Discussion

After reading Chapter 20, describe a common procedure or policy in your chosen field of study (or at your school, church, or current place of employment) that you feel needs improvement.-Indicate the current steps in the procedure or policy.-Tell why the procedure/policy is problematic (based on your reading of Chapter 20), and explain how you feel the process could be made better (again, based on your understanding of how to write effective definitions, descriptions, and instructions from the text).-Rewrite the procedure or policy using your new and improved ideas as steps (instructions) for the userP.S = I have attached Chapter 20 in a word document. I have also highlighted the important parts to read that will help with the discussion. Thanks
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This chapter discusses definitions, descriptions, and instructions. The first step is to define these
three terms:
• A definition is typically a brief explanation, using words and sometimes graphics, of what an
item is or what a concept means. You could write a definition of file format or
of regenerative braking.
• A description is typically a longer explanation—usually accompanied by graphics—of the
physical or operational features of an object, mechanism, or process. You could write a
description of a wind turbine, of global warming, or of shale-oil extraction.
• A set of instructions is a kind of process description, almost always accompanied by
graphics, intended to enable a person to carry out a task. You could write a set of
instructions for installing a new roof or for using an app on your tablet.
Although each can appear independently, definitions, descriptions, and instructions are often
presented together in a set of product information. For instance, a store that sells building materials
for homeowners might create a product-information set about how to lay a brick patio. In this set
might be definitions of tools (such as a mason’s line), descriptions of objects (such as different types
of edging materials, including plastic, metal, masonry, and wood), and step-by-step instructions for
planning, laying, and maintaining the patio.
Regardless of your field, you will write definitions, descriptions, and instructions frequently.
Whether you are communicating with other technical professionals, with managers, or with the
public, you must be able to define key concepts, describe processes, and explain how to carry out
tasks.
Printed Page 535-543
Writing Definitions
The world of business and industry depends on clear definitions. Suppose you learn at a job
interview that the prospective employer pays tuition and expenses for employees’ job-related
education. You would need to study the employee-benefits manual to understand just what the
company would pay for. Who, for instance, is an employee? Is it anyone who works for the
company, or is it someone who has worked for the company full-time (40 hours per week) for at least
six uninterrupted months? What is tuition? Does it include incidental laboratory or student fees?
What is job-related education? Does a course about time management qualify? What, in fact,
constitutes education?
Definitions are common in communicating policies and standards “for the record.” Definitions also
have many uses outside legal or contractual contexts. Two such uses occur frequently:
• Definitions clarify a description of a new development or a new technology in a
technical field. For instance, a zoologist who has discovered a new animal species
names and defines it.
• Definitions help specialists communicate with less-knowledgeable readers. A manual
explaining how to tune up a car includes definitions of parts and tools.
Definitions, then, are crucial in many kinds of technical communication, from brief letters and
memos to technical reports, manuals, and journal articles. All readers, from the general reader to the
expert, need effective definitions to carry out their jobs.
ANALYZING THE WRITING SITUATION FOR DEFINITIONS
The first step in writing effective definitions is to analyze the writing situation: the audience and the
purpose of the document.
Read more about audience and purpose in Ch. 5.
Unless you know who your readers will be and how much they know about the subject, you
cannot determine which terms to define or what kind of definition to write. Physicists wouldn’t need a
definition of entropy, but lawyers might. Builders know what a molly bolt is, but many insurance
agents don’t.
When you write for people whose first language is not English, definitions are particularly
important. Consider the following four suggestions:
• For longer documents, create a glossary (a list of definitions). Read more on glossaries
in Chapter 18.
• Use Simplified English and easily recognizable terms in definitions. Read more on
Simplified English in Chapter 10.
• Pay close attention to key terms. Be sure to carefully define terms that are essential for
understanding the document. If, for instance, your document is about angioplasty, you will
want to be especially careful when defining it.
• Use graphics to help readers understand a term or concept. Graphics are particularly
helpful to readers who speak different languages, and they reduce the cost of translating
text from one language to another.
