How to Write a Definition Essay: Tips from 2 Experts

How to Write a Definition Essay: Tips from 2 Experts

A definition essay is a special type of assignment that simply explains the meaning of a certain term.  While some terms have specific and concrete definitions, such as tree or book, others are more abstract.  For example, terms such as honor, honesty, and love are all more abstract concepts that are a bit more difficult to explain and that rely heavily on the writer's point-of-view.  

Both abstract and concrete terms can be explained in definition essays, though more abstract terms generally make for a more interesting read.  Regardless of the type of term being defined, there are three major steps that must be followed when writing a definition article.

The first step when writing a definition essay is to simply tell the reader what you are planning to define.  Then, you present the basic definition of the term in a clear and simple manner.  Finally, you provide anecdotes, facts, and examples to help further clarify the definition of the term.

Perhaps one of the most difficult, yet most important, aspects of writing a definition essay is actually developing the definition that you will be supporting throughout the document.  In order to come up with a definition, you must have a clear understanding of the term that is beyond the simple dictionary definition.  In fact, while you can use the dictionary as a reference, you shouldn't simply copy the definition that the dictionary provides.  Rather, you should explain the meaning of the word in your own terms.

When dealing with abstract concepts, you will often need to limit the definition that you are planning to discuss.  For example, when writing about love, you could discuss romantic love, friendship love, parent-child love, first love, and more.  Attempting to cover all forms of love will be too broad for your essay and, as such, you should settle on just one definition and then form your paper around that definition.  

When developing your definition, you should define the function of the term being defined.  When defining the function, you should explain how it works or what it does.  You should also define the structure, which involves telling how it is organized or put together.  In addition, you should define by analysis.  When you define by analysis, you compare the term to similar terms and then describe how it is different from those other terms.  Finally, you define what the term is not, which can help to further clarify the meaning to the reader.  

When defining the term, you should strive to use facts that are easy to understand as well as anecdotes and examples.  When determining the examples you will use, focus only on those that will best help your reader understand the term and those anecdotes that would be the most appealing to the reader, such as a short story.

Finally, be sure to create an interesting introduction and a solid conclusion that wraps up the entire article.  The summary should leave the reader feeling as if he or she has learned something and gained a far greater understanding of the term that was defined.

Viewpoint of Author #2

Definition essays are just one of the many different report types that students are likely to be assigned.  A definition essay is much like any other report except that it requires students to perform a specific task using a particular report format.

A definition essay is a writing assignment that requires students to fully define a term, concept, subject, or item.  Definition essays rarely ask students to define simple terms such as boat, dog, or coat, but rather more complicated concepts such as ethics, honesty, sadness, happiness, or family.  A definition essay assignment is somewhat like an exercise in philosophy and the concept or term being defined can have a different meaning for each pupil.

Students often find writing a definition essay somewhat difficult because the concepts they are assigned are often intentionally obtuse.  Instructors use definition essays not only as a test of a student's writing skills but as a test of their critical thinking skills, as well.  The trick to writing a satisfactory definition essay is to pinpoint the definition and write about it in a way that encapsulates the thoughts of the pupil.

For instance, a student could write about the concept of family for pages.  But, it might be far more difficult to limit the definition of the concept to a one-page definition article.  It is important for students writing a definition essay to fine tune their definition and limit themselves to a concise definition of the term at hand.  

A good place to begin researching a definition essay is a dictionary.  Students can use a simple dictionary definition to introduce their own definition of the concept or term.  The remainder of the report can be used to expand on the dictionary definition.  Students should never rely solely on a dictionary definition as the basis of their definition article.

Other good sources of information for a definition essay are encyclopedias and philosophy books.  The good thing about exploring multiple references is that the student gains not only a technical understanding of the subject of his or her definition essay but also gains a philosophical understanding of the concept or term.  Using a combination of the technical and the philosophical encourages students to think about a variety of concepts and terms in a variety of ways.

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