Adefinition gives the precise meaning of a term. In most technical writing situations, you ave to define terms. The need for definition increases when you communicate with those at a distance from you in any bureaucratic hierarchy and when you write to people with limited knowledgeof your topic. Since both situations are common, defining is an important skill. This chapter explains formal definitions, informal definitions, and extended definitions.
A formal definition is one sentence that contains three parts: the term that needs defining, the class to which the item belongs, and the differentiation of the item from all other members of its class. Here are’ some examples:
Acceleration is the rate of change of velocity with respect to time. Resistance is any force that tends to oppose or retard motion. A carburetor is a mixing chamber used in gasoline engines to produce an efficient. explosive vapor of fuel and air.
Classify the Term
define a term, you first place the term in a class. The class is the large group to which the term belongs. The group can be either broad or narrow. For instance, a pen can be classed as a “thing” or as a “writing instrument.” A carburetor can be a “part” or a “mixing chamber.” The narrower the class, the moremeaning it conveys, and the less that needs to be said in the differentiation.
Differentiate the Term
To differentiate the term, you explain those characteristics that belong only to it and not to the other members of the class. If the differentiation applies to more than one member of the class, the definition lacks precision. For instance, if a writer says, “evaporation is the process of water disappearing from a certain area,” the definition is too broad; water can disappear for many reasons, not just from evaporation. The differentiation must explain the characteristics of evaporation that make it unlike any other process – the change from a liquid to a vapor.
Here are five common methods for differentiating a term:
• Name its essential properties – the characteristic features possessed by all individuals of this type.
• Explain what it does.
• If the term is an object, describe what it looks like and what it is made of.
• If the term is a process, explain how to make or do it.
In the follqwing examples, notice that the classification is often deleted. In many cases, it would be a broad statement such as is a machine.”
NAME THE ESSENTIAL PROPERTIES
Engineering is the application of scientific principles to practical ends, such as the design, construction, and operation of efficient and economical structures, equipment, and systems. Electricity is a physical phenomenon arising from the existence and interactions of charged particles.
EXPLAIN WHAT IT DOES
The microprocessor-based7920 Multicomroller[is a machine that] automatically controls multiple-step operations in industrial production and processes (Veeder-Root 18)
DESCRIBE WHAT IT IS MADE OF
Model RS-‘ Switch is a simple electronic device consisting of two cantilevered ferromagnetic blades which are hermetically sealed in a controHed atmosphere glass capsule (Humphrey 1). A double end stepping motor [is a machine that] has an output shaft that extends from both ends of the motor (SuperiorB).
DESCRIBE WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE
A well-focused photograph is a print of a negative in which aI/lines demarking contrast are sharp, A sine curve is a figure that has semicircles of identical size alternati ng above and below a horizontal axis.
EXPLAIN HOW TO MAKE OR DO IT
Simple staining is [a process of] coloring bacteria by applying a rstain, methylene blue, to a fixed smear
Avoid Circular Definitions
Do not use circular definitions, which repeat the word bein g defined. You will not help a reader understand capacitance if you use the word capacitor in the differentiation. Noncrucial words, such as writing in the term technical writing, may.iof course, be repeated. ‘
For specialized or tichnical terms that your readers will not know, you can provide an informal definition. Though they are less thorough than formal definitions, operational definitions and synonyms are quite acceptable if they furnish the necessary information.
An operational definition gives the meaning of an abstract word for one particular time and place. Scientists and managers use operational definitions to give measurable meanings to abstractions. The operational definition “creates a test for discriminating in one particular circumstance” (Fahnestock and Secor 84). For instance, to determine whether or not a marketing program is a success, managers need to define success. If their operational definition of succes s is “to increase sales by 10 percent” and if the increase occurs, the program is successful. In this sense, the operational definition is an agreed-upon criterion. If everyone agrees with it, it will facilitate discussion and evaluation of any topic.
