What is an extended definition?
An extended definition is writing that explains what a term means. Some terms have definite, concrete meanings, such as “glass”, “book”, or “duck”. Terms such as honesty, honor, or love are abstract and depend more on a person’s point of view. It might be more meaningful to you to choose a term that is abstract.
Three Steps to Effective Definition
1. Tell readers what term is being defined.
2. Present clear and specific information.
3. Use facts, examples, or anecdotes that readers will understand.
Choosing a Definition
Choosing a definition is a key step in writing an extended definition. You need to understand the term before you can define it for others. Read dictionary entries, but don’t just copy the given definitions from those sources. Explain the term briefly in your own words.
Also, it’s important to limit your term before you start defining it. For example, you could write forever on the term “love.” To limit and focus it, you could write about either “romantic love,” “platonic love,” or “first love.”
Choosing a less common word might be a good strategy for stronger writers. The flexibility this affords and the word’s existing common synonyms could generate some powerful play with phrasing (e.g., “magnanimity” instead of “generosity”).
Some ideas for you to choose from…
Create a definition. There are several ways to define a term. Use any or all of these to complete your task.
Here are a few options.
• Define by function. Explain what something does or how something works.
• Define by structure. Tell how something is organized or put together.
• Define by analysis. Compare the term to other members of its class and then illustrate the differences. These differences are special characteristics that make the term stand out. For example, compare a Siberian husky to other dogs, such as lap dogs, mutts, or sporting dogs. (term) (precise definition) Ex: A Siberian husky is a dog reputed for its ability to tolerate cold, its distinctive features, and its keen strength and stamina.
• Define by analogy. Use figurative language to capture the essence of the word and connect it to other related ideas. Make sure to make the relation clear. This, in my opinion, is your strongest strategy for this assignment.
• Define by negation, what the term does not mean. This distinction can sometimes clarify a definition and help a reader to better understand it.
Provide plenty of understandable facts, examples, or anecdotes. Select facts, examples, or anecdotes to fully explain your definition. Ask yourself, “Which examples will best help readers understand the term? What examples would most appeal to my readers? Will a brief story reveal the term’s meaning?” Do not use any examples that will not support the definition.
Don’t repeat the defined term within the bounds of the definition itself. No one will appreciate your prose if you write along the lines of “Swine flu is a flu that people can catch from swines.”
Read Some Examples of Extended Definitions
Notes on Formatting and Citation
When writing for classes in the humanities (English, History, etc.) many teachers and professors require that you use MLA style formatting. There are other standards, but this is the one we will use for the course.
Purdue’s OWL Website provides the following general guidelines for typed submissions:
- Type your paper on a computer and print it out on standard, white 8.5 x 11-inch paper. If submitting electronically, save your paper as a .pdf file.
- Double-space the text of your paper, and use a legible font (e.g. Times New Roman). The font size should be 12 pt.
- Leave only one space after periods or other punctuation marks.
- Set the margins of your document to 1 inch on all sides (i.e., leave them alone!).
- Indent the first line of paragraphs one half-inch from the left margin. MLA recommends that you use the Tab key as opposed to pushing the Space Bar five times.
- Create a header that numbers all pages consecutively in the upper right-hand corner, one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin. (Note: Your instructor may ask that you omit the number on your first page. Always follow your instructor’s guidelines.)
- Use italics throughout your essay for the titles of longer works and, only when absolutely necessary, providing emphasis.
- Provide parenthetical citations for all works you’ve quoted or paraphrased in your writing.
- When asked, create a Works Cited page with all needed bibliographic information, as below.
Russell, Tony, Allen Brizee, and Elizabeth Angeli. “MLA Formatting and Style Guide.” The Purdue OWL.
Purdue U Writing Lab, 4 Apr. 2010. Web. 20 July 2010.
When including a direct or indirect quotation in your writing, in most cases you must provide a parenthetical reference at the end of the sentence that contains the quote.
Let’s say I want to use line eight of Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”…
“Melodious birds sing madrigals”
That can’t stand on its own as a sentence, so let’s work it into an idea:
The speaker of the poem offers some romantic birdsong, as “Melodious birds sing madrigals” (Marlowe line 8).
NOTE: MLA style does not require you to use the word “line” in your PR, but I often ask students to do this until they learn to be more precise with their selection of evidence.