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!
I look at Snapchat, waiting for his reply. I missed him and wondered how he's been doing. He says he's good and boot camp was fun. I'm happy for him. I ask how is his girlfriend and he lovingly calls her crazy and he's keeping her. I'm glad.
I turn to my husband and tell him about Issac* and he asks if he has heard anything about the policy change. I'm happier than I ever have been.
Issac was my ex before my husband came along.
Now, some people feel weird about having your ex as a friend, but it's not always the "I still love you" or "You're my backup" cliche people assume. So there's a bit of history to this, please bear with me, alright? Okay, here it goes...
Issac and I had been friends since 4th grade. We had a sort of "tomboy protect skinny nerd but bullies him constantly" dynamic. We were great friends and spent most of our time together. Through all the early adolescent challenges we'd been there for each other. And then (cue misheard Katy Perry lyrics)... "The summer before high school."
I realized pretty quickly that I had developed a crush on him. I was pretty sure he liked me too, so on the last day of school, after we got out of class, we went to his house. I knew his dad and younger siblings were almost never home at this time.
We sat around, watching Netflix with some light childish teasing mixed in. After a couple hours, my nerves were kicking up, his dad would be home soon. "How the hell is this so easy for other people? Just tell him!" my thoughts screamed at me.
Suddenly, I had an idea. Nothing could go wrong with this! Issac walked me to the door and started saying goodbye and plans for the summer. Now is my chance and there's no turning back. I pinned him against the wall, kissed him, and ran out the door all the way home. What a rush!
That's how we started dating. I was his first kiss and his first heartbreak.
We spent the summer at his house, with friends at the park, or a mix. We kept it pretty lowkey and it was exciting. Nothing really changed between us. We did the same stuff we did before just with kisses. It was good.
But, all good things come to an end. As months passed, I was slowly losing interest. I didn't have that same feeling I did before. Did I really like him? Maybe, it was just infatuation.
One day, Issac and I were cuddling on the couch, my eyes closed and thinking over the confusion, when Issac gently whispered, "I Love You." I pretended I was asleep, so he didn't expect a reply and he didn't mention it after. I knew what I had to do and planned to talk with him next week in person.
The week rolls by and I don't know how to break it to him.
The day before I was to meet with Issac, a mutual friend of ours invited me and some of her friends I didn't know to the beach. In the cluster of friends was a guy named Scott.
At first sight, I knew I had to talk to him and I did. In fact, we chatted, joked, teased all day till sunset. Scott walked me home, added me on Facebook, and we stay up all night messaging each other. He was the one (confirmed: married now). I felt guilty about all of it because I hadn't dealt with Issac yet.
I messaged Issac and told him I wanted to break up and it was all downhill from there. Obviously, he asked why and the cliche "can we still be friends?" and I said yeah.
I broke that promise. The guilt, confusion, remorse and other negative emotions were affecting me. I avoided him when school started back up. I told him not to tell anyone we had dated, but word got out, anyway.
After that, I blocked him on social media and in life for three years. Immature? A bit, but hey, I was young and didn't think things through.
Scott and I are in love with each other, without question. After about three years, I went to a party and I saw him. Issac was dating the sister of our party host and the nerve that rushed through me wanted me to scram. I calmed down and walked over to say hi.
Surprisingly, he was overjoyed to see me and I was too. It had been years without one of my best friends and it was good to talk again. I got closure and he did too.
The point I'm making here is that it's okay to not understand your emotions and take time to think over your relationships. Issac and I both have great lives and wonderful partners.
Being ghosted and ghosting someone isn't great, but take that for yourself. Don't let it haunt you and it can actually help you. You'll figure everything out eventually. It takes time and everyone deals with situations differently. It's a form of self-care for some and it's okay. Be patience. Life doesn't always work out as you planned and it's probably for the best.
*Names have been changed for privacy