A synonym is a word that means the same as another word. It is effective as a definition only when it is better known than the term being defined. People are more familiar with loudspeaker than with etectroacoustic transducer, the technical term that has the same meaning. If your audience knows less about the topic than you do, use common words to clarify technical terms. When using synonyms, put the common word or the technical term in parentheses, or set one of them off with dashes, as in the following examples. Notice that writers often highlight the term that they will define.
Parentheses The maps are drawn in a projection that enlarges the areas near the edges (called limbs) of the moon, which are otherwise
too foreshortened to be seen clearly.
Dash At the edges of some of the maria we find indentations, each known as a bag – or a sinus.
Dash Many of the craters have central peaks – round regions at their centers ( Menzel and Pasachoff 323).
Extended deiiniiions are expanded explanations of the term being defined. After reading.a formal definition, a less knowledgeable reader often needs more explanation to understand the term completely. Eight methods for extending definitions follow. .
To explain the dentation of a term is to explain it? origin. For example, you can show h. ‘w some words were combined from other words, or can spell out acronym::-. /vmmctcr, for example, is derived from the combination of ampere and meter; it is a meter that measures amperes. COBOL is an acronym for common llUsiness-oriented longuoge. lnductosun is a combined word, derived from inductance and sYllchronous. Inductance, which stems [rom induce, refers to the ability of an electric current in one circuit to cause voltage in another circuit. SYllcllnJlIOLlS means happen Il1g at the some time .. An illdllctOSYIl performs actions based on simultaneous measurement of inductance in two circuits.
In this context, to explicate means to define difficult words contained in the formal sentence definition. Many readers would need definitions of words such as fixed smear and cantilevered ferromagnetic blades in the formal definitions on pp. 161-162. When explicating, you can often provide’ an informal definition rather than another formal one. Notice that speed defines velocity in the following example. Acceleration is the rate of change of velocity (or speed) with respect to time.
Use an Example
An extended example gives readers something concrete to help them understand a term. You should select common examples that are familiar to a wide range of readers. For example, you might amplify the definition of weightlessness by referring· to the astronauts’ experiences in spacel In the following paragraph, a formal sentence definition of order point is amplified by an extended example.
Order point, simply stated, is a set of procedures used to ensure the availability of inventory when demand is uncertain. Suppose the production planner must determine how many pen barrels, ink tubes, and caps to order and when to assemble them to meet production requirements. Under the order point system, the inventory of pen barrels, ink tubes, and caps will be “watched.” When the supply of each item falls below a predetermined quantity, the order point, a “signal” will be sent to the planner telling him or her to place an order for a amount in stock to meet production requirement through lead time.
Use an Analogy
An analogy points out a similarity between otherwise dissimilar things. if something is unknown to readers, it will help them if you call attention to its similarity to something they do know. Consider this example, which draws on the reader’s knowledge of a warehouse to explain and unknown “Using a disk server is like leaving storage space in a warehouse then filling it with all your belongings. whenever you need to an item from storage, you must get it yourself (Ushijiman 114. hence) is another analogy that compares a computer network to a highway system:
Imagine a network as an electronic freeway system where data comes from one interchange to another at 186,000 miles per second. From a vantage point in the breakdown lane, you might see parts of a document shoot from a Mac to a laser printer.A moment later, an “out of paper” message from the laser printer might travel in the opposite direction. Soon after, a road-weary document might pull into the network’s rest area, a shared hard disk called a file server. (Heid 199)
Compare and Contrast
A comparison-contrast definition shows both the likenesses of and differences between similar objects or processes, such as comparing water flowing through a pipe with electricity flowing through a wire ..As with other methods of extending a definition, the comparison-contrast method takes advantage of something the readers know in order to explain something they do not know. Comparing and contrasting a semiconductor with a conductor of electricity works only if the reader knows what a conductor is. Here is an extended definition that compares and contrasts a department store and a mass merchant:
Department stores are regionally located and predominantly sell merchandise in the areas of home furnishings, household linens and dry goods, and apparel for men, women, and children. A key difference between a mass merchant and a department store is the pnce lines carried. A price line refers to the.dollaramountsthat a particular categoryof merchandise will re1ailfor. For example, the mass merchant may carry blouses that cost $10, $15, and $20 whereas the department stores carry more expensive lines of blouses that cost $20, $30, and $40. The department store has a clientele with more expensive tastes and aims its sales at the middle to upper income levels. Dayton’s and H. C. Prange are good examples of department stores
Explain Cause and Effect
Some things are so elusive that they must be defined in terms of their causes and effects. For example, nobody really knows what electricity is, but the interactions that cause it can be explained. Magnetism, on the other hand, must be defined through the force it produces – its effect. In the following example, the causes and effects of pressure are described in order to extend the formal definition,
A valve actuator is a device that allows the hydraulic system’s pressure to regulate the flow of the system. As oil enters the inlet port of this actuator, a pressure builds up. When this pressure exceeds the pre-set value, the rod extends. A cam, which is mounted on the rod, s the portion of the actuator that delivers the work. It then co-nes in contact with the desired valve to be opened or close.
