What is a Definition Essay?
A definition essay is writing that explains what a term means. Some terms have definite, concrete meanings, such as glass, book, or tree. Terms such as honesty, honor, or love are abstract and depend more on a person's point of view.
Three Steps to Effective Definition
- Tell readers what term is being defined.
- Present clear and basic information.
- Use facts, examples, or anecdotes that readers will understand.
Choosing a Definition
Choosing a definition is a key step in writing a definition essay. You need to understand the term before you can define it for others. Read the dictionary, but don't just copy the definition. Explain the term briefly in your own words. Also, it's important to limit your term before you start defining it. For example, you could write forever on the term "love." To limit it, you would write about either "romantic love," "platonic love," or "first love."
Thesis Statement of a Definition Essay
The thesis statement usually identifies the term being defined and provides a brief, basic definition.
(term) (basic definition)
Ex: Assertiveness is standing up for your rights.
How To Write an Effective Definition
- Create a definition. There are several ways to define a term. Here are a few options.
- Define by function. Explain what something does or how something works.
- Define by structure. Tell how something is organized or put together.
Define by analysis. Compare the term to other members of its class and then illustrate the differences. These differences are special characteristics that make the term stand out. For example, compare a Siberian husky to other dogs, such as lap dogs, mutts, or sporting dogs.
(term) (precise definition)
Ex: A Siberian husky is a dog reputed for its ability to tolerate cold, its distinctive features, and its keen strength and stamina.
- Define by what the term does not mean. This distinction can sometimes clarify a definition and help a reader to better understand it.
- Use understandable facts, examples, or anecdotes. Select facts, examples, or anecdotes to fully explain your definition. Ask yourself, "Which examples will best help readers understand the term? What examples would most appeal to my readers? Will a brief story reveal the term's meaning?" Do not use any examples that will not support the definition.
Remember: A definition essay is writing that explains what a term means. When writing a definition essay, remember to tell readers what term is being defined, to present a clear and basic definition, and to use facts, examples, or anecdotes that readers will understand
Here are the examples of popular definition essay topics:
- Sense of Humor
Whatever essay topic you choose, you should be interested in the subject and familiar with it. It would be great if you had your personal experience in the matter you are going to define.
Byron Alexander Campbell: Hey Patrick, I am going over your love letter submission and getting things ready, and have been talking with Janice Lee about it, and we were wondering if you might consider doing a revision to bring in some more focus on craft? Maybe either touch on the form of the love letter itself or more talk about writing? It can still be interspersed w/ other autobiographical stuff, but I think it might be a better fit for the site if there were a clearer critical focus to it (while still being in your signature style).
Also, is the title final? What’s the meaning? [Editor’s Note: The original submitted title was “Big Ups W/Space.”]
Patrick Benjamin: The title’s not final. It was a phrase that came to mind when I realized I needed a title. It has no intended meaning. Which I thought fit the piece(s) because when I wrote them they had no intended purpose. Even as I was writing them I knew I’d never send them.
But I’ll draw up something in respect to craft. Have something for you soon.
Patrick Benjamin: This fucking guy stole my idea. It wasn’t one I was going to explain, but now that it’s been stolen I feel I should mention it. What that is I won’t say. Or who stole it. But it’s on this site. And it’s not a new idea.
[Editor’s Note: It was this piece by Michael J. Seidlinger, which I sent to Patrick as an example of writing-about-craft-but-not-really-about-craft. The idea is writing only while drunk. As Patrick says, it’s not a new one.]
Folks say There Are No New Ideas and I’m inclined to agree until I stop agreeing. Meaning, I stop agreeing once I write something that feels new. Original.
Craft is boring. It’s boring to talk about, and worse to read about.
You sit, you write. That’s process.
But then you do the worst fucking thing you’ll ever have to do: edit.
So I don’t edit. Or when I do, I cut a sentence and add a page. I’ve talked to so many “writers” and writers (I’m not admitting to being either) about process and craft and output and I get exhausted of hearing about how hard it is to simply sit down and write something that now I just nod and say, “yeah, so hard” and then leave and write something.
It’s not good. It’s not bad. It’s writing. It doesn’t matter.
But if writing’s your thing you know it. It’s one of the things you do.
Most everything anyone ever does is boring. The things I cherish, the books and records and whatever I go back to, they matter because I like them. Nothing more, nothing less.
I have all these love letters I’ve written people over the years. (I’m really old.)
I sent Byron a few of them and he’s agreed to put them up.
These two I wrote while fucked-up drunk and really high on Vicodin. That’s something that “works” for me. It doesn’t make my writing any better. I just like writing when I’m fucked up and don’t care what people’ll think.
If you’re a reader, first, thanks. I am too. It’s great, right? I can’t do it that much because my vision is super-weird and it takes me, like, a week to read a 200 page book, but I love it. Nothing compares.
Apropos of nothing, I used to take Dexedrin with this girl in college and we’d (obviously) stay up all night writing about the occult. It was incredibly fun. She had a really nice boyfriend with Edward Gorey tattoos all over his arms and I had a really nice girlfriend with no tattoos. I just talked to her the other, the girl I dated. She’s still really cool, which is nice to know. Almost like I “know how to pick ‘em.” Something like that.
Oh, I should mention we were taking a class on the occult titled “The Occult.” The professor was so fucking weird. But he was great. He took us out on this huge lawn thing and did some sort of ritual with a sword that had some relation the The Order of The Golden Dawn. But don’t ask me about it. I don’t get it, even after reading all the books we were supposed to read, which I didn’t at the time.
It was a cool course and a few times that girl and I took Dexedrin before we went to his class. But he was fully Spaceballs crazy so it’s not like he noticed. And if he’d found out I doubt he would’ve cared. He was on another planet.
And there. See? It’s 5:54PM and I started writing what you’ve read at 5:50PM.
Byron: Oh my god that is awesome. I am not sure I can put it on the site as is but it is awesome. I will let you know. I think it would work to append this to the love letters, you think?
Byron: Yeah I remember now what you had said about drunkenness before. No connection with what Michael wrote tho. I think if you are gonna call him out, you should call him out (even though I don’t think you’re actually calling him out).
Byron: Also there is no fucking reference to the playing times of the movie The Craft in here [Editor’s Note: In reference to a phone conversation about the submission], which is what threw me. Maybe you should consider reworking it to include references to Kraft macaroni like a Barenaked Ladies concert.
Patrick: Taking time away from real work: Byron is insane. I don’t mean that hyperbolically, and he can cut it out if he’d like, but the dude is asking me to elucidate a point about the film The Craft, which I lied about before. I don’t need research. Well, we’ll see.
Whatserface loses her hair. We call to the watchdogs of all the cardinal directions. There’s a Balk in there. I think.