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Topic X Defining

and Describing

LEARNING OUTCOMES
By the end of this topic, you should be able to: 1. Define an object or a mechanism by describing its physical appearance using precise language; 2. Describe what the object or mechanism does; 3. Explain a process or procedure by describing the different stages in order of occurrence using appropriate language; and 4. Provide accurate instructions on how to use a mechanism or carry out a procedure or process.

INTRODUCTION

If we take a good look around us, we will notice that we are surrounded by all kinds of things, be they objects or mechanisms. Some are used, every day, by us or by other people. Most have a specific purpose. At times, we need to tell others what a mechanism does, how it works, or even what the process or procedure of doing something is like. This must be done correctly because inaccurate information is likely to lead to confusion and error as well as waste time, energy and money. Therefore, we need to be as precise and clear as possible with our definitions, descriptions, instructions and explanations to prevent confusion arising as illustrated below.

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1.1

DEFINING SOMEONE OR SOMETHING

A definition usually refers to the meaning, description, explanation, classification and characterisation of someone or something. It is important as it provides a concise explanation of a person or thing, and helps us to categorise and classify the object of definition accurately. We can then comprehend the meaning and role of the person or object in any discussion involving this object or person.

ACTIVITY 1.1
Guess the Person or Object 1. Sometimes I work days, sometimes I work nights. Sometimes I wear white but sometimes I wear blue or green as well. Often, people are unwell when they see me but sometimes they just want to check how well they are. I do not cure them but I take care of them. My workplace is always busy and sometimes it gets really crowded. Can you guess who or what I am? Answer: ___________________ 2. I help people get around. I am very helpful and strong because I help them carry heavy loads. I move very fast and efficiently. I cost them money to maintain. If I am well maintained, I seldom complain and will always work. Some people take really good care of me. They keep me clean and good-looking all the time. Can you guess who or what I am? Answer: ___________________ Were you able to guess the person or object in the texts above? Good! Look at the descriptions again and underline the words or phrases that helped you to make the correct guesses. Did you face any problems in guessing the person or object? If you did, list them down and explain what you think created these problems.

TOPIC 1 DEFINING AND DESCRIBING

1.1.1

How Definitions Work

It is important to remember that in describing or defining something or someone, there are certain features that may be highlighted. These include: (a) A statement identifying the person or object (b) I shall tell you about a medical worker I will describe or define a computer chip

A description of the common or general physical nature of the person or object A medical worker may be male or female. He, or she, is usually dressed in white. A computer chip is usually square or rectangular in shape. It is made from silicon.

(c)

A description of the functions of the person or object A medical workers main task is to help doctors and surgeons administer to the sick. A computer chip helps in the storage and transmission of information in digital form.

When writing a definition, you need to ensure that it is precise and does not go beyond the term being defined. You also need to follow a systematic approach whereby you define or describe people or things from the general to the specific, for example, from the general class to specific characteristics or features (using specific terms).

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Now, do the following activities to see whether you have understood this.

ACTIVITY 1.2
Read the definition below and identify the three different parts: (a), (b) and (c). A laser is a device that produces beams of a special kind of light known as laser light. A laser beam looks like a straight, almost solid yet transparent rod of intense light. A laser beam is made up of only one colour unlike ordinary light which is a combination of many colours. Lasers are used in the production of all kinds of things from cars to clothing, from microchips to books. (a) (b) (c) Statement about the object. Description of the common or general physical nature of the object. Description of the functions of the object.

1.1.2

Language Patterns for Definition

To write a simple definition, two types of sentence structure can be used (see Tables 1.1 and 1.2): (a) Sentence Structure 1 Term + General Class Word + Specific Features

Table 1.1: Sentence Structure 1 Term A thermometer A nurse Biology General Class is an instrument is a medical worker is the study of Specific Features that measures temperature. who assists doctors. natural life.

(b)

Sentence Structure 2 Term + Specific Features + General Class Word

TOPIC 1 DEFINING AND DESCRIBING

Table 1.2: Sentence Structure 2 Term A rectangle A monkey A crocodile Specific Features is a four-sided is a small, long-tailed is an amphibious General Class plane figure. primate. reptile.

ACTIVITY 1.3
1. Using Sentence Structure 1, complete the following definitions. Fill in the boxes with the appropriate general class and specific features.
Term An astronomer A barometer A laboratory A fireman Conduction is a place is a person General Class is a scientist Specific Features who that measures air pressure. where who by which heat is transferred.

2.

Using Sentence Structure 2, complete the following definitions. Fill in the boxes with the appropriate specific features and general class.
Term Mercury A triangle Asbestos A dinosaur A cat is a fire-resistant is a prehistoric is a four-legged Specific Features is a........ liquid plane figure. General Class

1.2

DESCRIBING A MECHANISM

Sometimes, we need to do more than just define a thing; we have to explain how it works. Here too, our explanation must be clear. Try the following exercise to increase your understanding.

