue.
Methods of Defining Terms
Sometimes simple definitions suffice. However, definitions may be expanded
with details, examples, comparisons or other explanatory devices, including:
Extended Definition: Lists examples or multiple features of a term.
(The Tree of Life, University of Arizona)
Definition by Analogy: Demonstrates characteristics through comparison
with characteristics of a familiar term.
is the Internet? (UC Berkeley Library)
Definition by Components: Uses descriptions of component parts to
define the whole concept.
Example: PC's (How Stuff Works)
Definition by Cause: Explains term in relation to causes and effects.
and Environmental Lung Disease (HEW)
Tips for Writing Definitions
Pick the method of definition that will work best for the audience.
State definitions in the positive. Do not try to define a term by what
it is not.
Avoid circular definitions.
Do not use "is when" or "is where" sentence structures.
Consider adding a graphic.
Written By: George Knox © 1999