Glossary of Useful Terms


Abstract nouns
Abstract nouns, such as truth or beauty, are words that are neither specific nor definite in meaning; they refer to general concepts, qualities, and conditions that summarize an entire category of experience. Conversely, concrete terms, such as apple, crabgrass, computer, and French horn, make precise appeals to our senses. The word abstract refers to the logical process of abstraction, through which our minds are able to group together and describe similar objects, ideas, or attitudes. Most good writers use abstract terms sparingly in their essays, preferring instead the vividness and clarity of concrete words and phrases.

Allusion is a reference to a well-known person, place, or event from life or literature. In “Opera Night in Canada”, for example, Michael McKinley alludes to characters in the famous opera Madame Butterfly and the performance of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team when he says, “. . . the idea of these two art forms being united after all this time is as shocking as Pinkerton returning to marry Madame Butterfly or the Leafs being united with the Stanley Cup.”

Analogy is an extended comparison of two dissimilar objects or ideas.

Analysis is examining and evaluating a topic by separating it into its basic parts and elements and studying it systematically.

Anecdote is a brief account of a single incident.

Argumentation is an appeal predominantly to logic and reason. It deals with complex issues that can be debated.

Attitude describes the narrator's personal feelings about a particular subject. In "There's a Better Environmental Way to Farm," Juanita Polegi expresses frustration and dismay at the idea that farmers who don't use pesticides and fertilizers are not harming the environment. Attitude is one component of point of view.

Audience refers to the person or group of people for whom an essay is written.



Cause and effect
Cause and effect is a form of analysis that examines the causes and consequences of events and ideas.

Characterization is the creation of imaginary yet realistic persons in fiction, drama, and narrative poetry.

Chronological order
Chronological order is a sequence of events arranged in the order in which they occurred. Stanley Coren follows this natural time sequence in his process essay "Dogs and Monsters."

Classification is the analytical process of grouping together similar subjects into a single category or class; division works in the opposite fashion, breaking down a subject into many different subgroups. In "Why We Crave Hot Stuff," Trina McQueen gives several examples of news stories that she classifies as "hot stuff" or tabloid news items.

Clichés are words or expressions that have lost their freshness and originality through continual use. For example, "busy as a bee," "pretty as a picture," and "hotter than hell" have become trite and dull because of overuse. Good writers avoid clichés through vivid and original phrasing.

Climactic order
Climactic order refers to the organization of ideas from one extreme to another-for example, from least important to most important, from most destructive to least destructive, or from least promising to most promising.

Cognitive skills
Cognitive skills are mental abilities that help us process external stimuli.

Coherence is the manner in which an essay "holds together" its main ideas. A coherent theme will demonstrate such a clear relationship between its thesis and its logical structure that readers can easily follow the argument.

Colloquial expressions
Colloquial expressions are informal words, phrases, and sentences that are generally more appropriate for spoken conversations than for written essays.

Comparison is an expository writing technique that examines the similarities between objects or ideas, whereas contrast focuses on differences.

Conclusions bring essays to a natural close by summarizing the argument, restating the thesis, calling for some specific action, or explaining the significance of the topic just discussed. If the introduction states your thesis in the form of a question to be answered or a problem to be solved, then your conclusion will be the final "answer" or "solution" provided in your paper. The conclusion should be approximately the same length as your introduction and should leave your reader satisfied that you have actually "concluded" your discussion rather than simply run out of ideas to discuss.

Concrete: See abstract.

Conflict is the struggle resulting from the opposition of two strong forces in the plot of a play, novel, or short story.

Connotation and Denotation
Connotation and Denotation are two principal methods of describing the meanings of words. Connotation refers to the wide array of positive and negative associations that most words naturally carry with them, whereas denotation is the precise, literal definition of a word that might be found in a dictionary. Anita Rau Badami's essay, "My Canada," uses words with strong implied meanings (connotation) that extend their literal definitions (denotation). When Badami's husband leaves his job in a "vast, faceless corporation" in India and the family goes to Canada, Badami is first greeted by "a blast of freezing air" in a "barren city where the sky covered everything like blue glass, where [she] could hear [her] own footsteps echoing on an empty street. . . ." Over time she comes to love "the crisp winter mornings" and "the long silent streets and canola fields shimmering yellow under an endless blue sky."

Content and Form
Content and Form are the two main components of an essay. Content refers to the subject matter of an essay, whereas its form consists of the graphic symbols that communicate the subject matter (word choice, spelling, punctuation, paragraphing, etc.).

Contrast: See comparison.


