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Scientific definitions

Definitions are common in science because there are many new words, and familiar words can have particular, scientific meanings. You can fill dictionaries with definitions of scientific terms!

What are scientific definitions like?

·      Scientific definitions are usually written in present tense.   This is because scientists think they are always true. Look at this example.

       Living things are things that show the characteristics of life.  

       Are is a word in this definition that shows that the definition is in present tense.  

Scientists think that all living things in the past, present and future show the characteristics of life.  

·      Scientific definitions often contain technical words.  

       Living things are things that show the characteristics of life .  

       Characteristics of life is a technical term that you have learned in this set.  

·      Scientific definitions are usually generalised . This means that they refer to many things, not just to particular examples.  

       Living things are things that show the characteristics of life.  

       Things includes any object you can think of.  

·      Scientific definitions usually refer to observations not feelings or opinions. You say they are objective. They do not include words such as beautiful or happy.

When scientists define a term, there are different ways to signal to readers that they are reading a definition. Here are some different ways you can write definitions. The words in italics are signal words.

·      A plant is a living thing.

·      Characteristic means feature.

·      Animals are living things.

·      Living things, in other words , organisms ...

·      The surroundings, or environment, ...

·      An organism is defined as a living thing.

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Lesson 5 - Scientific explanations

© State of New South Wales, Department of Education and Training 2004