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
3 steps of definition
- Define the term precisely to the readers
- Present clarity in your information
- Use facts, examples or story that the readers
can relate and understand.
When writing a definition essay the analysis
goes deeper than a simple dictionary definition,
it should attempt to explain why the term is defined
as such. It could define the term directly, giving
no information other than the explanation of the
term. Alternatively, it could imply the definition
of the term, telling a story that requires the
reader to infer the meaning.
Methods for Writing
Definiton Essays (use of other modes for support)
Methods used when defining:
Most of the modes we have studied so
far can be used as methods in the definition essay.
For example, to define something, a writer can
- Describe it
- Tell stories about it (anecdotes)
- Compare or contrast it to other things
- Give examples of it
- Classify it and identify its unique properties
- Describe causes and effects of the item being
- Explain its process of functioning
An example of a definition essay is the introduction
to Terence McLauglin's book Dirt: A Social History
as Seen Through the Uses and Abuses of Dirt (1971)
where he defines dirt by giving examples, comparing
it to things which are not considered dirt, by
analogies, and by extended examples (narratives).
In a formal definition essay, the thesis is usually
the formal definition. The significance, importance,
relevance, or value of discussing this term is
usually provided in the introduction.
In an informal definition essay, the thesis focuses
on the significance, importance, relevance, or
value of the thing being defined. Most of the
essays in our textbook are examples of informal
Definition essays can focus on words, which are
- Obscure, unknown--the definition given is
- Necessary to a field of study--usually formal
definitions are given
- Misunderstood--these essays often focus on
the value of a correct understanding or the
history of how the word became misunderstood
- Abstract--Often-informal definitions will
be given of abstract words like love
or beauty with the purpose of making
these abstractions more accessible or concrete.
Often these definitions are highly personal.
- Commonplace--sometimes definition essays
will focus on commonplace words for the purpose
of leading readers to a new appreciation of
the word or to revitalize the word.