browser icon
You are using an insecure version of your web browser. Please update your browser!
Using an outdated browser makes your computer unsafe. For a safer, faster, more enjoyable user experience, please update your browser today or try a newer browser.


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 will you organize that extended definition?

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

examples of claims that define a situation

The parking situation at Medaille is  [ __characterization__ ].

A job at McDonalds is a rude awakening.

Even though we can win some of the battles, cancer always wins the war.

In every classroom in our school district, victims of child abuse are hidden in plain sight.

The Netherlands is the little country that stands tall.

The road beyond DIII soccer is paved with avoidable failures.

As of the All-Star break at the end of January 2011, the Sabres season was one of [ __characterization__ ].

Hate crimes, that is, violent crimes motivated by prejudice against a group, are [ __characterization__ ].

Capital punishment is …?

The world of the father in teenage pregnancies is … ?

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 has taken a beating over the years. A ubiquituous weed, she has been held responsible for all sorts of social ills.


first, second, third


How is that different from __? What’s in, what’s out?

What do you mean by romance in Buffalo? Are you including Iraq and Egypt, or only Israel and its neighbors?

What do you mean by famous people? Are you including only events that happen inside the home?

What do you mean by firsts? Are you including only those from an embryo or also those from bone marrow?