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:
- 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)
- be detailed enough that they define something accurately; e.g. 'a
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
Correct the mistakes in the following sentences. The mistakes are in:
- style, and
For grammatical mistakes, correct the sentences in the boxes below.
For mistakes in meaning or style, write a comment in the box.
There are 17 questions. After you finish them, click the 'Check All Answers' button to see
the answers and feedback.
hits since 4 October 2001.
If you have any suggestions or questions, please e-mail us at