Definition: One of the most common ways we make sense of our world is by defining and categorizing the people, objects, and ideas we encounter within it. Our textbook describes this activity as one in which we ask “What is it?” questions of the subject at hand. The answers to those questions define the subject, thus enhancing our understanding or refining our interpretation of it. Learning to define one’s terms carefully is an essential skill for the advanced writer, especially when the writing topic involves specialized vocabulary or complex abstractions. Occasionally, defining an idea or issue will be the central purpose of an essay, as it is for your second essay.
In The Science of Success,’ David Dobbs reports on recent research into risk genes that suggests such genes may have protective properties for some carriers, in particular when the carriers have been raised in a supportive environment. Dobbs identifies this idea as the “orchid hypothesis” and, upon discovering that he is such an orchid, writes “my short/short allele now seems to me less like a trapdoor through which I might fall than like a springboard – slippery and somewhat fragile, perhaps, but a springboard all the same.” It seems clear, then, that Dobbs redefines the risk gene in order to make it a positive attribute that can launch him toward success rather than a genetic mutation that is likely to hold him down, as it is has often been defined. Assignment: Write an essay that employs definition as its main developmental technique. You will be supporting your definition through a series of examples. As you consider how you will organize your definition essay, please focus on one—or more than one—of the following techniques: definition by example, negative definition, figurative definition, or operational definition. The ideas in this essay should be your own – please do not feel compelled to engage in substantial additional research or cite myriad outside sources beyond Dobbs’s article. I’m truly interested in what you have to say. (You should feel free to engage in light research in order to clarify points of information or special terms as needed; cite accordingly.) You will be using ideas from David Dobbs’s “The Science of Success” to write a definition essay of your own. In your essay, define the “orchid hypothesis” as you understand it from reading Dobbs’s essay Then develop an argument based on this
definition essay of your own. In your essay define the “orchid hypothesis” as you understand it from reading Dobbs’s essay. Then develop an argument based on this definition or another related definition that you would like to explore. You might argue that the risk-taking gene is not as crucial for success in contemporary society as it might have been 50,000 years ago. Or you might argue that it is more critical today even if our risks look different from those of our ancestors. You might argue that the orchid theory puts nurture ahead of nature in the age-old debate and suggests parents play a key role in their children’s success. You may prefer to take another angle and argue that the success of “dandelion children” is overlooked by this “orchid” research; with this approach, you could redefine and even rename those ‘dandelions.’ You might want to interrogate the problems inherent in dividing children into only two categories — orchids and dandelions, or the serious problem of labeling such categories using the names of rare flowers, on the one hand, and weeds, on the other.