Words often have different meanings based on their use. Look at the following example:
Death is the capital punishment for most countries around the world.
The capital of Finland is Helsinki.
Notice how the word capital is used differently in the two statements. Capital in the first sentence means major or principal while the second one means city or town that is the official seat of government in a country or state. This is why as a writer, you need to be highly skilled in defining for your message to be grasped by your readers clearer, easier and faster.
There are two major ways by which you can define words: (1) formally and (2) informally.
A formal definition is a sentence that contains three parts:
(1) the term that needs defining (species);
(2) the class to which the item belong (genus); and
(3) the differentiation of that item from the other forms belonging to the class (differentia).
Technical writing writing committed to factual information
(Species) (Genus) (Differentia)
From the example, we can define the term in question as follows: Technical writing is a form of writing that is committed to factual information.
The second way by which you can define terms is through informal definitions. Informal definitions are partial or incomplete definitions. It does not define a term in its complete sense as it can be based on the writer’s experience. The two common informal definitions are operational definitions and synonyms.
¨ Operational Definitions give the meaning of an abstract word for one particular time and place. This is also called as an agreed-upon criterion. For an instance, an executive may define program success as a 10% increase in company profits. If that quota was reached, then, the program is indeed successful.
¨ Synonyms are words that mean the same as another word. It can only be effective when it is better known than the term being defined.
There are three ways by which you can use synonyms to define a word inside the text itself. One is through the use of parenthesis, another is the use of dashes and lastly, the use of an appositive.
Parenthesis Most of the rock consists of calcium carbonate. (limestone)
The fossil algae (stromatolites) take many forms.
Dash Mount Oberlin and many other pyramidal peaks—matter horns—owe their distinctive form to the erosive action
of glaciers on two or more sides of the peak.
Appositive/ End of Sentence
The Atlyn Formation was deposited in a shallow, warm sea,
an environment indicated by the presence of fossil algae
Aside from these, a word can be defined through denotation and connotation. Denotation is the literal or exact dictionary meaning of the word. Connotation, however, involves all the associations related to the word. The connotative meanings of a word exist together with the denotative meanings. If you look at the meaning of the word snake in the dictionary, you may see this—”any of numerous limbless, scaly, elongate reptiles of the suborder Serpentes, comprising venomous and nonvenomous species inhabiting tropical and temperate areas.” But in terms of its connotative meaning, snakes may mean evil, treacherous or insidious enemy.
Here is an example of a paragraph that uses definition as a method of development.
Questions can be many different things. A question can be an inquiring sentence which asks for a reply, as in "I have a question for you." The word can also refer to whatever subject matter is at hand, as in the sentence, "The question of ethics is a hot topic nowadays." A question can refer to some sort of doubt or uncertainty, as in "There is no question I'm the best man for the job." Used as a verb, to question can mean the instance or act of questioning, such as "Police questioned the suspect." You can question whether something is right or question a celebrity for an interview. If you "pop the question," you are proposing to your sweetheart! Therefore, a question can mean many things to many people.