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In this kind of paragraph, this mode of thinking, you are defining a concept that you are using in a specific way for your purposes. This is your way of limiting what your words mean so that you and your reader will be on the same page. You are saying, “Regardless of the dictionary definition or what other people say, for the purposes of this essay I am defining ____ as ….”

Your thesis statement will often have “is” as the main verb. It functions like an equal sign =. Example: High schools are prisons.

Your rhetorical situation will tell you who your audience is and for what purpose they need the situation defined.

Your data will determine your content. Look at the data. Listen to the data. Now, how would you characterize the situation?

Organizing principle

Group and separate

What group does it belong to? How is it different from every other member of that group?

You can probably do that in a couple of sentences. Then extend that basic definition with the support that the claim (topic sentence) needs.

How should you structure that extended definition?

Characterize the situation. How big is it? How bad/good, helpful/unhelpful, etc. is it?

Time: Organize the data chronologically.

Space: Organize the data by state or by country.

Weight: Organize the data from most to least important, or least to most.

Other: Organize the data according to the parts of the claim. For example: “In only X number of states of the U.S. do people live longer than the people in countries with universal health care.” Which states? How long do they live? Which countries? How long do they live?

When should you use this pattern of thinking?

For your party introduction, you should briefly define each of the three issues for which you are going to develop a position paper. In the position paper itself, the first section of the body should be an extended definition of the situation that your policy will address.

Examples of claims that characterize a situation

A minimum-wage job is a rude awakening.

The U.S. health care system is the best.

The environmental movement is the greatest threat to freedom and prosperity in the modern world. (claimed by Myron Ebell, who led Trump’s transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).)

The Netherlands is a little country that stands tall.

As of 2016, China is the world’s largest economy.

U.S. policy on immigrants and refugees is a failure that has hurt true Americans.

Capital punishment is unconstitutional.

The endangered species list is one of the most exclusive clubs in the world.

Animal abuse is not a uniform phenomenon. Both the animals that are abused and the frequency of abuse vary greatly according to geography.

Poor Mary Jane is still taking a beating after all these years. A ubiquitous weed, she is held responsible for all sorts of social ills.

From President Trump:

The U.S. is broke.

The U.S. infrastructure is a disaster.

Mothers and children are trapped in poverty in our inner cities.

Rusted out factories are scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation.

Our schools are failing.  “Our education system leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.”

Crime is rising.

You can see the pattern here:

[ thing to be defined ] [ to be verb (is, are) ] [ characterization ]

  • Hate crimes, that is, violent crimes motivated by prejudice against a group, are [ __characterization__ ].
  • The world of the father in teenage pregnancies is [ __characterization__ ].
  • The parking situation at Medaille is [ __characterization__ ].
  • As of the All-Star break at the end of January, the Sabres’ season was one of [ __characterization__ ].

Note that some of these claims involve some of the other modes of thinking.

Example: supporting the claim that “The U.S. health care system is the best in the world” would involve not only quantifying the system’s structure, processes, and outcomes, but also comparing it to other systems.

Example: the claim that “U.S. policy on immigrants and refugees is a failure that has hurt true Americans” would involve not only quantifying the situation, but only explaining how it has caused harm.

For both examples, however, the main purpose is a definition even though they use comparison/contrast and cause/effect.