Imagine you are looking at a new word you have not encountered before. It may or may not be interesting. Perhaps it is a word that is related to your work or studies. Whatever the case, it is best to ensure the integrity of one's vocabulary by looking up the meaning of the word and explaining this new-found knowledge in a specific genre of writing i.e. in the form of a definition essay. The topic suggestions and examples of definition essays provided in this guide are intended to help you get to grips with this type of writing.
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What is the Definition Essay?
There is something akin to a tautology in the idea of defining a definition essay. In the event you want to learn another tricky genre of academic writing, the first question you will need to answer is this, "how do definition essays look like?" Essentially, these essays are a form of academic writing that provides a more detailed description of a word or term that you would find in a dictionary. The definitions of words in dictionaries are usually quite brief. Definitions in an essay are longer by virtue of the fact that they merit an essay. To complete such an essay, you should include some descriptive, real-life examples and evidence to support your definitions after you have described your chosen term in a clear manner. Most experts would suggest you base this type of essay on a term or word such as those in the groups listed below:
- An abstract word;
- A word that gives rise to dispute;
- A word that is in some way special;
- A word that can mean several things;
- A word that does not have a clear or common meaning.
Attempting to create a definition essay around a word that has a specific or fairly narrow meaning is not the best idea e.g. words such as "table" or "bread." It is best to use words and terms that are broader in their meaning e.g. such words as "love", "beauty", "liberty" and so on. When writing your essay, give every possible meaning for your chosen word or term, including your own interpretation. Include examples based on your personal experience and give the opinions of others. One of the first explanations you should give is the official description from a dictionary.
It should not be too difficult to write quite a good definition essay. Usually, these are shorter than other written assignments. They tend to have just one goal, which is to define what a particular term means. There is no need to build any argument(s) to persuade readers of your position (unless you want to try and convince your readers that your own interpretation is the best one). It is permissible to include both the official dictionary definition and your own explanation. This is why this kind of the essay can take up an entire page.
Commonly Used Methods of Definition
- Analyze the word/term: Here, the subject is broken down into smaller parts and each component is defined on an individual basis;
- Classify the word/term: Into what classes can the subject be placed i.e. in what class does it belong?
- Compare the word/term: When a subject is unusual or out-of-the-ordinary, you may define it by comparing or contrasting it to a common item;
- Provide details about the word/term: What characteristics and/or distinguishing traits would best describe your chosen word or term?
- Use negation to define a word/term: Say what a word or term is not or does not mean as a way of clarifying what it actually is or means;
- Use cause and origin to define a word/term: Explain the background, history, or origin of a word or term to explain it;
- Use effects uses, and/or results to define a word/term: Explain what the subject is used for or describe its effects as a means of defining it.
The Structure of the Definition Essay
Let us show you how the essay structure, due to all academic standards, should look like.
Firstly, Prepare a Detailed Outline
While definitions essays are not generally as long as other essay types, an outline might still be necessary. The number of words can depend on how complex the word, term, or phrase you choose is. You can choose an entire phrase, proverb, or idiom to discuss in your essay, but do not forget that some words are very logical and easy to define. Likewise, there are certain other words that require extensive investigation and research to precisely represent what they really mean.
Academic papers should adhere to this accepted structure - an introductory paragraph, some main body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph. This principle also applies to definition essays.
The Introductory Paragraph in a Definition Essay
The introduction paragraph in this kind of essay should set out the official (dictionary) definition of the chosen word or term. This can be found on the relevant page in virtually any English dictionary. Additionally, these definitions can be found on the Internet if you want to bypass the paperwork. Once an accurate definition (or a number of interpretations) is identified, do your best to refine them into clear and concise definitions before including them in your introductory paragraph. Select the meaning that is the best fit for the context of your paper. Decide how you want to present the word you have chosen (e.g., words such as "frenemies" can simultaneously convey two meanings - "friends" on the positive side or "enemies" if you choose the negative connotation.
In the event you do not want to begin your essay with a direct or dictionary definition, you may use a "hook" to get your essay started. Hooks are "attention-grabbers" (usually sentences) that are used to get the attention of readers. A hook may take the form of:
- An anecdote;
- An amusing story or joke;
- A dogma;
- A quotation from a famous person;
- A quote from a literary work;
- A metaphor;
- A smile;
- A piece of factual information;
- A statistic.
Some good words to use in a definition essay include "love," "loyalty," "hate" and "courage" because these cannot be explained in a very brief manner. Words like these have no concrete definition. Therefore, the writer can use a universal definition. Include the dictionary definition and then add some words of your own to present your own understanding of the word's meaning. Writing of this type does not require a thesis statement.
The Thesis Statement
With this type of writing, one important difference to bear in mind is whether to focus on the thesis or standard definition. Both will get you full marks or credit. The first type of definition - the thesis - is a sentence that sets out the full meaning of the word. The second type - the standard definition - is one found in an official source such as a dictionary. You could indeed combine a standard-style definition with your personal experience and an explanation of the way a term is commonly used. The important thing is that the introduction in your essay is good and strong.
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These types of papers do not require a regular thesis statement since the writer has nothing to prove or disprove with regards to their topic. The primary aim is simply to define a word or term. Determine which dictionary meaning is the more accurate one. Consider the following thesis statement as an example: "Where literature is concerned, naturalism is a particular perception of the world where everything goes on and people appear to be experiments."
Here, the writer notes that this particular definition fits the literary interpretation. It implies there are alternative interpretations for this word depending on what the subject is.
The Main Body Paragraphs in Your Essay
The body section of a definition essay has a slightly different structure to, say, an argumentative or persuasive essay. Here, the writer should provide as many points as are necessary to explain the word or term they are defining. There is no obligation to provide background or historical information. You just need to make sure each idea is presented in a new paragraph while adhering to the structure outlined below.
- First claim or assertion: Present the first part of your explanation. Offer a detailed analysis showing how the example you provide supports a word or term's meaning;
- Second claim or assertion: Here, you will present the next part of your explanation with an example to support it;
- Third claim or assertion: In the event, the meanings for a particular word or term exceed two in number (e.g. mine, frame, bark, present), give a further definition. Typically, this will be a standard five-paragraph essay.
The Body Section Should Also Contain:
- Origin and history of the word or term;
- Full official explanation from a dictionary and the accepted usage of the word/term;
- The writer's own interpretation.
The Concluding Paragraph in a Definition Essay
The concluding paragraph in this type of essay is not particularly special. You simply sum-up the different meanings of a word or recall the basic meanings of any words defined in your paper.
It is essential for a concluding paragraph to have a summary as well as a detailed analysis of any points you made or mentioned. It is advisable to explain how a particular term has influenced or continues to influence the writer"s life. Go back to the "hook" in your introduction and to your thesis statement (and reword both of these) to bring your paper to an end.
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