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What Are The Characteristics Of A Definition Essay

What Is a Definition Essay?

A definition essay (see all essay types) is a piece of writing that explains what a term or a concept 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. 

The term may be evaluated from the direct, or exact meaning and from the point of the subjectivity of the person defining the term. The aim is not only to provide the dictionary definition but also to expound on why the word is defined in such a manner. The approach to be used depends on the subject, your readers, and the essay’s purpose.

3 Steps to a Powerful Definition Essay

When you strat writing a definition essay follow 3 main steps

Step 1: Tell readers what term is being defined.
Step 2: Present clear and basic information.
Step 3: Use facts, examples, or anecdotes that readers will understand.

Choosing Ideas for Writing a Definition Essay

Choosing a definition is a key step in writing a definition essay. You need to understand the term for you to be easy to define it for others. Read the dictionary, but don't just copy the definition. Explain the term's definition briefly in your own words. In addition, it is important to limit your term before you start defining it. For example, you could write forever on the term "love". To limit it, you would write about either "romantic love", "platonic love", or "first love". If you are assigned to write a definition essay here is a great list of definition essay topics:


If the definition essay topics from the list above don't match your assignment and you need another topic for a definition writing feel free to contact our writing service or read an article on How to Pick Proper Essay Topics.

How to Write a Definition Essay: Outline and Format

Definition essay outline format is similar to that of a typical essay and includes several unique characteristics. Typically, it includes introduction, body and conclusion parts. Here is a detailed focus on each section.

Definition Essay: Introduction

Start with one of the various techniques, such as a short anecdote, an extended definition, or some open-ended questions. Your introduction should conclude with a distinct, precise thesis statement that tells your readers just what your essay will be discussing. All body paragraphs directly and clearly support the thesis statement. The thesis statement usually identifies the term being defined and provides a brief, basic definition.

If you are looking for definition essay examples here is a great one below.


Definition Essay: Body Paragraphs

Create a thorough definition. There are several ways to define a term. Here are a few options.

Define by functionExplain what something does or how something works.
Define by a structureTell how something is organized or put together.
Define by analysisCompare the term to other members of its class and then illustrate the differences. These differences are special characteristics that make the term stand out. For example, compare a Siberian husky to other dogs, such as lap dogs, mutts, or sporting dogs.
Define by what the term does not mean

This distinction can sometimes clarify a definition and help a reader to better understand it.

Use understandable facts, examples, or anecdotes. Select facts, examples, or anecdotes to fully explain your definition. Ask yourself, "Which examples will best help readers understand the term? What examples would most appeal to my readers? Will a brief story reveal the term's meaning?" Do not use any examples that will not support the definition.

Definition Essay: Conclusion

Restate the thesis statement in other words. Give an overview of the main points of the paper, referring from the entire body paragraphs. Link back to the attention grabber to conclude your essay.

The Dos and Don’ts of a Powerful Definition Essay Writing:

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How to Write an Extended Definition

The first consideration is that a word doesn’t have one “right” meaning. There are more ideas or concepts than there are words, so the same word has to mean different things at different times. Conversely, different words or phrases can be used to name the same concept. What is necessary for clear thinking is that the parties to the conversation know what concept they are dealing with at any time. Therefore, in writing an extended definition, don’t define the word—rather explain the concept, and show why it’s important that the reader have clearly in mind the same concept you have in mind.

So a definition is partly fact (“This is what this word means when military historians, or beekeepers, use it.”) and partly reasoned opinion ("Let's agree, for now, to use this word in this way so we can understand each other and cometo areement on other things."

An extended definition can be built outward from a logical definition, also known as a dictionary definition, or a notional definition, or an Aristotelian definition. It takes this form:

Definiendum = genus + differentia.

The is the term or concept you are defining. The is the category or class which the definiendum is a part of. The is the characteristic or group of characteristics that set the definiendum apart from other members of the genus. For example, a choke cherry (definiendum) is a kind of cherry (genus) distinguished by its bitter, astringent taste that makes it inedible until it is cooked (differentia).

