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!
Panic (noun) 1. sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior
“A wave of panic washed over him as he realized he didn’t have a topic for his definition essay.”
If this definition applies to you right now, and you’re panicking because you have a paper due tomorrow (okay, so you’ve procrastinated just a little bit on this paper), take a deep breath. This post lists 20 definition essay topics to help you get started.
The Definition Essay Defined
The definition essay is deceptively simple. All you need to do is define a term or concept.
But a definition essay is more than a simple dictionary definition. A definition essay extends the definition by providing examples to help readers understand the term or concept being defined.
Let me say that again: a definition essay uses an extended example.
A definition essay is typically based on a single word or concept, so don’t chose an object like a dog or a potato. You don’t need an entire essay to define these types of objects. You can define them in a few sentences.
Instead, choose an abstract term that leaves room for interpretation.
For example, if you define happiness, readers can argue your definition because everyone defines happiness differently. Happiness to you might be a day sunbathing at the beach. Happiness to your roommate might be a day fishing on the river.
One last tip about choosing the right topic: choose a term or concept that you’re familiar with.
Don’t choose a word like quixotism from a word list just because it sounds cool and just might relate to Don Quixote. If all you have is a dictionary (or Wikipedia) definition to go on, you’ll struggle to write a definition essay about the term.
Now that you’re armed with a better understanding of a definition essay, you can move on to deciding on your definition essay topics.
20 Definition Essay Topics That Go Beyond the Obvious
Here is a list of 20 definition essays topics to help you write the perfect paper. Some of the items are linked to example essays to give you even more inspiration.
Think about being a senior with only months left before graduation. Think about not wanting to go to class, about wanting to skip all things resembling homework, and daydreams of what your future holds. What makes a senior fall victim to senioritis? Is it even real, or do people simply feel as though they should act this way before graduation?
2. The perfect shopping experience
Does the perfect shopping experience mean an afternoon trying on countless pairs of shoes? Does it mean finding a great bargain? Maybe the perfect shopping experience is being first in line for the new iPhone. Or maybe you hate to shop, so a perfect shopping experience means a few clicks, and packages arrive at your door in three days.
Would you say a college graduate is successful if he makes $50,000 per year? Does success mean that he needs to make $100,000 or more? Do you think money has nothing to do with success?
What if someone has failed many times? Can he or she still be successful? Can failure actually be a success story in disguise?
As you try to define laziness, keep in mind that this definition can vary greatly from one generation to the next. Do your grandparents have a completely different view of what it means to be lazy?
Maybe it’s your parents or your boss who has a different definition of lazy. I’m guessing that on at least one occasion in your life one of your parents uttered the phrase, “Don’t be so lazy!”
If someone is lazy, do they lack ambition? Maybe what some perceive as lazy isn’t even laziness at all. Perhaps they just have different priorities and didn’t bother to clean their room not because they’re lazy, but because they just don’t care about a spotless environment.
5. The American Dream
The definition of the American Dream has shifted over time. The current American Dream isn’t always a spouse of the opposite gender, a home, 2.5 kids, and a white picket fence. While this definition certainly may be true for many, chances are others (like singles and childless couples) have a completely different definition of the American Dream. How does an American immigrant define the American Dream compared to a natural born citizen?
Anyone who has been in a relationship has a definition of cheating. Ever catch your significant other flirting with some old flame on Facebook? Is that cheating? (Most likely, the person doing the flirting will say “no.”)
Cheating doesn’t have to only refer to relationships. You might define cheating as it relates to academics. Does having your roommate “help” you write your paper mean you’re cheating?
Billy Rowlinson (flickr.com)
The definition of marriage changes by generation and by culture.
Today, the term marriage doesn’t necessarily mean only one man and one woman. Some might define marriage as inclusive of same-sex couples, and still others might define marriage as allowing for polygamist relationships. How do you define marriage?
Does a family have to be a mother, father, and child? Can a childless couple be a family? What role does extended family play in people’s lives?
In some cases, non-relatives, such as friends, stepparents, and mentors are considered family.
If a blood line isn’t necessarily the only criteria for being family, what characteristics or actions define a person as family?
