Writing a Definition Essay

Can you define an essay?


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A definition essay is a type of writing that aims at explaining a certain thing or occurrence. On the one hand, some of the essay definitions have very concrete meanings; for example, such words as a book, glass, or a tree. On the other hand, terms, such as honor, love or honesty, are very abstract, and their meaning depends more on ones worldview and beliefs.

Three steps to write an effective definition essay

  1. Present the defined term to the readers.
  2. Provide readers with basic, clear information about the term.
  3. It is helpful to include examples, facts or anecdotes that readers will be able to understand.

Pick a definition

Picking a term/definition to write about, is the most important step when one is starting to write an essay definition. A writer has to understand the term well before starting to define it for other readers. A writer surely can read the dictionary definition, but not simply copy it into the paper. What a writer can do, is explain the term briefly, using his/her own words. It is very important to make sure that the defined term is brief and specific before trying to define it. For example, writing about love may take all your time and you still won’t be able to fully define it. To make your paper clearer, you would, most probably, write about "platonic love," "romantic love," or "first love."

Definition paper’s thesis statement

Usually, the thesis statement identifies the defined term and aims to provide a basic definition, depending on definition essay topics.

(term) (basic definition)

Ex: Assertiveness means to stand up for one’s rights.

Tips for Writing an Effective Definition Paper

Make up a definition. There are a few ways to describe a term. Below are a few possible options.

  • Defining by function. A writer explains how something works or what can it do.
  • Defining by structure. A writer explains the way something is organized or put together.
  • Defining by analyzing. A writer compares the term to other similar ones and illustrates the differences between them. The differences between two similar terms are the special characteristics of the term that make it distinctive. For example, a writer can compare a Siberian husky to mutts, lap dogs, or sporting dogs.

(precise definition) (term)

Ex: Siberian husky is a dog that has an ability to tolerate cold, and it has a keen strength and stamina.

  • A term can be defined by what it does not mean. Such a distinction may clarify a definition and be helpful a reader when trying to understand it.

Try to use understandable facts, anecdotes and real life examples. Try to pick facts, anecdotes and examples to fully explain the chosen definition. You can ask yourself a question, "Are there examples that will best help my readers understand the term I picked? What examples are the most appealing? Will a brief story be able to reveal the term's real meaning?" Try to avoid using any examples that do not support the chosen definition.

Remember: A definition paper is an essay explaining a term. Definition essay examples prove that when writing an essay, a writer has to remember to inform his/her readers about the defined term, to present a clear and basic definition, and use facts, anecdotes or real examples.