Craig Stroupe   Ideas 

Writing Transformative Definitions

A simple definition can become a transformative, intellectual tool if it reveals the implications of a word you're using. A poorly written definition only serves to obscure.

Consider, for instance, this unhelpful definition:

"Sea. big blue wobbly thing which fish swim in."

Two of the problems with this definition are that

  1. it fails to give us, first, a word that essentially specifies what a "sea" is—it doesn't provide a "class"—and also that
  2. it doesn't say what distinguishes a sea from an ocean, lake, pond, etc—that is, it doesn't provide "differentiating terms."

When you're writing a definition, asking yourself "what word defines the 'class'?" and then "what are some differentiating terms?" prompts you to focus and organize your thinking on essentials.