Think, too, about your purpose. For readers who need only a basic understanding of a concept—
say, travellers researching lodging options who want to learn more about time-sharing vacation
resorts—a brief, informal definition is usually sufficient. However, readers who need to understand
an object, process, or concept thoroughly and be able to carry out tasks related to it need a more
formal and elaborate definition. For example, the definition of a “Class 2 Alert” written for operators
at a nuclear power plant must be comprehensive, specific, and precise.
DETERMINING THE KIND OF DEFINITION TO WRITE
Your audience and purpose will also determine the length and formality of your definitions. There are
three basic types of definitions: parenthetical, sentence, and extended.
Writing Parenthetical Definitions A parenthetical definition is a brief clarification within an
existing sentence. Sometimes, a parenthetical definition is simply a word or phrase that is enclosed
in parentheses or commas or introduced by a colon or a dash. In the following examples, the term
being defined is shown in italics, and the definition is underscored:
The computers were infected by a Trojan horse (a destructive program that appears to be benign).
Before the metal is plated, it is immersed in the pickle: an acid bath that removes scales and oxides from the
surface.
Parenthetical definitions are not meant to be comprehensive; rather, they serve as quick and
convenient ways of introducing terms. But make sure your definition is clear. You have gained
nothing if readers don’t understand it:
Next, check for blight on the epicotyl, the stem portion above the cotyledons.
Readers who need a definition of epicotyl are unlikely to know the meaning of cotyledons. To solve
this problem, think carefully about your readers’ understanding of your subject before including
technical terms specific to that subject.
Writing Sentence Definitions A sentence definition—a one-sentence clarification—is more
formal than a parenthetical definition. A sentence definition usually follows a standard pattern: the
item to be defined is placed in a category of similar items and then distinguished from them.
ITEM
=
CATEGORY
+
DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS
Crippleware
is
shareware
in which some features of the program are
disabled until the user buys a license to use
the program.
Hypnoanalysis
is
a psychoanalytical
technique
in which hypnosis is used to elicit information
from a patient’s unconscious mind.
In many cases, a sentence definition also includes a graphic. For example, a definition of an
electron microscope would probably include a photograph, diagram, or drawing.
Writers often use sentence definitions to present a working definition for a particular document: “In
this report, electron microscope refers to any microscope that uses electrons rather than visible light
to produce magnified images.” Such definitions are sometimes called stipulative definitions because
the writer is stipulating how the term will be used in the context of the document rather than offering
a general definition of the term.
Writing Effective Sentence Definitions
The following four suggestions can help you write effective sentence definitions.
•
•
Be specific in stating the category and the distinguishing characteristics. If you write, “A
Bunsen burner is a burner that consists of a vertical metal tube connected to a gas source,” the
imprecise category—”a burner”—ruins the definition: many types of large-scale burners use
vertical metal tubes connected to gas sources.
Don’t describe a specific item if you are defining a general class of items. If you wish to
define catamaran, don’t describe a particular catamaran. The catamaran you see on the beach
in front of you might be made by Hobie and have a white hull and blue sails, but those
characteristics are not features of catamarans in general.
•
•
Avoid writing circular definitions—that is, definitions that merely repeat the key words
or the distinguishing characteristics of the item being defined in the category. The
definition “A required course is a course that is required” is useless: required of whom, by
whom? However, in defining electron microscopes, you can
repeat microscope because microscope is not the difficult part of the item. The purpose of
defining electron microscope is to clarify electron as it applies to a particular type of
microscope.
Be sure the category contains a noun or a noun phrase rather than a phrase beginning
with when, what, or where.
INCORRECT
A brazier is what is used to . . . .
CORRECT
A brazier is a metal pan used to . . . .
INCORRECT
Hypnoanalysis is when hypnosis is used to . . . .
CORRECT
Hypnoanalysis is a psychoanalytical technique in which . . . .
