Write Defining Essay
What is a Definition Essay?
A definition essay works to provide the nitty-gritty details about a word or concept. For example, in an art class, you may be asked to write a definition essay on Vermillion (a vivid reddish-orange color) or Cubism, a specific approach to creating art. A definition essay should always focus on a complex subject; simple subjects won’t provide enough details to adequately write an essay. While the subject may change, the structure of an essay remains the same. All definition essays should include an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
Types of Definition Essays
Professors often assign definition essays towards the beginning of a class. The focus of this type of essay is to explore a specific concept. These concepts are often divided into one of three categories:
In this type of essay, the assignment explores how to fully define a difficult topic. By definition, an abstract concept is one that is vast and complicated. Examples of abstract concepts include liberty, ambition, love, hate, generosity, and pride. The focus of the essay should be to break down the concept into more manageable parts for the audience.
Definition essays that focus on a place tend to explore a specific type of place and how you as the writer view this particular place. Types of places which may be assigned are a country, state, city, neighborhood, park, house, or a room. The place may be huge or small. A key to writing a good definition essay focused on the place is to select a specific place you are familiar with; it shouldn’t be a place you need to research — it should be a place that you know intimately.An Adjective
An adjective essay focuses on creating a definition for an adjective. Common topics may include describing a “good” or “bad” friend, present, or law. The focus of the essay should explore the qualities and characteristics of a good friend or a bad present.
Perfecting the Definition Essay Outline – and Beyond!
Before sitting down to write a definition essay, you’ll need to make out all the parts to the whole. In other words, how, exactly, will you define the subject of the essay? You’ll need to consider all the different parts, or the gears, that make the clock work. Once you’ve brainstormed the parts, you’re ready to create an outline, and then write some paragraphs. The outline for this essay is as easy as in five paragraph essay – it contains an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The number of body paragraphs is determined by how many aspects you’re subject needs defined. This type of essay is exactly what it sounds like: it works to define a specific word or concept.
Take Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s advice when writing: “Never say more than is necessary.”
So, here is what constitutes the outline of the definition essay:
An introduction paragraph should act as a gateway to the subject of the definition essay. Use this paragraph to gently introduce the subject, and gain the reader’s interest. This paragraph should begin with an attention getter (the “hook”) that makes the reader curious and want to read more. Quotations are always a great idea as are interesting facts. Next, provide background details that the reader will need to understand the concept or idea to be defined in the body paragraphs.
Unlike other papers, like cause and effect essay, the definition essay is unique in that it requires the writer to provide the dictionary definition of the word, and then the thesis definition. Since dictionary definitions are often dry and narrow, the thesis definition is your opportunity truly encompass the complexity of the word.
Each body paragraph should focus on a different aspect that contributes to the overall definition of the subject being discussed in the definition essay.
A definition essay typically contains three body paragraphs, although there can be more if the writer desires. The first body paragraph delves into the origin of the word and how it became mainstreamed into the language. This paragraph can talk about any root words, prefixes, and/or suffixes in the word, as well as the evolution of the word (if there is one).
- The Denotative Definition Paragraph
The second body paragraph should focus on the dictionary definition, and how the word can be used in writing and conversation. For example, love can appear as several different parts of speech; it can be a noun, verb, or adjective.
- The Connotative Definition Paragraph
The third body paragraph, and often the longest one, should focus on conveying the writer’s definition of the word. This definition should be based on both the writer’s personal experience as well as research. Don’t be afraid to be bold – describe this word in a way that no one else has! Be original; describe the word as a color or animal, and defend your choice. Provide examples of the word in action and maintain the reader’s engagement at all costs. Aim for sentences like this:
Quixotic describes the eternal quest of optimistic individuals striving to find the magical, the visionary, the idealistic experiences in life despite all obstacles and naysayers.
This exists as an excellent sentence because it provides clues as to the type of word quixotic is by pairing it with magical, visionary, and idealistic. By stating that it’s a word optimistic individuals would gravitate towards, the audience inherently understands it’s more positive than negative. Indeed, the third body paragraph should focus on communicating the writer’s comprehension of the concept, idea or term.
Just because this is the shortest paragraph, doesn’t mean that it will be the easiest to write. In fact, the better the body paragraphs are, the easier writing the conclusion paragraph will be. Why? Because a good conclusion paragraph reiterates the main points stated in each body paragraph. If the body paragraphs are clear and avoid rambling, pulling the main ideas for the conclusion will be easy! Just remember: you don’t want to repeat yourself word for word, but you do want to echo your main ideas; so summarize yourself instead of copy and pasting.
