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Kind of Essays
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.

3 steps of definition

  1. Define the term precisely to the readers
  2. Present clarity in your information
  3. 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.

Essay Writing

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 defined
  • 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 definitions.

Definition essays can focus on words, which are

  • Obscure, unknown--the definition given is usually formal
  • 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.
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