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ACTIVITY 1.4
Read the paragraph below.
The simple jet engine is called turbo jet engine. Here is how a turbo jet engine works. Air is sucked in the front of the engine and compressed by a compressor. The compressed air then goes into a combustion chamber. The hot air produced escapes at the rear, spinning the turbine as it does so. It is this turbine that drives the compressor. The gases escape from the rear nozzle as a very high-speed jet, which propels the plane forward.

Based on the explanation, can you understand how a turbo jet engine works? Look at the diagram above. Can you identify a missing component in the explanation?

1.2.1

How to Explain a Mechanism

When you explain a mechanism, you need to follow these rules: (a) State the name of the mechanism precisely. I am going to explain what a liquid-fuel rocket is. Where possible, provide a general statement about the mechanism that allows readers or listeners to tap into their previous knowledge. Rockets work very much like jet engines. Explain every stage or aspect of the mechanism so as to not miss/lose the conceptual link between stages or aspects. They burn fuel in the combustion chamber to make hot gases. The hot gases escape backwards from a nozzle at enormous speed.

(b)

(c)

TOPIC 1 DEFINING AND DESCRIBING

(d)

Provide concluding statements which summarise the operations of the mechanism. Therefore, the liquid fuel rocket is propelled forward by the tremendous backward force that emerges from the combustion chamber.

ACTIVITY 1.5
Read the explanation of a mechanism below. Can you determine whether any information is missing? Use the checklist below as a guide.
The space shuttle is the new space launcher (1). It is a combination of a plane and a spacecraft (2). The main part of the shuttle is the space orbiter; it carries the crew and cargo (3). The orbiter is attached to the back of a huge tank which carries fuel for its three engines (4). On the launch pad, the orbiter and the fuel tank stand vertically (5). Two booster rockets are attached to the side of the fuel tank (6). When launched, the boosters fire together with the orbiters engine (7). After a few minutes, the boosters run out of fuel and separate (8). Later, the fuel tank empties and falls away (9). After the space mission, the shuttle enters the atmosphere and is slowed down by it (10). Then, it glides to land on a runway (11).
Explanation Checklist Name of mechanism General statement about the mechanism/the space shuttle Explain every stage/aspect
Source: www.wall

Sentence Number(s)

paperbase.com

Summarise the operations

1.2.2

Writing Explanations of Mechanisms

Language Structure: Simple Explanation


Introduction of Term + General Information + How It Functions + Concluding Remarks

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Example: A hydrofoil is a sea craft. A hydrofoil is an interesting vehicle. It is one of the fastest boats on water. The hydrofoil glides above the water on a cushion of air. The cushion is created by blowing underneath the craft using powerful fans. To hold the air underneath the craft, the hydrofoil has a skirt around its lower edge. This cushion of air helps the hydrofoil reduce resistance and travel across water masses at great speed.

ACTIVITY 1.6
Using the same structure, sequence the sentences in the correct order to explain the operation of a submarine.
Sentence The submarine is a people carrier that is designed to travel under water. The ballast tanks can be filled with water or emptied to adjust the submarines weight. The submarine can dive to various depths simply by adjusting its weight. It does this by way of ballast tanks which are found on the sides of the craft. The latest nuclear-powered submarine can stay underwater for months. The submarine is one of the most fascinating crafts. Order

1.3

EXPLAINING PROCEDURES

Procedures may serve as commands, directives, orders or directions. In most cases, they comprise one, or a series of, imperative statements that convey orders, instructions and commands. There are procedures for all kinds of activities, from something as common as preparing a cup of coffee to something as complex as landing a plane. What is important is that procedures must be clear and precise. There is no place for ambiguous language in explaining procedures as there must be no doubts in the mind of the reader or listener about what needs to be done.

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1.3.1

Stating Procedures

In describing a procedure, you need to: (a) (b) State precisely what the procedure is for, which means, its objectives.

To operate a computer, this is what you have to do.


Use time markers or linkers to show the order of actions or tasks. x Order the procedure chronologically:

To begin, make sure the main power source is switched on. Next, switch on the power source on the computer. If the monitor has a separate power switch, turn this on as well.
(c) Use the imperative form in order to be direct and precise.

Next, a password window will appear on your screen. Enter your user name and password in the spaces allocated for each.
(d) Be clear and concise. Offer only information that is necessary to complete the task at hand.

When you have entered your user name and password, use the mouse pointer and right click on the Enter button.
(e) Know the audience the procedure is targeted at. x If the audience comprises professionals in a specific field (see Figure 1.1), you may use technical terms related to the field. If you do not know your audience, or it comprises people who are not proficient in English, keep your language simple.

Figure 1.1: Professionals at work

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Try the following exercise to increase your understanding of what we have discussed.

ACTIVITY 1.7
The diagram below shows the main procedure of refining crude oil. The text below the diagram describes the procedure.

The refining of crude oil is a complex procedure. It involves the following important stages. Firstly, the crude oil has to be extracted from the ground using an oil rig or platform. Then, the crude oil is piped or transported to the oil refinery. Next, the crude oil is heated in a furnace and converted into vapour. After that, the vapour is pumped into the distillation tower. Then, the vapour is separated into the different chemical components of kerosene, fuel oil, lubricating oil and so on, which are automatically converted into liquids. Secondly, the liquid kerosene, fuel oil, lubricating oil is piped out. Finally, the vapour that remains is collected in the form of liquid petrol and piped out.

