How to Write a Definition Essay Tips

HomeHow to Write a Definition Essay Tips

A definition essay is a type of writing assignment that requires you to select a concept and provide a thorough understanding of its meaning. It goes behind giving the standard dictionary definition and instead allows you to explore the idea from several different perspectives. When choosing a word for this type of essay, it is best to focus on something that interests you and for which you have sufficient knowledge that would make it easier to explain it to others. Once you settle upon the concept, you should develop a clear and concise thesis that argues why it is important to look at this word from a different angle. There are many ways in which you can define a concept depending on the approach you choose. You should consider which aspect of the topic you would like to examine. Furthermore, you will need to provide strong support for your thesis by using a variety of examples and convince the reader that your perspective is sound. This article provides advice on how to write a definition essay, including step-by-step suggestions on how to select the word, and structure the paper itself.

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How to Write a Definition Essay

If you have never been assigned a definition essay, you are likely to be in for a surprise. This assignment combines objective academic writing along with your own subjective opinions. Since this is a full paper, you will need to find ways to expand upon this word, which means a standard dictionary definition will not cut it. For this reason, you should look for a word for which there is enough material that allows for an essay on several pages. There are some strategies that you can utilize in order to accomplish this.

Part 1 out of 3: Choosing an Appropriate Word

    • Choose an abstract concept that is full of meaning.

For this paper, you should select a word that is open to interpretation. In other words, you will not be exploring the definition of “spoon” or “elephant” since they are literally what they are. More specifically, they are tangible words for which you cannot ascribe alternative meanings.

    • Make sure that the meaning of the word can be debated.

Along the same lines, besides choosing a word with deep meaning, you would also want to choose a concept that is very much open to interpretation. For example, while everybody can speak about love in the general sense, there are still major differences in opinion about the function that love serves. Indeed, any type of emotion is worth exploring in detail, which makes them ideal options for definition essays.

    • Choose a concept that you know something about.

If you choose a word that you know very little about, it will be virtually impossible to apply it based on knowledge or personal experience. The word should have genuine meaning in your life.

    • Read a standard definition from a dictionary.

As you explore the word that you have chosen, you will want to understand the textbook definition since you will want to compare your unique perception of the word to the bare bones, academic definition.

    • Do some research on where the word originated.

Using a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary is a good option for this since it explains the word’s origin. By knowing the history of the word and where it derives, you can provide additional rationale regarding your argument for what the concept means to you.

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Part 2 out of 3: Breaking Down the Word into Its Elements

    • Write an analysis.

When possible, separate the word into segments and provide analysis for each.
This is a very productive strategy since you will be able to devote an entire paragraph to each part! For instance, the word “return” can be broken down into “re” and “turn.” Discuss what the prefix “re” means in a broad sense and proceed to discuss how it alters the meaning of “turn.” Naturally, not all words can be broken down into segments. However, if you choose an emotion such as “anger” you can examine other words that are commonly used together with it, such as “boiling.”

    • Classify the concept.

Using a dictionary, identify the class as well as the parts of speech that the word is categorized in. Although this might not be the most exciting part of your essay, it can nonetheless be useful to demonstrate the versatility of your chosen word is.

    • Take an unfamiliar word and compare it to something familiar.

Use familiar concepts to help the reader understand an uncommon word better.

    • Think creatively.

When explaining what something looks like, use colorful words so that the reader can really get a good idea about its features.

    • Use examples to convey meaning.

Narratives are a good way to express ideas (especially abstract concepts) that are otherwise difficult to explain.

    • Use negation.

Do not just discuss what it is; also explain what it is not.

    • Provide historical context.

Do some research to determine where the words came from. What you discover could really add interest to the paper.

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Part 3 out of 3: Structure of Your Definition Essay

    • Give the standard definition.

In the introduction paragraph, you will need to explain what a word means based on the conventional definition, and then use that to build upon your unique definition. This provides context and helps the reader understand the word at its most basic level.

    • Use the thesis to provide your own definition of the word.

When writing the thesis, keep your definition concise and to the point. You will use the rest of the paper to discuss your interpretation in greater detail.

    • Body of the paper.

Use this section of the paper to really elaborate on your definition. One way to do this, as has already been mentioned, is to break your word into parts and devote individual paragraphs to each segment.

    • Write a good conclusion.

Provide a summary of your main arguments (in the form of the topic sentences that each paragraph should be devoted to). Discuss how this concept personally affects you and how the reader can find meaning.

    • Proofread and edit.

Do not neglect the process of polishing up your work! Once you have finished the draft of your definition essay, try your best to let it sit overnight before you read it again. If you lack the time, spend a couple of hours finding ways to clear your mind such as going for a walk or meeting up with a friend. Once you return, you will be able to look at the paper with a fresh set of eyes.
Check the paper for grammar mistakes as well as structural problems. You should also make sure that the paper is logical. The best way to determine whether it can be understood is to read it aloud to yourself. Even better, ask a friend or a relative to read it and provide feedback. If it makes sense to them, you are on the right track!

Think of any critique (even if negative) as an opportunity to improve as a writer! Of course, you should also make sure that you have followed your instructor’s word/page requirements. You might be allowed to go slightly over or under the amount, but you should check with your instructor to be certain.

If your essay requires a cover page, make sure to include it. You should also reference all sources in-text as well as in the reference list following the essay.

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