Deduction is a form of logical reasoning that begins with a general assertion and then presents specific details and examples in support of that generalization. Induction works in reverse by offering a number of examples and then concluding with a general truth or principle.

Definition is a process whereby the meaning of a term is explained. Formal definitions require two distinct operations: (1) finding the general class to which the object belongs and (2) isolating the object within that class by describing how it differs from other elements in the same category.

Denotation: See connotation.

Description is a mode of writing or speaking that relates the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, or feelings of a particular experience to its readers or listeners. Good descriptive writers, such as those featured in Chapter 1, are particularly adept at receiving, selecting, and expressing sensory details from the world around them. Along with persuasion, exposition, and narration, description is one of the four dominant types of writing.

Development concerns the manner in which a paragraph of an essay expands on its topic.

Dialect is a speech pattern typical of a certain regional location, race, or social group that exhibits itself through unique word choice, pronunciation, and/or grammatical usage.

Dialogue is a conversation between two or more people, particularly within a novel, play, poem, short story, or other literary work. See Evelyn Lau's "More and More" or Matt Cohen's "Zada's Hanuukkah Legacy" for examples of essays that incorporate dialogue.

Diction is word choice. If a vocabulary is a list of words available for use, then good diction is the careful selection of those words to communicate a particular subject to a specific audience. Different types of diction include formal (scholarly books and articles), informal (essays in popular magazines), colloquial (conversations between friends, including newly coined words and expressions), slang (language shared by certain social groups), dialect (language typical of a certain region, race, or social group), technical (words that make up the basic vocabulary of a specific area of study, such as medicine or law), and obsolete (words no longer in use). Diction can also refer to the quality of one's pronunciation of words.

Division: See classification.

Documented essay
Documented essay is a research or library paper that integrates paraphrases, summaries, and quotations from secondary sources with the writer's own insights and conclusions. Such essays normally include references within the paper and, at the end, a list of the books and articles cited.

Dominant impression
Dominant impression in descriptive writing is the principal effect the author wishes to create for the audience.


Editing is an important part of the rewriting process of an essay that requires writers to make certain their work observes the conventions of standard written English.

Effect: See cause and effect.

Emphasis is the stress given to certain words, phrases, sentences, and/or paragraphs within an essay by such methods as repeating important ideas; positioning thesis and topic sentences effectively; supplying additional details or examples; allocating more space to certain sections of an essay; choosing words carefully; selecting and arranging details judiciously; and using certain mechanical devices, such as italics, underlining, capitalization, and different colours of ink.

Essay is a relatively short prose composition on a limited topic. Most essays are 500 to 1,000 words long and focus on a clearly definable question to be answered or problem to be solved. Formal essays, such as Janice Gross Stein's "Developing a National Voice," are generally characterized by seriousness of purpose, logical organization, and dignity of language; informal essays, such as Drew Hayden Taylor's "Pretty Like a White Boy: The Adventures of a Blue-Eyed Ojibway," are generally brief, humorous, and more loosely structured. Essays in this textbook have been divided into nine traditional rhetorical types, each of which is discussed at length in its chapter introduction.

Etymology is the study of the origin and development of words.

Evidence is any material used to help support an argument, including details, facts, examples, opinions, and expert testimony. Just as a lawyer's case is won or lost in a court of law because of the strength of the evidence presented, so, too, does the effectiveness of a writer's essay depend on the evidence offered in support of its thesis statement.

Example is an illustration of a general principle or thesis statement. Jennifer Cowan's "TV Me Alone," for instance, gives several different examples of public places where television can be found.

Exposition is one of the four main rhetorical categories of writing (the others are persuasion, narration, and description). The principal purpose of expository prose is to "expose" ideas to your readers, and to explain, define, and interpret information through one or more of the following modes of exposition: example, process analysis, division/classification, comparison/contrast, definition, and cause/effect.


Figurative language
Figurative language is writing or speaking that purposefully departs from the literal meanings of words to achieve a particularly vivid, expressive, and/or imaginative image. In Steven Heighton's description of the park entrance at Vimy Ridge, for example, he uses figurative language. "In the blue-green stained-glass light of the forest, the near-silence was eerie, solemn, as in the cathedral at Arras." Some principal figures of speech include metaphor, simile, hyperbole, allusion, and personification.

Flashback is a technique used mainly in narrative writing that enables the author to present scenes or conversations that took place prior to the beginning of the story.

Focus is the concentration of a topic on one central point or issue.

Form: See content.

Formal essay
Formal essay: See essay.