Use a Visual Aid
Drawings and diagrams can effectively reinforce definitions. For example, a small, labeled drawing of a carburetor would help explain its function, and the definition of an abstract term, such as resistance, would be clarified by a diagram of forces in opposition. The preceding definition of actuator is reinforced by an illustration of the actuator before and after it operates.
Analyze the Term
To analyze is a divide a term into its parts. Analyzing helps readers understand by all follwing them to grasp the definition bit by bit. For example, times, ‘a term used to analyze the work of a machine operator, is easier tu understand when its main parts are discussed individually.
The elemental times are the objective for taking the time study in the first place The elemental time slots on the timestudy form contain the following times: overall time, average time, normal time, and standard time. Overall tune is all times from start to finish, and includes total times of all elements (each individual piece studied). Average time is the time it takes to produce or assemble each piece into a product. . When the overall time is divided by the number of pieces produced, the average time per piece is obtained. Normal time is the -average time per piece multiplied by a leveling factor. Th.s factor is just a conversion of the performance rating found by using a time study conversion chart. This normal time represents the time required by a qualified worker working at the normal performance level to perform the given task. Stand1rd time, which is the time allowed to do a job, is obtained by RUJustingthe normal times according to some allowance factor.
To define is to explain the meaning of a term precisely. Three ways to explain and clarify meaning are by formal, informal, and extended definitions. Formal definitions consist of three parts: the term, the class, and the differentiation. Informal definitions provide operational definitions or synonyms for the term. Extended definitions explain the term at some length. giving additional information that helps readers visualize the idea. Definitions are extended by eight common methods: derivations, explications, examples, analogies, comparison-contrast, cause and effect, visual aids, and analyses.
The following two models begin with a formal sentence definition and use several methods to extend, or amplify, the definition. Read the models carefully and identify the methods of amplification.
The following information will orient you to basic concepts in random .sampling. Random sampling is simply choosing individual items from a larger group. At our plant we use the process to determine whether or not a production run performs adequately. The example below shows how we determined that a problem existed in a run of our 12.5-ounce product. When w~ sample randomly, we record sample mean, sample standard deviation (Sample Std. Dev.), and cumulative data. This report explains these three concepts while providing a brief analysis of the problem.
The sample mean is the average of a given sample. The second column in Table 1 reports the sample mean derived for each sample number. Each sample consists of ~n different product items taken at random from the processing line. We took in samples. The sample mean number describes the average weight (in ounces) o!Ahose ten samples. In sample 7 the average weight was considerably lower, 11.8 ounces. The data show a major problem with weight at the time when sample 7 was taken.
Sample standard deviation (Sample Std. Dev.) The sample standard deviation column shows how much each box in the sample varied from all the others in that sample. The boxes in sample 1 did nof vary a great deal from each other, only .015 ounces, but those in sample 7 varied quite a bit – .104 ounces. The Sample Std. Dev. column indicates that, during the period sample 7 was taken, the distribution of the product was most inaccurate.