Many professors may create the definition essay as a personal writing assignment. If this is the case, then it would be appropriate to also discuss what the word or concept means personally to you. Select an example in your own life and validate your descriptions of the word.
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Definition Essay Outline Example
Once you got the concept of your future essay wrapped up, it’s time to put things to the practice and create an outline. Here is what your outline might look like. Our topic is: Love.
- Introduction. Thesis: While different cultures define the concept of love differently, most cultures will agree that love exists as a positive, yet broad concept that has fueled humans since the dawn of time.
- Topic Sentence 1. While the Ancient Greeks, Chinese, and Persian cultures all approached love differently, they also shared many similar attitudes towards love.
- Topic Sentence 2. The denotative definition of love includes 7 noun definitions and 6 verb definitions; this highlights the complex nature of love as a concept.
- Topic Sentence 3. Modern society is fueled by the idea of love whether in intrapersonal, interpersonal, or business relationships.
- Conclusion. Love affects every aspect of the human experience and has since the beginning of time.
Definition Essay Sample
Be sure to check the sample essay, completed by our writers. Use it as an example to write your own argumentative essay. Link: Essay sample: Team Norms and Procedures.
Tips on Writing a Definition Essay from Our Experts
Need some advice from our professional writers? We’ve got you covered. Here are some great tips on how to write an A-level definition essay:
- When writing a definition essay, keep the sentences simple when you can; however, occasionally, you’ll need to create longer, more descriptive sentences. Consider juxtaposing short sentences with longer ones to maintain reader interest.
- Incorporate literary devices when trying to define an abstract word or concept. Check out this example: Love is a campfire on a chilly November evening. Its warmth glides over your entire being, from the top of your head to the tips of your toes – but watch out: get too close, and you’ll catch fire and burn.
- Stuck on deciding on a topic? If you get to select your own topic, remember that selecting an abstract topic is best: love, forgiveness, contentment, or hero are all great options. Don’t fall into the trap of selecting a topic with too many aspects to define such as the history of man.
- Select a topic that allows plenty of original description – that’s the goal: to describe a concept in such a way that hasn’t been done before. Be original: state the history and the original of the word and then delve into your perception of it.
- Finally, begin early. Create an outline to help organize your idea, and then begin the research process to determine the origin of the word as well its evolution. Consider answering such questions as who created the word (Did you know Shakespeare coined the words lonely and majestic?), how it has evolved, and whether it has multiple parts of speech. The more questions you answer, the more definition will be put into your essay!
How confident are you right now in your ability to write a killer definition essay?
A. Super-confident. I can write a great essay with one hand tied behind my back.
B. Reasonably confident. I’d probably need both hands to type my paper.
C. Completely lacking in confidence. I couldn’t write a good paper right now unless I had an extra hand.
If you picked A or B, you probably have a good understanding of how to write a definition essay, but you should keep reading anyway. You might just learn a tip or two!
If you picked C, that’s okay too. I’m here to lend a helping hand and boost your writing confidence.
How to Write A Definition Essay With Confidence
“Thermometer – Confidence Level” by Vic, Flickr.com (CC BY 2.0)
Step 1: Pick a word or concept to define
Picking the right word or concept to define is a crucial step in writing a definition essay, so choose carefully.
Say you choose “pencil” as the topic of your definition essay. After you’ve written something like “a writing instrument” as your definition, what’s left to say? Exactly. Not much.
This means that basic nouns—such as pencil, cow, or corn—usually aren’t good topic choices for a definition essay.
Instead, choose a word that is a bit more abstract and can mean something different to just about everyone.
Perhaps you choose “home” as the topic for your paper. With this topic, there’s so much more to write about beyond the standard dictionary definition of “a dwelling or place of residence.”
A house might be limited to this definition, but a home can be so much more than simply a place to live. To some, home will always be the place where they grew up. To others, home is any place where their family might be. Still others might travel a lot and feel home is wherever they sleep for the night.
Bonus tip on choosing topics: Pick a topic you know something about. If you think Baroque is defined as having no money, then you probably shouldn’t try to define the Baroque style of music.
Step 2: Choose appropriate definition patterns
“Deciding Which Door to Choose 2” by Vic, Flickr.com (CC BY 2.0)
While a basic dictionary might be included as part of your discussion, you should focus on writing your own definition. Provide readers with a fresh perspective or new insights into the term.
How exactly do you write your own definition of a word?
You can choose from and combine four basic patterns to write a definition.