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Answer the following questions. 1. Which of the time markers or linkers is incorrectly used? (a) Finally (b) Then (c) Secondly (d) Firstly Which of the following sentences best describes the message conveyed by the text? (a) Then the vapour is separated into the different chemical components of kerosene, fuel oil, lubricating oil and so on, which are automatically converted into liquids. (b) The refining of crude oil is a complex procedure. (c) Next, the crude oil is heated in a furnace and converted into vapour. (d) Finally, the vapour that remains is cooled in the form of liquid petrol and piped out. Which of the following sentences can best replace the sentence Then, the crude oil is piped or transported to the oil refinery in the above explanation? (a) When the earlier process is completed, the crude oil is either sent to the factory using a pipeline or carried to the factory by lorries. (b) After this process, the crude oil is taken to the factory by transport. (c) When everything is completed, the crude oil is carried to the factory using pipes and lorries. (d) Consequently, the crude oil is transported to the factory by pipes or oil tankers. Which of the following words or phrases would best replace the word extracted in the passage? (a) Pumped out (b) Dug out (c) Relocated (d) Materialised Which of the following would be the most appropriate title for the passage? (a) Making Crude Oil (b) Procedure for Refining Crude Oil (c) Drilling for Oil (d) Procedure at an Oil Refinery

2.

3.

4.

5.

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Now, read the passage describing the procedure for refining crude oil again. Differentiate sentences written in the active voice from those written in the passive voice.
The refining of crude oil is a complex procedure (1). It involves the following important stages (2). Firstly, the crude oil has to be extracted from the ground using an oil rig or platform (3). Then, the crude oil is piped or transported to the oil refinery (4). Next, the crude oil is heated in a furnace and converted into vapour (5). After that, the vapour is pumped into the distillation tower (6). Then, the vapour is separated into the different chemical components of kerosene, fuel oil, lubricating oil and so on, which are automatically converted into liquids (7). Secondly, the liquid kerosene, fuel oil, lubricating oil is piped out (8). Finally, the vapour that remains is collected in the form of liquid petrol and piped out (9).

ACTIVITY 1.8 EXERCISE 1.7

Please tick (9) to indicate whether the sentences in the text above are written in the active or passive voice.
Sentence Numbers (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) Active _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ Passive _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________

You will notice the extensive use of the passive voice in describing procedures. The use of the passive voice will be discussed in the next topic.

1.3.2

Procedures for Explaining Mechanisms

We use the following to explain procedures: (a) Time Markers and Linkers In explaining procedures, time markers and linkers are vital to ensure that the reader or listener is able to recognise and follow the chronological order

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of the procedure. Sequence connectors fulfil this purpose. They show how each action is connected in time with the next and the order in which we perform them. Below are two types of sequence connectors that serve as time markers and linkers: (i) (ii) Numerical Sequence Connectors First, firstly, second, secondly, third, thirdly, etc. Order Sequence Connectors Initially, next, after that, consequently, before that, later, then, finally, etc.

(b)

Imperatives Imperatives are command statements. These statements aim to give precise instructions using concise language. Imperatives also indicate instructions that must be followed if the procedure is to be realised or completed. Types of Imperative Statements Imperative statements can be classified as categorical or modalised statements (see Figure 1.2).

Figure 1.2: Types of imperative statements

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ACTIVITY 1.9
1. Define the following items. Use the structures you have learned. (a) Camera (b) Butterfly (c) Geology (d) Aquarium (e) Bridge Read the following text about rockets. Extract the necessary information and use it to write a passage about how a rocket works.
Rockets are powerful crafts. Most space rockets have liquid propellants and are complicated mechanisms. Two liquid fuels commonly used are kerosene and liquid hydrogen. In a liquid rocket, the propellants are pumped from the storage tanks to the combustion chamber. The pump is driven by a turbine, which is spun by gas produced in a gas generator. In the combustion chamber, the fuel and oxidiser form an explosive mixture, which burns fiercely into gases that escape as a powerful jet. This is the power that is able to propel the space rocket at speeds of up to 28,000 km/h.

2.

3.

The diagram below shows the procedure of making computer chips. Describe the procedure, using the language patterns you have learned.

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x x

A definition provides a concise explanation of a person or thing. It helps us to categorise and classify the person or object accurately. When explaining a mechanism, state its name precisely, provide a general statement about it, explain every stage or aspect about it and give concluding statements that summarise the operations of the mechanism. Procedures serve as commands, directives, orders or directions. In most cases, procedures comprise imperative statements. Procedures are involved in a range of activities, from those which are common to those which are complex. Time markers and linkers are used in explaining procedures to show the chronological order of actions or tasks. There are two types of sequence connectors numerical and order.

x x x x x

Definition Imperatives Mechanism Object

Procedure Process Time markers