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How to Write a Definition Essay: a Step-by-Step Guide

Jun 25, 2018

You would think that college isn't a place where you'd get assigned to define a word. It seems so basic, right? And yet, the definition essay is a pretty common task, especially if you're majoring in Literature or Linguistics. You would be surprised at how difficult writing a definition essay can be. It takes some time and effort. We will try to lay it all down before you so that you can learn how to write a definition essay step by step. Be attentive and follow the guidelines!

In order to master the art of writing and understand how to write a definition essay with the most ease, you have to make sure you get what it means. Obviously, we all know what the word 'definition' means. It explains the exact meaning of the word. But what is a definition essay then? Are you supposed to write a whole manuscript explaining a few lines!? Well, yes and no. In fact, it should be an extensive and elaborate explanation of not only the word's basic (or conventional) meaning, but also its concept, characteristics, and general and unusual (or incorrect) usage. You don't have to pick a number of words to define. In most cases, one word is more than enough to work with. But, you'll need to really focus on that one term. You should explore its meanings, various perception angles, and attributes. The catch of the definition essay is that it has to be written academically and, at the same time, have your own interpretation included. It's not enough to provide a quote from your dictionary. You have to put a subjective perspective into it. Moreover, choosing the word, even just one, is also not an easy task. Allow us to present you with a concise list of tips on how to better choose the object for your definition essay.

  • Complexity.
    It will play against you if you choose a rather simple word. Don't think you'll get away this easy. Your definition essay has to include a lot of specific parts, and you won't be able to write them if you pick a common word with just one meaning. You should select something that is difficult to define precisely. On top of that, it has to also refer to one or a set of concepts, apart from its definitions. If you manage to find a word that means different things to different people, you should definitely note it down! Make it a bit harder for yourself because it will pay off in the end.
  • Familiarity.
    Don't go with a word that you don't entirely understand. The textbook or dictionary definitions will only get you this far. You have to grasp the meaning of the word in order to adequately convey how you see it to others. Once again, this essay has to include a touch of subjectivity. Hence, make sure you comprehend the word fully before deciding on choosing it.
  • Origins.
    Oh boy, here comes the research part. Dive into the ocean of dictionaries, books and Internet resources. Look up where, how and why the word originated. Dig deeper, try to trace it across the history as far as you can. Make it your personal mission to find out whether some King liked to repeat it all the time or even invented this term! Try to find some interesting facts that might give your paper a "soul." For example, how did the meaning and perception of the word has been changing through the years and centuries? What language is it borrowed from? Does it have a completely different meaning in any foreign countries? Look for as many sources as you can, and knock yourself out!
  • Structure.
    Divide the word into parts, if it is a complex one. Be sure to explore what each of those parts means, and include it in your essay. Try to be generous and give its own paragraph to every element (if possible)! That will make your essay more interesting well-organized.
  • Comparison.
    If the word is exceptionally complex, try to compare it to something more familiar to the audience. This way, you will make it easier for your readers to comprehend it. For example, not everyone understands what the word 'albeit' means. If you were to pick it, you could tell that it originated from the late Middle English, from the phrase all be it 'although it be (that'). Compare it to the word 'although,' and it's now much easier to understand!
  • Examples.
    Illustrating will help you a lot. Tell stories about your own life, or some historical anecdotes or curious incidents. By giving life to your word, you will make it more empirically accessible. You should paint a vivid picture to your readers. As a possible example, you can tell what the word doesn't mean (but might be confused with). It will make it easier to fathom the right concept.

Now, when you have all these helpful tips before you, it's time to get to the structuring part!

The Definition Essay Structure Guideline

The structure of a definition essay is actually pretty straightforward. It is especially easy to organize it when you've already noted all the data you require. It's the same old three-part plan. But let's break it down one by one, taking into account all the specifics of the given essay type.

The definition essay introduction

When all the "intel" is successfully gathered, you might encounter the issue of how to start a definition essay. But, we assure you that it is as simple as picking up a pen. You should begin by providing your readers with the standard dictionary definition of the word. It will give them some context and the foundation to base the further cognition on. It is especially recommended to start like that if your personal perception of the word differs from the textbook one.

Don't forget about your thesis statement! The thesis here, in the definition essay, is basically an explanation of how you percept the term. Go ahead and write about it in your own words, but be sure to make it brief. Don't worry because you will elaborate more in the main body. Also, make sure you don't repeat the definition from the dictionary in the central section.

The body paragraphs of definition essays

In the body paragraph of your definition essay, you are to pull out all the information you've collected during the research stage. Lay out the background, its origins, and different perspectives - everything. Then, divide it all into logical paragraphs, dedicating one of those to each of your points. Don't be afraid to overdo it because you need to create the fullest picture possible.

The definition essay conclusion part

When all the explaining and elaborating is over and done with, you can finish it up with your last paragraph. Now, it's a matter of how to conclude a definition essay. Here, you need to briefly summarize all your main points. To do that, look through your essay very attentively. Try to determine the topic sentences from each of the paragraphs, and build your conclusion around them. Then, go back to the introduction to back the ending paragraph with the phrase from the initial topic sentence.

How to Write a Definition Essay Outline

Sometimes it's easy enough to write your essay based on a simple draft. But in some cases, you'll need a detailed outline. But, do you know how to write a definition essay outline? Well, it becomes an easy thing when you've already finished researching. Let us provide you with a definition essay outline example for a better understanding. It will also help summarize everything we've talked about in the article.

  1. Introduction.
    • The definition that is given by one of the dictionaries.
    • Your perception of the word.
  2. Main Body.
    • Information about the word's origin and its background.
    • How had it changed in the past years? (For example, try to correlate the evolution of this word with the effects of globalization.)
    • Examples of its usage throughout the years and/or in your life.
    • Different perceptions of the word based on perspectives of people from different backgrounds, societies, and countries.
    • Something else of interest that you've found.
  3. Conclusion.
    • Reiterate the thesis and your main points in a brief and precise manner. Make sure to leave your reader with the sense of completion.

    And here we are! You are ready and prepared for taking on your definition essay task. Remember all the tips we've given and don't shy away from putting enough time into research. Make this not-always-pleasant assignment into fun and self-educational pastime. Also, if you don't have the time or need help with this task, you can always use the assistance of our professional writers. We can provide timely and affordable writing services at any time.

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