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It is sometimes necessary to define one or more of the terms used in academic writing, in order to make the meaning clear, and also, in some cases, to demonstrate understanding to an examiner. Sometimes, when giving a definition, it may also be necessary to classify, which is looked at in the next section. This page gives information on how to write a definition and language for definitions.
The most common way to write a definition in academic writing is to used a relative clause. See the following examples.
In each case, the following structure is used:
In the examples above, the verbs 'is' and 'may be defined as' are used. The categories are 'branch of English', 'period of study', 'place' and 'person'. The wh-words are 'which', 'where' and 'who'. Remember that 'which' is used for objects and animals, 'where' is used for places, while 'who' is used for people.
In addition to the relative clause language given above, the following phrases are useful.
Below is a checklist for classification. Use it to check your own writing, or get a peer (another student) to help you.
|The definition uses an appropriate verb (e.g. is..., may be defined as...)|
|The definition has an appropriate category (e.g. place, person)|
|The definition uses an appropriate wh-word (e.g. which for objects, who for people)|
|Other language for definitions is accurate|