Definition/Categorical Argument

How Can a Definition Be an Argument?

Your first Short Argument, due before class THU OCT 21, will make a definition or categorical argument essential to your Research Position Paper, which itself will be due before you know it. You’ll write three short papers in preparation for that longer assignment, each one proving something essential about your Research Argument.

This first of these, the Definition or Categorical Argument, will define a term essential to proving your thesis. Understandably, you may still be refining your thesis and gathering valuable sources, still determining the exact parameters of your argument. That is understood. It is also understood that not everything can wait until the end of the semester, and that writing and refining a research paper is shooting at a moving target. What you’ll do in your short arguments may be more or less relevant to your final argument depending on how little or how much your thesis changes between now and the end of November. What you’ll aim at in your short paper is today’s target, however shaped, wherever placed (and since it’s moving, you’ll have to aim a bit ahead of it).

You’ll need to cite two sources for this first formal argument, which you may or may not already have described in your White Paper. You’ll produce a References section for those named sources. Check the links you provide to be sure they lead back to a page we can all access (even if it’s the page in the databases that “launches” the actual document).

I’ve posted a Model References List for your assistance.

How Can A Definition Be An Argument?
Good question. Let’s say we’re reading an essay by a columnist who has just had to have her apartment wired for internet service for the first time, after years of casually, almost thoughtlessly, logging on to the non-password-protected networks of subscribers in neighboring apartments. She’s never thought of herself as a thief. She’s never thought much about her actions at all; as long as service was available, and free, and she could access it without paying a service provider, she did so, perhaps with gratitude, perhaps with a sense of entitlement.

crazy wiring

When the day came that her neighbors locked her out with passwords or moved or migrated to smart phones and unplugged themselves from their own networks, this columnist reports, she awakened from her mindlessness and faced a new reality: the internet isn’t free in the way she’d grown accustomed to thinking of it. It’s a valuable service that costs billions to the providers who expect to be paid for it. She hadn’t been merely sharing what was offered out of generosity to the world. She’d been stealing. She had to re-define what “theft” meant and what “free internet” meant. The internet is a commercial service that somebody is buying (in this case her neighbors) and sharing with others. If they’re sharing willingly, the service is a gift or an inducement. If they’re sharing unwillingly, or without knowing they’re sharing, it’s theft of service.

A one-sentence definition of “free internet” from the author’s new perspective is a tiny little definition essay all by itself: The internet is free to anybody whose conscience doesn’t prohibit her from stealing service from somebody who’s paying for it.

We could argue about her definition. And that’s the point. Definition is argument. Your definition essay will argue for a particular definition and establish the terms under which the rest of your proof will be conducted.

As you work on your own research projects, stay alert to the terms you think are perfectly understood, but which in fact require your readers’ cooperation. For further clarification, here’s an example of how short arguments must be proved before long arguments can be considered complete.

Was Nelson Mandela a Freedom Fighter or a Terrorist?

Here’s an example you can examine in detail by viewing a short video. History has unanimously concluded that the brutal and depersonalizing segregationist policy of South Africa known as apartheid was immoral and unjustifiable, and that Mandela’s resistance to his country’s authoritarianism was a righteous revolt against injustice.


But that didn’t prevent South Africa for imprisoning Mandela for more than two decades on charges of domestic terrorism. The video examines a Definition/Categorical dispute between Mandela and his country over the nature of his identity.

Describing the conditions under which a man’s public actions are a righteous resistance to immoral authoritarianism and under which the same man’s actions qualify as terrorism is well worth 1000 words, and is a good example of the sort of ambiguity you may need to resolve while making your own researched argument.


  • Write your first Shorter Argument paper.
  • The paper will take the form of a Definition (or Category) Argument, as described above.
  • For example, define a term such as stem cell not just biologically, but also politically, since people use the term for advance particular social agendas.
  • Or, for example, define a concept such as the perfect study to prove that violent game play causes players to act violently, since only when the perfect study is defined can the author test existing studies for compliance.
  • Define your term(s) or concept(s) thoroughly but concisely in 1,000 words. Padding with wasted words is prohibited.
  • Include References.


  • The Definition/Categorical Argument is one of THREE Short Arguments (1000 words each) whose contents you will combine at the end of the semester to produce your Research Position Paper (3000 words).
  • The assignment REQUIRES a Rewrite in response to Feedback to demonstrate your participation in the recursive nature of writing (WA Department Core Value 1).

POST BOTH VERSIONS at the same time in different categories.

  • Publish your text and References into a new post.
    • Definition—Username (post to the Definition category and your Username category).
  • Copy and past your text and References into a new post at the same time:
    • Definition Rewrite—Username (post to the Definition Rewrite category and your Username category)

The first draft Definition version will never change. Your professor will provide feedback on your Definition Rewrite post. You’ll respond there by making revisions. Both versions will become part of your Portfolio.


  • Due THU OCT 21 (11:59PM WED OCT 20)
  • Customary late penalties. (0-24 hours 10%) (24-48 hours 20%) (48+ hours, 0 grade)
  • This is Portfolio Material