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In technical writing, a definition is the process by which one
assigns a precise meaning to a term. To define a term,
it must be placed into classification and then differentiated from other
terms in that same classification. The format for technical definition is
straightforward and works like this. Term is classification
plus differentiation. For example, if a writer were
to define the stall condition that an airplane experiences
when it loses lift, he or she could start with the term,
stall, and a classification, flight condition, and then differentiate
it from all other flight conditions. In this case,
by stall's unique characteristics, the definition might be
something like this. A stall is a flight condition in
which the lift produced becomes less than the weight of the airplane,
and the airplane stops flying. That sounds simple enough. But what happens when a term such as stall
has multiple definitions in many contexts? In such cases,
it may be necessary to add a classifier in front of its definition statement
to supply the necessary context. The qualifier is important
when the general context for a definition needs to
be established upfront. If the context is known, or is obvious,
a qualifier isn't necessary. For example, in an aeronautics
study on aircraft wing design, the context of stall is obvious. It is clear that stall,
in this case, has more to do with the loss of lift than with,
say, a defensive maneuver employed by a baseball team to
slow down the pace of the game. When a context is needed,
the format for the definition is this. Qualifier plus term is classification,
which is differentiation. Look at this figure. It provides three definitions of
the same term in different contexts. Notice how the term stall has three
totally different meanings depending on the context, and how each
definition begins with a qualifier that makes the context
clear from the start. Car, qualifier, term,
classification, in driving, a stall. And a stall is an operating
condition in which a sudden and unexpected loss of power occurs. Airplane, in flying,
a stall is a flight condition in which the lift produced is less
than the weight of the airplane. Cow, in farming,
a stall is a simple three-sided compartment that is designed to
shelter an animal in a barn or stable. In the first examples, stall refers to
a car that has suddenly stopped running. This condition typically occurs in the
middle of heavy traffic in bad weather. In the second example, stall refers to
what happens when an airplane does not go fast enough to stay in the air. Pilots routinely stall their airplanes
right above the runway when landing them, in which case stalling is good. The third example of stall relates to
farms, barns, stables and livestock. Often, the most difficult part of
writing a technical definition lies in determining the proper
classification for the term. The class should be a general
category in which the term fits, but it cannot be too general. Let's consider this example,
or this sentence. The 33-kilohm, 1-watt carbon resistor is a device that
impedes the flow of electric current. The problem with this classification
is that the device could mean all kinds of different things, most of
which have nothing to do with circuit or circuit components. That is why using this
term does not really help specify the meaning of the term. By changing device to circuit component,
however, the meaning can be narrowed considerably for the reader, even before
the classification is differentiated. So differentiation is very important. The next very important step in defining the term is to differentiate it from
all the other members of the class. Differentiation involves narrowing
the meaning of the term to just one possibility within the class. Clearly, it would be easier to narrow
the class of circuit components to a particular resistor, than it would be to narrow the class
of device to a particular resistor. There are all kinds of
devices in the world and relatively few circuit components. The class circuit components, however,
still contains many possibilities. Capacitors, diodes,
switches, potentiometers, inductors, transistors and
IC chips, to name a few. In this case, a good approach is to
focus on the function of a resistor, which is to impede the flow
of electric current, and to use that function to
differentiate the class. Then we have the following definition. The 33-kilohm, 1-watt resistor is a circuit component
that impedes the flow of electric current. You must always consider
the reader's knowledge and skill level when defining terms and
concepts. However, at times,
you may have no choice but to violate the principle
to achieve your goal. Sometimes, a simple term or concept that the audience will
understand is just not available. In fact, sometimes the only thing to do
is to define the term as best as you can, and then add extensions to your
definition to clarify the meaning.

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