In Need of Definition: How to Select Terms to Define in your Dissertation


One section that is often required in a dissertation is the “Definitions of Terms.” This gives your readers an understanding of the concepts or factors that will be discussed throughout your study, as well as contextual information as to how you will be using those concepts in your study. The “Definitions of Terms” ensures that your readers will understand the components of your study in the way that you will be presenting them, because often your readers may have their own understanding of the terms, or not be familiar with them at all. In this section, you provide a list of terms that will be used throughout the dissertation and definitions of each of them. Seems simple enough, right? But how do you know which terms to define and which ones to leave out?

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The rule of thumb is to include and define terms that are important to your study or are used frequently throughout the dissertation but are not common knowledge. You also want to include terms that have a unique meaning within the scope of your study. You do not need to include terms that most, if not all, of your readers will understand without having definitions provided. For example, something like leadership probably does not need to be included in your “Definitions of Terms,” but laissez-faire leadership would be a good choice to include. However, if your study is about leadership, then it may be beneficial to the understanding of your readers to define leadership based on how you are using it within your study. Things like success or achievement may need definition as well, if you are using them within your study, as the readers will need to know what measures or markers of success or achievement that you will focus on within your study.

For more information on “Definitions of Terms,” including what information to include within the definitions, keep an eye out for our other blogs on this topic!