Writing Extended Definitions An extended definition is a more-detailed explanation—usually
one or more paragraphs—of an object, process, or idea. Often an extended definition begins with a
sentence definition, which is then elaborated. For instance, the sentence definition “An electrophorus
is a laboratory instrument used to generate static electricity” tells you the basic function of the
device, but it doesn’t explain how it works, what it is used for, or its strengths and limitations. An
extended definition would address these and other topics.
There is no one way to “extend” a definition. Your analysis of your audience and the purpose of
your communication will help you decide which method to use. In fact, an extended definition
sometimes employs several of the eight techniques discussed here.
Graphics Perhaps the most common way to present an extended definition in technical
communication is to include a graphic and then explain it. Graphics are useful in defining not only
physical objects but also concepts and ideas. A definition of temperature inversion, for instance,
might include a diagram showing the forces that create temperature inversions.
The following passage from an extended definition of additive color shows how graphics can
complement words in an extended definition.
The graphic effectively and economically clarifies the concept of additive color.
Additive color is the type of color that results from mixing colored light, as opposed to mixing pigments such as
dyes or paints. When any two colored lights are mixed, they produce a third color that is lighter than either of
the two original colors, as shown in this diagram. And when green, red, and blue lights are mixed together in
equal parts, they form white light.
We are all familiar with the concept of additive color from watching TV monitors. A TV monitor projects three
beams of electrons—one each for red, blue, and green—onto a fluorescent screen. Depending on the
combinations of the three colors, we see different colors on the screen.
Examples Examples are particularly useful in making an abstract term easier to understand. The
following paragraph is an extended definition of hazing activities (Fraternity Insurance, 2013).
This extended definition is effective because the writer has presented a clear sentence definition followed by
numerous examples.
No chapter, colony, student or alumnus shall conduct or condone hazing activities. Hazing activities are defined
as: “Any action taken or situation created, intentionally, whether on or off fraternity premises, to produce mental
or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule. Such activities may include but are not limited
to the following: use of alcohol; paddling in any form; creation of excessive fatigue; physical and psychological
shocks; quests, treasure hunts, scavenger hunts, road trips or any other such activities carried on outside or
inside of the confines of the chapter house; wearing of public apparel which is conspicuous and not normally in
good taste; engaging in public stunts and buffoonery; morally degrading or humiliating games and activities;
and any other activities which are not consistent with academic achievement, fraternal law, ritual or policy or
the regulations and policies of the educational institution or applicable state law.”
Read more about partitioning in Ch. 7.
Partition Partitioning is the process of dividing a thing or an idea into smaller parts so that readers
can understand it more easily. The following example (Brain, 2005) uses partition to
define computer infection.
Types of Infection
When you listen to the news, you hear about many different forms of electronic infection. The most common
are:
• Viruses—A virus is a small piece of software that piggybacks on real programs. For
example, a virus might attach itself to a program such as a spreadsheet program. Each
time the spreadsheet program runs, the virus runs, too, and it has the chance to
reproduce (by attaching to other programs) or wreak havoc.
• E-mail viruses—An e-mail virus moves around in e-mail messages, and usually replicates
itself by automatically mailing itself to dozens of people in the victim’s e-mail address
book.
• Worms—A worm is a small piece of software that uses computer networks and security
holes to replicate itself. A copy of the worm scans the network for another machine that
has a specific security hole. It copies itself to the new machine using the security hole,
and then starts replicating from there, as well.
• Trojan horses—A Trojan horse is simply a computer program. The program claims to do
one thing (it may claim to be a game) but instead does damage when you run it (it may
erase your hard disk). Trojan horses have no way to replicate automatically.
Principle of Operation Describing the principle of operation—the way something works—is an
effective way to develop an extended definition, especially for an object or a process. The following
excerpt from an extended definition of adaptive cruise control (Canadian Association, 2009) is
based on the mechanism’s principle of operation.
Adaptive cruise control (ACC) employs sensing and control systems to monitor the vehicle’s position with
respect to any vehicle ahead. When a vehicle equipped with ACC approaches a slower moving vehicle, the
ACC system reduces the vehicle speed in order to maintain a preset following distance (headway). However,
when the traffic ahead clears, the ACC system automatically accelerates the vehicle back to the preset travel
speed.
