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Monday, 06 March 2017 20:30

Student Writing: A Definition Paper

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 In a recent online writing class, my students have been studying about definition papers and how to write one. In this writing task, one seeks to define a word, idea, or person. Below are two samples my students wrote. Take a look!



Life: Does its Definition Work?


What do we know about life? What can be described as life? These are just two of the many questions that revolve around the definition of living things; some are easy to answer, while others are not. While the more complicated ones tend to be the most difficult to provide a solution for, one of the simplest questions in biology is left unanswered: What is life? This definition has been revised many times, with the first being described as anything that can grow, reproduce, and maintain homeostasis/respond to the environment. However, the vital flaw with this interpretation is that crystals would also count as being living things since it can grow, reach equilibrium, and even move in response to stimuli. As a result of this flaw, a new definition was developed: any organism that has a carbon-based chemistry and depends on water in order to survive. Not surprisingly, this interpretation was also criticized for its "unfinished" definition. Its lack of regard for possible extraterrestrial life and unknown organisms on Earth point out the two flaws within the explanation. In response to these failed attempts, NASA has recently developed a new definition of life, stating it as "the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death." For now, this is the best description of life that we know of, but the possibilities are limitless; mankind might even see the adage, "you'll know it when you see it" stand when defining life!


--Aaron in Hsinchu, Taiwan


There are several things I particularly like about Aaron's paper:


  • varied usage of punctuation, to keep the flow going: question marks, colons, semi-colons
  • scientific vocabulary: inorganic, stimuli, equilibrium, etc. 
  • quotation from NASA


What Defines a “high-end” cube?


In the speedcubing market, many beginners struggle to find the right cube for themselves. By the way, this paper is not addressing the cubes made by the Rubik’s brand, which counterintuitively are roughly-made and a poor choice for any speedcuber. The cubes I address to today are the ones produced by renown Chinese companies that create products endorsed by professional speedcubers.

As a beginner, one will struggle to find the right cube among the sea of cubes, and this essay should define what kind beginners should start with if they have enough budget.

The mechanism--

1. Thin screws and big feet for corners are symbolic of the modern speedcube. They increase stability and contact, creating a smoother feel in general.

2. Squared-off corners prevent corner twisting. However, some of cubes which do not have them still can prevent corner twisting effectively.

3. The most prevalent design of a high-end cube’s corner piece is the “3 piece + one feet” design.

4. Rounded centers and edges are necessary. Also, the corner cutting should be over 45 degrees; reverse corner cutting should be at least ⅔ of a piece.

The build and material--

  1. Screws and springs should not be broken.

  2. As screws are getting thinner, the core must get thinner too. The core must be strong enough to not break or deform under normal condition, and should last a few years.

  3. The plastic that cubes are made of nowadays is mainly ABS. The cube should have softer plastic that does not break easily or flake.

  4. The mold that forms the plastic should shape them into pieces that have the same surface area and endure equivalent friction under turning.

  5. The stickers should not fall off or flake.

The design and feel--

This category is purely based on preference. Pick the cube you like.


In conclusion, I hope this guide helps you find the most suitable cube for you.

--Tim in Hsinchu, Taiwan


Several aspects I especially like about Tim's paper:


  • He writes about his passion; he's a huge Rubik's Cube fan, and his enthusiasm shows.
  • Clear structure: Tim uses three main points, set-off by a hyphen, and numbered subpoints...almost cookbook style. He guides his readers step by step.
  • He targets his audience. Another student in class and I agreed that much of the content was specific and thus "over our heads" as laymen. However, Tims' essay aims at Rubik's Cube enthusiasts, so they should understand his points.
  • I particularly like this metaphor: "As a beginner, one will struggle to find the right cube among the sea of cubes."



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Read 19906 times Last modified on Tuesday, 08 August 2017 20:55
Scott Dreyer

A licensed teacher in the US state of Virginia since 1987, Scott Dreyer has been helping Chinese speakers improve their English since 1989. Dreyer lived in Taiwan from 1989-1999 where he learned Mandarin, met his wife, started his family, and realized he loved working with Chinese students. He became an award-winning author and started teaching ESL online in 2008. Dreyer and his wife and their four adult children make their home in the beautiful Roanoke Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.