Even if you don’t state your logical definition in precisely this way in your essay, you should still have it clearly in mind. This is so your concept doesn’t shift to something else without your noticing it (this can happen easily), and so your reader will be able to reconstruct the logical definition from what you do say. Unless you’re sure of your step, it’s safest and most considerate of your reader to state the logical definition outright, usually near the beginning of your essay.

There are a few cautions to observe in putting together your logical definition. Don’t create a circular definition—don’t, that is, define a word in terms of itself, as in “Patriotism is the quality of being a patriot.” And definition by metaphor is not a logical definition, though it can have its uses: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” can convey something true, but it does’nt do the work of a definition, which is to tell us what patriotism is.

In an , the logical definition is elaborated on by various means, all of which are used to make the concept clearer in the reader’s mind. It’s up to you to determine which ones you use, and in what order, taking into account what it is you are defining, what you think your readers know already, whether you think they are simply unfamiliar with the concept, or have got it mixed up with other, somewhat similar concepts, and whether they are already disposed to see things as you see them, or will need convincing.

  1. Make sure you are clear about the use or the purpose of the definition. Why is it important for your reader to share your idea? Share the reason with your reader!
  2. Since the differentia is usually the part of the logical definition that needs the most clarification, develop it by comparison and contrast, and develop the contrasts by examples. Sometimes you need many examples; more often you can do better with one or two well-chosen examples if you accompany them with explanations why one example belongs inside the concept you are defining, and another on the outside. If you are defining domestic cat, for instance, you could show why a Maine Coon Cat is a domestic cat, while a Cerval Cat is not, though they are both small members of the cat family). If a suitable real example is not available, you can make up a hypothetical example, a useful fiction, so long as you are clear it is a fiction (you do not want people to think you really had a five-hundred-pound cat that slept on your bed and purred!).
  3. Show, by the same techniques, how your concept is different from other concepts that might, for whatever reason, be confused with it—for instance, why a skunk, though small, fluffy, and sometimes adopted as a pet, is not a domestic cat, or why using a polite conventional phrase like “fine” when you’re asked how you are, even if you have appendicitis, is not the same kind of thing as a white lie.
  4. Look for a test that can be used to determine whether something falls within the concept—an operational definition. If so, tell how it works, and why it was chosen. For example,a car qualifies as a Zero Emission Vehicle if it performs a certain way on a particular test. Operational definitions are used all the time in the sciences.
  5. Make the concept clearer by listing and describing its parts, or its subtypes, or its phases of development.
  6. Place the concept in relation to other concepts. Often cause-and-effect reasoning is useful here. Where does the domestic cat come from? Did the domestic cat become what it is because of the way people have treated cats over the centuries? How does your concept of domestic cat relate to the concept of pet? How is the concept of lying related to the concept of honesty—would you say a person is honest only if he never, ever lies?
  7. Especially if it helps make what you say under #3 or #6 clearer, you could give the history of the word you are using to name the concept you are defining. If your choice of that word is controversial, explain why you chose it.
  8. If value is part of the concept, deal explicitly with why that is so. Consider one commonly encountered example: for many people, something does not qualify as art unless it is of high quality—in their concept of art, there can be no bad art, because anything that’s bad isn’t art at all. That opens up new issues: What kind of goodness is needed to qualify? How would you determine what is good enough? People commonly talk and write sometimes as if value were part of the definition of an idea, while at other times they seem to assume that value is not a necessary part of the concept. When you are defining, commit yourself to one or the other.

The methods of development you choose will depend on your reason for defining the term as well as on your reader(s). There is no one right way. Usually a combination of methods is best. In any case, you must be clear in your own mind about why you want your readers to understand the concept you are defining; otherwise you cannot be clear to them, and they may never be motivated to understand you.

So pick a concept to define that matters to you.

You may want to look at a similar page at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute which might be just different enough.