This exercise is to help you with the functions of definition, comparison and contrast. Click here for a version of this exercise in MS Word.

A definition explains what something is. Extended definitions can also:

  • distinguish the thing you are defining from other, similar things; and states what is not included in the definition. It does this by comparing and contrasting definitions of different things. For example, if you are defining spoken Chinese language you could state that this means Putonghua, and specifically exclude Cantonese by claiming that it is a dialect.
  • give examples. You could define a foreign concept, and give examples of how it applies to the Hong Kong situation.
  • provide extra facts or information to make the definition clearer.

Definitions in academic writing should:

  1. be accurate; e.g. do not write that 'a whale is a type of fish' (whales are mammals that breathe air with their lungs and will drown if they cannot breathe, fish extract oxygen from water with their gills). Also do not write that 'geese are a type of bird that cannot fly', as wild geese can fly. (Pictures)
  2. be detailed enough that they define something accurately; e.g. 'a red-brick university is a term for a university built after the 1960s' is not detailed enough, because it does not show the contrast between a red-brick university and older, more famous universities, which are usually built out of stone.
  3. not be too obvious - they should tell the reader something that they probably do not know; e.g. 'E-banking means banking electronically' is not a good definition.
  4. not exaggerate. Be careful of using terms such as 'all', 'always' and 'never' because it is very difficult to prove that something happens 100% or 0% of the time. Maybe something hasn't happened yet, but that doesn't mean that it won't happen in future.
  5. be grammatically accurate; e.g. sentences starting with 'Although' have at least 2 clauses, which are separated by a comma, for instance; "Although definitions may seem tedious, they are vital in academic writing both to communicate your ideas accurately and to promote an image of yourself as a respectable academic".
  6. be testable. For example, if a 'world-class' city can be defined as 'a city with a stock exchange and more tourists per year than the number of people who live there', this definition can be tested using examples of real world-class cites such as London, New York and Paris, and also with cities that are definitely not world-class, such as City One in Sha Tin, which does not fulfil either criteria, and Venice, which does not have a stock exchange.

Correct the mistakes in the following sentences. The mistakes are in:
- grammar,
- style, and
- meaning.

For grammatical mistakes, correct the sentences in the boxes below.
For mistakes in meaning or style, write a comment in the box.
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