Free association
Free association is a process of generating ideas for writing through which one thought leads randomly to another.


General words
General words are those that employ expansive categories, such as animals, sports, occupations, and clothing; specific words are more limiting and restrictive, such as koala, lacrosse, computer programmer, and bow tie. Whether a word is general or specific depends at least somewhat on its context: Bow tie is more specific than clothing, yet less specific than "the pink and green striped bow tie Aunt Martha gave me last Christmas." See also abstract.

Generalization is a broad statement or belief based on a limited number of facts, examples, or statistics. A product of inductive reasoning, generalizations should be used carefully and sparingly in essays.


Hyperbole, the opposite of understatement, is a type of figurative language that uses deliberate exaggeration for the sake of emphasis or comic effect (e.g., "hungry enough to eat 20 chocolate éclairs").

Hypothesis is a tentative theory that can be proved or disproved through further investigation and analysis.


Idiom refers to a grammatical construction unique to a certain people, region, or class that cannot be translated literally into another language (e.g., "To be on thin ice," "To pull someone's leg").

Illustration is the use of examples to support an idea or generalization.

Imagery is description that appeals to one or more of our five senses. See, for example, Will Ferguson's description of Sudbury's cliffs in "The Sudbury Syndrome": ". . . Sudbury's slag pile glaciers, the scorched tailings of the city's infamous nickel mines. Rail cars roll up to the edge, then pause, tilt and pour out the molten slag, casting an orange echo against the sky, like the castle defenses of a medieval siege. The slag cools into a crust, then blackens, and is in turn covered." Imagery is used to help bring clarity and vividness to descriptive writing.

Induction: See deduction.

Inference is a deduction or conclusion derived from specific information.

Informal essay
Informal essay: See essay.

Introduction refers to the beginning of an essay. It should identify the subject to be discussed, set the limits of that discussion, and clearly state the thesis or general purpose of the paper. In a brief (five-paragraph) essay, your introduction should be only one paragraph; for longer papers, you may want to provide longer introductory sections. A good introduction will generally catch the audience's attention by beginning with a quotation, a provocative statement, a personal anecdote, or a stimulating question that somehow involves its readers in the topic under consideration. See also conclusion.

Irony is a figure of speech in which the literal, denotative meaning is the opposite of what is stated.


Jargon is the special language of a certain group or profession, such as psychological jargon, legal jargon, or medical jargon. When jargon is excerpted from its proper subject area, it generally becomes confusing or meaningless, as in "I have a latency problem with my backhand" or "I hope we can interface tomorrow night after the dance."



Levels of thought
Levels of thought is a phrase that describes the three sequential stages at which people think, read, and write: literal, interpretive, and analytical.

Logic is the science of correct reasoning. Based principally on inductive or deductive processes, logic establishes a method by which we can examine premises and conclusions, construct syllogisms, and avoid faulty reasoning.

Logical fallacy
Logical fallacy is an incorrect conclusion derived from faulty reasoning. See also post hoc, ergo propter hoc and non sequitur.


Metaphor is an implied comparison that brings together two dissimilar objects, persons, or ideas. Unlike a simile, which uses the words like or as, a metaphor directly identifies an obscure or difficult subject with another that is easier to understand. In Maureen Littlejohn's "You Are a Contract Painkiller," for example, the author uses the image of a contract killer to describe the medication ASA.

Mood refers to the atmosphere or tone created in a piece of writing. The mood of Cecil Foster's "Why Blacks Get Mad," for example, is intense and serious; of Susan Swan's "Nine Ways of Looking at a Critic," mildly sarcastic; and of Allen Abel's "A Home at the End of the Journey," good-humoured and sympathetic.


Narration is storytelling (i.e., the recounting of a series of events) arranged in a particular order and delivered by a narrator to a specific audience with a clear purpose in mind. Along with persuasion, exposition, and description, it is one of the four principal types of writing.

Non sequitur
Non sequitur, from a Latin phrase meaning "it does not follow," refers to a conclusion that does not logically derive from its premises.


Objective writing
Objective writing is detached, impersonal, and factual; subjective writing reveals the author's personal feelings and attitudes. David Foot's "Boomers Dance to a New Beat" and Stanley Coren's "Dogs and Monsters" are examples of objective prose, whereas Alison Wearing's "Last Snowstorm" is essentially subjective in nature. Most good college-level essays are a careful mix of both approaches, with lab reports and technical writing toward the objective end of the scale, and personal essays in composition courses at the subjective end.