Remember that guy who cut in front of you at the convenience store? Or how about that lady who bumped into you and didn’t even say “excuse me”? It’s pretty easy to think of examples of rude behavior in our society, so decide what you feel is rude and get to work defining it!
What makes a house a home? To some, home is always the place where you grew up. To others, home is where they’re living at the time.
But what makes a home so special? People usually feel calm, relaxed, and happy at home. Why is your own home more than just a place to live?
11. A good wife/girlfriend or husband/boyfriend
The definition of these terms are as varied as individuals. Ever meet your friend’s new significant other and wonder, “What does she see in him?” or “Why in the world would he want to date her?”
Your friend might feel he’s the perfect boyfriend because he always texts to see how she’s doing. You might think he’s too nosey or even too controlling.
Defining a good partner means you’ll have to decide what qualities a person must have in order to be right for you.
This is one of those grey-area terms (at least to many people). Does honesty mean telling the truth no matter what? If you hate your friend’s new haircut, do you tell her? If your friend’s girlfriend is cheating on him, do you say something? If you have knowledge of something and lie by omission, can you still be considered honest?
Do you respect your parents, your teachers, your significant other, and/or your friends? If you said “yes,” how can you prove it? What does it mean to show respect to someone? What type of actions demonstrate respect, and what makes someone deserving of respect?
Fashion is another one of those terms that varies with time. Remember that outfit you wore a few years ago for your school picture? I bet you wouldn’t be caught dead in that outfit today, right? Ever look at a picture of your mom or dad when they were teens and wonder who could ever think those haircuts were in style?
Of course, all of those things were fashionable at the time. Consider why fashion changes, who decides fashions, how fashion influences us, and how fashion makes us feel about ourselves.
Did you grow up sharing a room with your brother or sister and wish you had even a little bit of privacy? Have you yelled at someone for snooping through your phone or your computer? If so, these might be good places to start your discussion on privacy.
If you’re thinking of privacy on a larger scale, your discussion could include internet privacy or whether or not the government is trying to invade our privacy through monitoring of phone calls and emails.
Is beauty only skin deep? Sure outward appearance is the easy choice to describe someone’s beauty, but what about inner beauty? What does it mean to possess inner beauty?
Of course beauty doesn’t always apply to people. Beauty can apply to nature or even an inanimate object (like a car, a guitar, or even a new pair of shoes).
We’ve all heard those stories on TV about a guy who rescued someone. The neighborhood calls him a hero, but he declines the title, saying he just did what any other person would do. Military veterans are generally considered heroes, also, yet many feel they’re undeserving of the honor, too.
What characteristics do these type of people have in common? Bravery, honor, and selflessness are good places to start.
Which characteristics are inherently male or inherently female? Can you define someone as masculine or feminine simply based on appearances? Does a haircut or personal style make someone masculine or feminine?
Can masculinity or femininity be partially determined by voice and body language. Maybe you need to look beyond appearances and examine a person’s actions and character. Or, perhaps, you can’t define masculinity or femininity without examining all of these attributes.
Poverty is a relative term. If someone is uber rich, the middle class seems poor. To the middle class, minimum-wage workers are likely poor.
But what does it mean to live in poverty? Sure the government sets poverty thresholds, but is poverty simply measured by income?
Insomnia Cured Here (Flickr.com) Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, “The Wizard of Oz”, 1939
In The Wizard of Oz, the Cowardly Lion asks the Wizard for courage. Why does he feel courage is so important? What does it mean to be courageous?
Society often says that soldiers, those suffering illness, and those facing adversity are courageous. Think about what characteristics these people possess and how they demonstrate courage.
Turning a Definition into a Definition Essay
As you know, just because you have a definition essay topic and a few examples doesn’t mean you have an essay.
So where do you start?
Sometimes it’s easiest to start at the beginning and write the introduction first.
Your introduction should grab readers’ attention, so you might pick one of these example hooks to begin your paper. A clever, funny, or interesting story or example from your own experience is a tried and true strategy to get your readers interested.
Have lots of ideas for your introduction but are still stumped on where to go from there? Try outlining. Read How to Write a 5-Paragraph Essay Outline for more help.
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