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What are definitions in the Citizendium?

The Citizendium uses definitions in two different places. The first, discussed in Article Mechanics, are in articles, typically stated in the first sentence. The second, which we discuss here, are created using subpages of the form [[Term/Definition]]. The latter are "definition subpages."

Definition pages actually serve as reusable building-blocks which provide a brief (no more than 30 word/150 character) account of the meaning of a concept, or a pithy description of a particular topic.

Note: please create definitions only of those precise terms for which we have or plan an article. Do not create definitions of terms that are disambiguated. For example, the page reel redirects to reel (disambiguation), where three senses of the term are listed and each separately defined. But we do not, and should not, have a definition of "reel" itself.


Definitions pages are used primarily on Related Articles pages; the latter consist of lists of term-definition pairs. When exploring the Citizendium's article offerings on Related Articles pages, we believe end users will find it useful to have definitions, especially of unfamiliar terms. Definition pages are used elsewhere as well, however.

Format of Definitions

The following policy has been established by the Editorial Council. It was passed on December 15th, 2010 as motion PR-2010-018.

Definitions are intended to be displayed together with the page title in the form

Title of the page: Text of the definition.

as a single line in lists of links to related topics. Therefore the following rules have to be obeyed:

  • Keep the definition as short as possible.
    Try hard to use less than 30 displayed words and less than 150 displayed characters. In many cases as few as ten words are adequate.
  • Do not repeat the term defined.
  • Begin the definition with a capital letter, and end with a period (full stop).
  • Write a single sentence; in case two sentences are needed, separate them by a semicolon, not a period.
  • Use links sparingly and only for terms that may help the reader.

Technical requirements:

  • Do not leave any extra blank lines after the definition. Do not itemize.
  • The definition is text only: do not use TeX code. Do not add pictures.
  • Do not add templates, categories, or other bells and whistles.

In order to define Knowledge:

  • Do not write "Knowledge is justified, true belief." Write: "Justified, true belief."
  • Do not write "justified, true belief" (lower case "j" and no period). Write: "Justified, true belief."

End of the policy established by the Editorial Council.

Format standards

It is easy to locate a definition for a given term, if it exists. If an article is titled Topic, then you may find the definition at Topic/Definition. But you really do not need to know this; the correct subpage name is created by the "Definition" link in the subpage tab, as well as the {{r}} template (see Related Articles and Template:R/Doc for more information).

How to display a definition

Def template

You may easily display a definition by using the {{Def}} template. For example:

"{{Def|Biology}}" produces: "The science of life — of complex, self-organizing, information-processing systems living in the past, present or future."

If used on an entry that does not have a definition (e.g. Foobar),

"{{Def|Foobar}}" produces: "(Add definition for Foobar)"

If no definition for the term exists, create one by clicking on the "Add definition" link and type in your definition.

R template

The {{R}} template (most often used on the subpage Related Articles) is also useful for displaying the definition or description in conjunction with the word used in the template. For example:

{{R|Biology}} produces:

If used on an entry that does not have a definition (e.g. Foobar),

{{R|Foobar}} produces:

For more information on how to use the R template read the documentation at Template:R/Doc.

Guidelines for editing

Definitions are often created in the context of Related Articles pages; see our guidelines for creating such pages to get started.

See above for guidelines about the "physical" format of the definition.

Some general hints:

  • Choose a term to define that precisely matches an existing or planned article. Do not choose terms that will be disambiguated, such as reel.
  • Do not describe the article; define the concept, or describe the thing, that the article describes.
  • Avoid jargon wherever possible; a definition's purpose is supposed to be useful to people who don't already know the meaning of the word defined. You defeat this purpose if you use even more obscure jargon to explain a piece of jargon.

When you are ready to craft a definition, examine whether the term to be defined is general and so describes many things (like "book"), or particular and so describes just one thing (like The Grapes of Wrath). Then consider the standards for definitions and for descriptions below.

Standards for good definitions

If the term is general, it is subject to definition (rather than description). In most cases, a classic genus-and-difference definition would work fine. Here are some rules taken from a standard logic text for such definitions:

  • Rule 1: A definition should state the essential attributes of the concept (i.e., of the thing defined).
  • Rule 2: A definition must not be circular.
  • Rule 3: A definition must be neither too broad nor too narrow.
  • Rule 4: A definition must not be expressed in ambiguous, obscure, or figurative language.
  • Rule 5: A definition should not be negative where it can be affirmative.

Standards for good descriptions

Strictly speaking, it is impossible to define the names of particular persons, places, and things, like "Paris, France." Instead we say that we make pithy descriptions of these things. Here are some guidelines:

  • For famous persons and landmarks, include what the item is best known for: "Madonna (singer): Pop music icon of the 1980s, known especially for her sexy/trashy image."
  • For persons, provide years of birth and death in parentheses: "Amelia Earhardt: (1897–1937) Famous American female aviation pioneer."
  • For places, specify an encompassing geographical entity or a nearby landmark, and if that is generally obscure, also provide the name of an encompassing entity that is probably familiar: "Wiesbaden: Capital of the state of Hesse, Germany; pop. about 275,000."

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