Organization refers to the order in which a writer chooses to present his or her ideas to the reader. Five main types of organization may be used to develop paragraphs or essays: (1) deductive (moving from general to specific); (2) inductive (from specific to general); (3) chronological (according to time sequence); (4) spatial (according to physical relationship in space); and (5) climactic (from one extreme to another, such as least important to most important).


Paradox is a seemingly self-contradictory statement that contains an element of truth.

Paragraphs are groups of interrelated sentences that develop a central topic. Generally governed by a topic sentence, a paragraph has its own unity and coherence and is an integral part of the logical development of an essay.

Parallelism is a structural arrangement within sentences, paragraphs, or entire essays through which two or more separate elements are similarly phrased and developed. Look, for example, at Evan Solomon's "The Babar Factor," in which the first two paragraphs follow the same pattern. See also Naheed Mustafa's "My Body Is My Own Business": ". . . waifish is good, waifish is bad, athletic is good-sorry, athletic is bad. Narrow hips? Great. Narrow hips? Too bad."

Paraphrase is a restatement in your own words of someone else's ideas or observations. When paraphrasing, it is important to acknowledge the original source in order to avoid plagiarism.

Parody is making fun of a person, an event, or a work of literature through exaggerated imitation.

Person is a grammatical distinction identifying the speaker or writer in a particular context: first person (I or we), second person (you), and third person (he, she, it, or they). The person of an essay refers to the voice of the narrator. See also point of view.

Personification is figurative language that ascribes human characteristics to an abstraction, animal, idea, or inanimate object. Consider, for example, Tomson Highway's description in "What a Certain Visionary Once Said" of the earth that breathes and "whisper[s] things that simple men, who never suspected they were mad, can hear."

Persuasion is one of the four chief forms of rhetoric. Its main purpose is to convince a reader (or listener) to think, act, or feel a certain way. It involves appealing to reason, to emotion, and/or to a sense of ethics. The other three main rhetorical categories are exposition, narration, and description.

Point of view
Point of view is the perspective from which a writer tells a story, including person, vantage point, and attitude. Principal narrative voices are first-person, in which the writer relates the story from his or her own vantage point ("As a high school student in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, I never planned. I didn't worry about anything. I just coasted along letting things happen to me."); omniscient, a third-person technique in which the narrator knows everything and can even see into the minds of the various characters ("As a high school student in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, she never planned. She didn't worry about anything. She just coasted along letting things happen to her."); and concealed, a third-person method in which the narrator can see and hear events but cannot look into the minds of the other characters ("As a high school student in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, she never planned. She seemed to just coast along letting things happen to her.").

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc
Post hoc, ergo propter hoc, a Latin phrase meaning "after this, therefore because of this," is a logical fallacy confusing cause and effect with chronology. Just because Irving wakes up every morning before the sun rises doesn't mean that the sun rises because Irving wakes up.

Premise is a proposition or statement that forms the foundation of an argument and helps support a conclusion. See also logic and syllogism.

Prereading is thoughtful concentration on a topic before reading an essay. Just as athletes warm up their physical muscles before competition, so, too, should students activate their "mental muscles" before reading or writing essays.

Prewriting, which is similar to prereading, is the initial stage in the composing process during which writers consider their topics, generate ideas, narrow and refine their thesis statements, organize their ideas, pursue any necessary research, and identify their audiences. Although prewriting occurs principally, as the name suggests, "before" an essay is started, writers usually return to this "invention" stage again and again during the course of the writing process.

Process analysis
Process analysis, one of the seven primary modes of exposition, either gives directions about how to do something (directive) or provides information on how something happened (informative).

Proofreading, an essential part of rewriting, is a thorough, careful review of the final draft of an essay that ensures that all errors have been eliminated.

Purpose in an essay refers to its overall aim or intention: to entertain, inform, or persuade a particular audience with reference to a specific topic. For example, Janice Gross Stein argues in "Developing a National Voice" that Canada must have a strong independent voice in global politics. See also dominant impression.



Refutation is the process of discrediting the arguments that run counter to your thesis statement.

Revision, meaning "to see again," takes place during the entire writing process as you change words, rewrite sentences, and shift paragraphs from one location to another in your essay. It plays an especially vital role in the rewriting stage of the composing process.

Rewriting is a stage of the composing process that includes revision, editing, and proofreading.

Rhetoric is the art of using language effectively.

Rhetorical questions
Rhetorical questions are intended to provoke thought rather than bring forth an answer. See, for example, Judy Rebick's rhetorical question in "The Culture of Overwork": "If working long hours makes us unhappy and unhealthy, why do we do it?"

