Definition

Definition refers to a rhetor’s efforts to define something. Definitions may be limited to a sentence or they may extend to whole paragraphs, passages, essays, or books.

Definition is essential for communication to take place. Communities of Practitioners are able to understand one another because they share a common vocabulary, which is bounded by definitions.


People are able to communicate because they define the world. People are symbol analysts: they share symbols. They use words, the signifier, to communicate information, the signified.

We routinely define new concepts, terms, activities, research methods, and research findings. And our definitions of things tend to change over time.

Google NGram, the Oxford English Dictionary, A Dictionary of American English, and A Dictionary of Americanisms are wonderful resources to view definitions and discern how definitions change over time.

Knowledge is made by defining the world. This includes

  • using concrete and sensory language about an item’s properties
  • developing theories to explain an idea or hypothesis
  • conducting research to learn more about the empirical world

Why Do People Write Definitions?

Creative people seek to develop new terms, concepts, and activities. A doctor might discover a biological or medical process, causing the need for a new name or concept. A scientist might discover a new chemical reaction, perhaps a particle smaller than a quark. An astronomer may discover a new star. For example, Walker Gipson is commonly credited with developing the term “cyberspace” to describe the way people become so obsessed and focused on playing video games.

Occasionally, readers will reject a writer’s term, concept, or research finding. And, at times, a writer may present a humorous definition or apply a word in a new context, one that helps us look at our behavior in new ways.

Online Examples of Definitions

  1. Definitions of Information Literacy
  2. What is Internet Addiction?
  3. What is a simple definition of the laws of thermodynamics?
  4. The Basics of Usenet
  5. What is Emotional Abuse?
  6. What is Intellectual Property?