- Define by function
- Define by structure
- Define by analysis
- Define by what the word doesn’t mean
Let’s dive into those in more detail.
1. Define by function
Explain how something works or what it does.
If you’re defining a tangible object, such as a cellphone, you might explain how it works or its purpose. For instance, you might briefly explain various features—such as apps, texting, calling, and the camera—but your real focus would likely be its function in society. How do people use phones? What do they mean to people?
You might also choose a topic that is far more abstract, such as the term “justice.” In this case, think about the function of justice in society. How does justice work? What does it accomplish?
2. Define by structure
Describe its parts, how something is put together, or how it’s organized.
Again, if you’re writing about an object, such as a computer, you could describe its parts and how it’s put together, but your focus would be a larger discussion, such as its function in the workplace. (This is an excellent example of how you can combine patterns to create an extended definition.)
If your paper’s focus is something a little more subjective, such as “the perfect party,” you can explain what parts make up the perfect party, how you put the party together, and/or how you should organize it. Here, you could also combine patterns and include a discussion of the function of a party on a college campus.
3. Define by analysis
Explain how the term fits into a larger group, how it’s similar, and how it’s different from others in the group.
Using this pattern, you create a definition that explains how your term is either similar to or different from the larger group. For instance, if you’re defining “a terrible professor,” you might compare the professor to other professors at the college.
What makes a terrible professor so terrible? Do terrible professors have different course policies than the non-terrible professors? Are their grading scales a nightmare? Do they run their classes like a military boot camp?
4. Define by what the term does not mean
Explain what the word is not.
In some cases, it’s easier to explain what something is not rather than what it is.
For instance, it might be hard to define the perfect date. It might be easier, and more effective, to explain what the perfect date is not.
Maybe the perfect date doesn’t spend the entire evening complaining about her roommate. Maybe the perfect date is a guy who doesn’t spend the whole night checking sports scores and the progress of his fantasy football team.
Step 3: Support the definition with clear and specific examples
Examples are the evidence you’ll use to support your case and create your definition. They are essentially the body of your paper.
Choose examples that are easy to understand and written in clear, specific language. This will allow readers to relate to your writing, thus creating a more effective definition (and a better essay).
Here’s a an easy-to-relate-to example to help illustrate my point.
Let’s define a “good professor.”
You could start with defining by analysis. Explain how this type of professor fits into the larger group of professors on campus.
- You might explain that a good professor provides study guides a week before exams to help students prepare.
- A good professor also has interesting and engaging lectures to help you stay awake through three-hour classes. Here, you could include an example of a history professor who dressed up in period costumes and lectured as if he actually took part in the Civil War.
You could then switch to another pattern and explain what a good professor is not.
- You might explain that a good professor doesn’t lock the door at precisely 8:00 a.m. when the class starts and refuse to let anyone in after class begins.
- You might include a brief example about the time you overslept for your 8:00 a.m. literature class but rushed across campus in a desperate attempt to make it on time. When you arrived, breathless, at 8:04 a.m., you found the door locked with the professor lecturing. When you knocked, the professor came to the door to tell you class had started, refused to let you in, and promptly closed the door in your face.
- You could then explain how a good professor isn’t one who has no compassion or understanding that circumstances sometimes prevent people from being exactly on time and that a good professor would encourage people to attend class, even if they needed to be a few minutes late.
See how all of these examples help readers move beyond a standard dictionary definition and express your definition of a good professor?
Need to see a few more examples before you dive in to write your own essay? Check out these example definition essays:
Definition of the Ancient Nubian Civilization
The Essence of Christmas
Courage: A Major Characteristic of a Hero
The Definition of Freedom
Pop Quiz #2
Now how confident are you in your ability to write a killer definition essay?
A. Amazingly confident. I can write this paper in my sleep.
B. Tremendously confident. I can write the paper while watching a Simpson’s marathon.
C. Both of these are correct. I’m amazingly, tremendously confident I can write a killer definition essay under just about any circumstances.
What? You’re confident you can write the paper but don’t know what to write about, you say? Don’t worry, I can help with that too.
Read this post with 20 topics that go beyond the obvious to get some inspiration for your own definition essay, or check out How to Write an Essay on Just About Anything. Maybe even try some prewriting strategies to get all your thoughts on paper first.
Now, with your confidence levels at an all-time high, it’s time to get to work on that paper!
If you’re looking for a little more help and need some constructive feedback once you have your definition essay drafted, I’m confident a Kibin editor will be happy to help.
Best of luck!
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