Cumulative data consist of three categories: cumulative sample (Cum. Sample), cumulative mean (Cum. Mean), and cumulative standard oeviation (Cum. Std. Dev.). The cumulative sample is a running total of all the product items used in the sampling. For example, the number of items used in samples 1, 2, and 3 total 30; the number of items used in samples 1, 2, ~, and 4 total 40; and so on. The cumulative mean is the mean of the cumulative sample. For example, the mean of samples 1, 2, and 3 is 12.46 ounces ..Cumulative standard deviation is the standard deviation of the cumulative sample. The cumulative data are helpful information when looking at the process as a whole.
WHAT TYPE OF INVESTMENT
There’s a slew of investments available, but stocks, bonds, and mutual funds are probably best for beginners. When you buy common stock, you cast your financial fate with the company that issues the shares. If the company does well, the value of your stock stands to increase as a capital gain. Of course, the reverse is true, too: The value of your shares may plummet with the company’s misfortunes or a generally bad economy. You can buy stocks in units of 100 shares; fewer, and you’ll pay an extra fee for an “odd lot” trade. Common stock issuers generallY pay dividends out of overall earnings four times a year. Growth companies tend to pay lower dividends because they reinvest their earnings in the company. Established companies will distribute larger dividends, but the capital gains potential may be less. Holders of preferred stocks are entitled to receive dividends – sometimes at a fixed rate – before any funds are distributed to common stockholders. Preferred-stockholders also have a claim on company assets before commonstockholders do. As a result, preferred stock may cost more, even though their values fluctuate with the market, too, and there’s no guarantee that dividends will be paid.
With bonds, you are lending money to the issuer with the promise that you’ll receive regular interest payments – specified when the bond is issued – and get your principal back when the bond matures. (Some issuers reserve the right to “call” in their bonds before their maturity date; that’s a pitfall to watch for if you’re counting on the long haul.) Bonds generally are issued in units of $1,000. Municipal bonds more often start at $5,000; they’re especially attractive to high-income investors because the dividends are exempt from federal (and sometimes local) taxes.
You face two types of risk with bonds: (1) The credit risk is that the issuing company IX body will default, failing to pay you interest or return your principal. You tan reduce your vulnerability by purchasing highly rated bonds (“A” or ‘.Jove) or gbvullli:1ent-backed issues. (2) The market risk is that interest rates couid skyrocket, cutting the bond’s value if you must sell before maturity or rates frop again.
If your portfolio is too small to make a diversified strategy practical, consider mutua’ funds – pooled-asset funds that offer instant diversification, good ‘ liquidity, and expert management. You can invest in some for as little as $500 or less. Mutual fund portfolios usually consist of 50 or more securities, and all the complex buying and selling decisions are left up to the pros. You pay an annual fee for this service – typically, 1/2 to 3/4 percent. In a “load” fund, you’ll pay a sales commission (up to 8 1/2 percent); no-loads. charge none. . Mutual funds are designed to meet specific investment goals, clearly stated in the prospectus – a document you shouldread carefully before investing. Look for fees, study the track record, analyze the net return. (Laughridge 47-48)
1. Write definitions of four terms for an uninformed reader. Begin each of them with a formal sentence definition.
2. a. Write an extended lOO-worddefinition (one paragraph) using analogy as the major method of amplification.
b. Write an extended lOO-worddefinition (one paragraph) using comparisoncontrast as the major method.
c. Write an extended lOO-worddefinition (one paragraph) using cause and effect as the major method.
Write a 200-word definition (two or more paragraphs) using four of the eight methods of extended definition discussed in the chapter. Immediately after you have used a method, identify it in brackets. In writjng the 200-word definition, you will find that using one method leads you to another. Consider providing synonyms and other informal definitions in each of the four methods, but do not count them as one of the four methods in your extended definition. Use format devices, especially headings and boldface or underlining, to highlight the contents.