Rhetorical strategy or mode
Rhetorical strategy or mode is the primary plan or method whereby an essay is organized. Most writers choose from methods discussed in this book, such as narration, example, comparison/contrast, definition, and cause/effect.


Sarcasm is a form of irony that attacks a person or belief through harsh and bitter remarks that often mean the opposite of what they say. See, for example, Dave Bidini's sarcastic description of arena names in "Kris King Looks Terrible": ". . . these days, arena names make little sense. For instance, not only does the National Car Rental Center, home of the Florida Panthers, promise little in the way of aesthetics, you can't even rent a car there. Same with the horseless Saddledome in Calgary. And despite the nation's affection for the old Maple Leaf Gardens, there's probably more foliage growing on the Hoover Dam." See also satire.

Satire is a literary technique that attacks foolishness by making fun of it. Most good satires work through a "fiction" that is clearly transparent. Will Ferguson presents Canada's "Black Cliffs of Sudbury" as being equivalent or even preferable to England's White Cliffs of Dover when they obviously are not; he simply uses this satiric approach to highlight the ugliness of Sudbury.

Setting refers to the immediate environment of a narrative or descriptive piece of writing: the place, time, and background established by the author.

Simile is a comparison of two dissimilar objects that uses the words like or as. See, for example, Karen Connelly's description of herself in "Touch the Dragon": "As the country pulls out from under me, I overturn like a glass of water on a yanked tablecloth, I spill." See also Sharon Butala's description of the Prairies in "The Myth: The Prairies Are Flat": ". . . all those 'flat and boring' philosophers who fail to see, whether level as a tabletop or not, the exquisite and singular beauty of the Prairies." See also metaphor.

Slang is casual conversation among friends; as such, it is inappropriate for use in formal and informal writing, unless it is placed in quotation marks and introduced for a specific rhetorical purpose: "Hey dude, ya know what I mean?" See also colloquial expressions.

Spatial order
Spatial order is a method of description that begins at one geographical point and moves onward in an orderly fashion. See, for example, Lesley Choyce's description of Wedge Island that first describes the whole island and then moves from the grassy peninsula at the top out to the tip.

Specific: See general.

Style is the unique, individual way in which each author expresses his or her ideas. Often referred to as the "personality" of an essay, style is dependent on a writer's manipulation of diction, sentence structure, figurative language, point of view, characterization, emphasis, mood, purpose, rhetorical strategy, and all the other variables that govern written material.

Subjective: See objective.

Summary is a condensed statement of a larger grouping of thoughts or observations.

Syllogism refers to a three-step deductive argument that moves logically from a major and a minor premise to a conclusion. A traditional example is "All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal."

Symbol refers to an object or action in literature that metaphorically represents something more important than itself. In Gwynne Dyer's "Flagging Attention" he acknowledges the symbolic value of flags as representing their countries and thereby creating a sense of national unity and community.

Synonyms are terms with similar or identical denotative meanings, such as aged, elderly, older person, and senior citizen, but with different connotative meanings.

Syntax describes the order in which words are arranged in a sentence and the effect that this arrangement has on the creation of meaning.


Thesis statement or thesis is the principal focus of an essay. It is usually phrased in the form of a question to be answered, a problem to be solved, or an assertion to be argued. The word thesis derives from a Greek term meaning "something set down," and most good writers find that "setting down" their thesis in writing helps them tremendously in defining and clarifying their topic before they begin to write an outline or a rough draft.

Tone is a writer's attitude or point of view toward his or her subject. See also mood.

Topic sentence
Topic sentence is the central idea around which a paragraph develops. A topic sentence controls a paragraph in the same way a thesis statement unifies and governs an entire essay. See also induction and deduction.

Transition is the linking together of sequential ideas in sentences, paragraphs, and essays. This linking is accomplished primarily through word repetition, pronouns, parallel constructions, and such transitional words and phrases as therefore, as a result, consequently, moreover, and similarly.


Understatement, the opposite of hyperbole, is a deliberate weakening of the truth for comic or emphatic purpose. Commenting, for example, on the food at SkyRink, Dave Bidini says in "Kris King Looks Terrible": "There were kiosks selling blackened grouper, lemon chicken, bean curd seared in garlic and peppers, sushi, and hot soup with prawns-not your typical hockey cuisine."

Unity exists in an essay when all ideas originate from and help support a central thesis statement.

Usage refers to the customary rules that govern written and spoken language.


Vantage point
Vantage point is the frame of reference of the narrator in a story: close to the action, far from the action, looking back on the past, or reporting on the present. See also person and point of view.