What is a definition essay?
In its simplest form, a definition essay is a short piece of writing that explains the meaning of a word or a phrase. Simple as it may seem, a definition essay encompasses many different aspects that bring about the comprehensive understanding of the chosen word. These essays are aimed at giving the reader more than just the surface value of the words. They strive to make the readers not only get the meaning but also relate to the phrases themselves. Remember, if it were just about the simple meaning of the word, anyone would prefer to pick up a dictionary instead of going through lengthy texts.
To tease out these pointers, here are some few tips that will help.
Steps to writing an excellent definition essay
- Choose a word to describe
Choosing the correct word to define is a crucial step in writing an superb definition essay. Unfortunately, not all words make good candidates for this type of articles. Choosing the “wrong” word might make you write a rather poor quality essay. When choosing a term to write about, here are some things you should consider;
- Avoid simple words
Simple words are nouns such as a chair, cup, and car among others. These words define a singular thing. There is nothing much to write about a word like a cup. You can write around the definition, history and maybe the types and variations of the word. That’s just about it. There is nothing much you can add to the word, cup. This is because such nouns represent concrete, tangible objects. Almost everyone knows what a cup is.
Choosing such words will turn your definition essay into a descriptive essay.
Abstract words are the best for such essays. Choose words that represent an idea, feeling or a thought. Something that is not tangible. Such words offer much for discussion and debates.
- Choose familiar words
Choosing a familiar word will boost the quality of your article. You can only write as much as you understand. Good quality definition essays call for a deep understanding of the terms being described. Choosing a familiar name will not only give you a more profound command of the definition of the word and the usage, but it will also give you a lot of what is to be written. You can base your understanding on the dictionary and then later expound on it further using your personal experience with it.
- Choose words with controversy
Have you ever argued with someone over the meaning of a word then later discovered that you were both right? Well, such words are good candidates for definition essays. The same word may mean two different things to different people. These meanings might both be correct in your own right. Definition essays give the writer a controlling bias to stir the readers understanding of the word
When approaching words with controversy and dispute in meaning, you first need to point out the conflicts in the meanings. After explaining the difference in views, you are then allowed to support your opinion and convince the reader.
- Dictionary definition
Make sure that your understanding of the word you have chosen to define is in tandem with the dictionary definition. It might not necessarily be word-for-word similar to the dictionary definition, but it should at least represent the same idea. The dictionary definition should form part of your thesis statement before you digress into your understanding of the word.
- Word history
Word history is not very important in choosing your word, but if possible choose a word with a bit of history. Researching the history of the word will give you a substantial amount of things to write when defining the term. This will also enhance your command on fully understanding the word. Whatever word you choose, make sure you do a background check to know where the word was initially from and how it has evolved with time.
- Describe the term comprehensively
Once you have chosen a word to define, you need to define it adequately. Comprehensive definition essay must touch on the following areas of a term;
- Dictionary definition
The dictionary definition of a word should always be the gold standard and the point of reference. Use reputable dictionaries like the Oxford dictionary when finding the meaning of the words. Remember, the readers might know the meaning of the word. You should then introduce them from the known to the unknown. The known being the dictionary definition, and the unknown being your understanding of the term.
- Classify your word
Placing your word in the right class of speech is essential. There is nothing much to classification, just an overall bearing to the reader.
- Analyze the word
Break down the words into simple parts and analyze each part independently. They must not necessarily be grammatically correct separations. When giving your opinion about the word, this is allowed. For example a word like “react” can be broken down into two parts; “re” and “act.” You can explain, in different paragraphs the meanings of each part. In this case, re meaning doing something again, then act meaning to do.
This is just part of a wordplay that will enable you and the reader to remember the words and draw meaning from them.
- Compare the meanings
In the spirit of guiding your readers from the known through to the unknown, it will be helpful if you compare unfamiliar words with familiar ones. This approach is particularly useful when the chosen word is unfamiliar to many people. For example, when defining the word “belligerent,” it will be beneficial to the reader if you mention that the word can also mean hostile, aggressive or intimidating.
Such comparison should not end there; you should further explain the difference between the individual words you have mentioned.
- Use examples
Examples are the best way of making people understand the meaning of words. Examples in a definition essays differ from the example given in dictionaries. Dictionaries provide examples of sentences whereas definition essays give contextual examples. Give a short story or experience that demonstrate what you are trying to explain.
For example, when defining the word “mercy” in an essay, you should give a short story that shows your thoughts on how mercy is expressed.
- Give a history
Giving a brief history of the word’s origin enhances your readers’ perspective about your understanding of the subject. It also makes your essay interesting. It is a good way to punctuate your article with those “did you know” moments to break from the monotony of description.
- Personal meaning
When defining a word, remember to give it a human touch by explaining what the word means to you. Providing a personal meaning is more than just giving a perspective of the meaning. It entails your personal experience with the word.
For example, when defining a word like love, give a short story of how you experienced love.
Structure of a definition essay
Definition essays have an overall structure that is almost similar to the other essay types. They must have a title an introduction, the body, and a conclusion.
- The Title
The title of a definition essay should be short and straight to the point. The title should contain the word being defined. It may be in the form of a statement or a question. Many writers prefer using a question format. For example, for a definition essay about love, the title might read: what is love?
- The introduction
Introductions must be short and precise. In your introduction, let your reader know what the essay entails. Introductions must encompass two definitions. The dictionary definition and your definition, which is also known as the thesis statement. As a general rule of definition, do not use any word in the term or phrase being defined. Always keep your definition short and precise to avoid repetitions and confusion.
- The body
The full definition and lengthy descriptions of the words end up in the body of the essay. This is where you explain at lengths the classification, history, definitions, personal meaning and examples of the word in context. The aim is to make your reader experience the word. There should be a difference between their understanding after reading the dictionary definition and after reading your definition essay of a certain word. Break the body into separate parts with each part having its paragraph. Organize your body in a flowing chronological manner. You can start with a definition and mention the class of speech it belongs in followed by an analysis of the word and the history. After that, you can give an example intertwined what the word means to you.
After thoroughly explaining the definition of the word, you can round up the essay by mentioning the significant points of the essay. Remember, this is the part of the essay that is most likely to be remembered. Make it as interesting as memorably possible. Select the highlights without explaining too profoundly. The conclusion should be somewhat deep, laced with a personal touch and appeal. End the essay with a call to take your perspective of the word.