ACC systems use forward-looking radar or laser detection (lidar) systems to monitor the vehicle’s position with
respect to any vehicle in front and change the speed in order to maintain a preset following distance
(headway).
The system typically allows the driver to preset a “following time,” for example a two-second gap between
vehicles. The ACC computer makes calculations of speed, distance and time based on the sensor inputs and
makes appropriate adjustments to the vehicle’s speed to maintain the desired headway.
Read more about comparison and contrast in Ch. 7.
Comparison and Contrast Using comparison and contrast, a writer discusses the similarities or
differences between the item being defined and an item with which readers are more familiar. The
following definition of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) contrasts this new form of phone service to
the form we all know.
Voice over Internet Protocol is a form of phone service that lets you connect to the Internet through your cable
or DSL modem. VoIP service uses a device called a telephony adapter, which attaches to the broadband
modem, transforming phone pulses into IP packets sent over the Internet.
In this excerpt, the second and third paragraphs briefly compare VoIP and traditional phone service. Notice that
this passage is organized according to the part-by-part comparison-and-contrast pattern. Read more about
this organizational pattern in Ch. 7.
VoIP is considerably cheaper than traditional phone service: for as little as $20 per month, users get unlimited
local and domestic long-distance service. For international calls, VoIP service is only about three cents per
minute, about a third the rate of traditional phone service. In addition, any calls from one person to another
person with the same VoIP service provider are free.
However, sound quality on VoIP cannot match that of a traditional land-based phone. On a good day, the
sound is fine on VoIP, but frequent users comment on clipping and dropouts that can last up to a second. In
addition, sometimes the sound has the distant, tinny quality of some of today’s cell phones.
Analogy An analogy is a specialized kind of comparison. In a traditional comparison, the writer
compares one item to another, similar item: an electron microscope to a light microscope, for
example. In an analogy, however, the item being defined is compared to an item that is in some
ways completely different but that shares some essential characteristic. For instance, the central
processing unit of a computer is often compared to a brain. Obviously, these two items are very
different, except that the relationship of the central processing unit to the computer is similar to that
of the brain to the body.
The following example from a definition of decellularization (Falco, 2008) shows an effective use
of an analogy.
The writer of this passage uses the analogy of gutting a house to clarify the meaning of decellularization.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota were able to create a beating [rat] heart using the outer structure of
one heart and injecting heart cells from another rat. Their findings are reported in the journal Nature Medicine.
Rather than building a heart from scratch, which has often been mentioned as a possible use for stem cells,
this procedure takes a heart and breaks it down to the outermost shell. It’s similar to taking a house and gutting
it, then rebuilding everything inside. In the human version, the patient’s own cells would be used.
Negation A special kind of contrast is negation, sometimes called negative statement. Negation
clarifies a term by distinguishing it from a different term with which readers might confuse it. The
following example uses negation to distinguish the term ambulatory from ambulance.
An ambulatory patient is not a patient who must be moved by ambulance. On the contrary, an ambulatory
patient is one who can walk without assistance from another person.
Negation is rarely the only technique used in an extended definition; in fact, it is used most often in
a sentence or two at the start. Once you have explained what something is not, you still have to
explain what it is.
Etymology Citing a word’s etymology, or derivation, is often a useful and interesting way to develop
a definition. The following example uses the etymology of spam—unsolicited junk email—to define it.
For many decades, Hormel Foods has manufactured a luncheon meat called Spam, which stands for “Shoulder
Pork and hAM”/”SPiced hAM.” Then, in the 1970s, the English comedy team Monty Python’s Flying Circus
broadcast a skit about a restaurant that served Spam with every dish. In describing each dish, the waitress
repeats the word Spam over and over, and several Vikings standing in the corner chant the word repeatedly. In
the mid-1990s, two businessmen hired a programmer to write a program that would send unsolicited ads to
thousands of electronic newsgroups. Just as Monty Python …
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