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What is a Definition Essay?

What is a definition essay?


Definition essay is a type of essay stating what a word or a term means. The essay that is written is not only a personal take on the word, term or phrase but is also backed by factual statements and notes. There are two types of words or phrases that can be used, one is an abstract and complex definition. An abstract and complex definition is when a term, phrase or word is open to interpretation from the reader’s point of view, such as love, honesty, or home. The concrete definition is when a word has a definite meaning to everyone, such as a house, cup, or glass.


When writing a definition essay, one must be certain to clearly state the term that is defined; the definition is presented clearly and has all the basic information, and lastly, examples and anecdotes should be used for the reader’s understanding.


Selecting the word or term to be defined

Writing a good definition essay requires one to first choose an abstract and complex word or term. Good definition writing requires a clear understanding of the term or word before defining it. For the chosen term, the person can opt to limit the term, for example, “home” is a broad topic and one can write about various aspects of “home”. However, if the term selected is “country home”, it encompasses a broader topic, and also has a limiting factor.


For the selection, nouns that refer to an idea, such as imperialism, is a better word define. Adjectives also work well for definitions as adjectives are subject to one’s perception. Therefore, by logical deduction, definition essays can be subjective in nature, as the word or term defined by the writer can differ from another writer’s point of view.


The easiest way to explain the term or word is with the use of facts, examples, and anecdotes; the body should contain, definition, analyzation, and comparison/negation, to explain to the reader the term in the best possible manner.


How should the word, phrase, or term be defined?

The definition has to be created, and there are various ways to define a word or term.


A word or term can be defined:



1. By function: the writer has to describe what it does or how the word is utilized.

2. By structure: placing the word in a sentence or phrase to show its structure.

3. By analysis: defining the word by comparison to other terms/words/ members of the same class.


For example, if the term that one is writing about is snow tires:

(Term) (Precise definition)

The snow tires are tires that allow the car to have a superior grip on the road while driving on snow; they have a broader surface area with grooves, allowing for better grip than regular ones.


One can define a term by comparing it to what it is not or by negation; and in the example above, by comparing snow tires to regular tires, and highlighting the features that make it stand out, the reader will have a clear idea, as to what makes the snow tires are different from regular ones.


Things to do:


1. Identify strong transitions to merge different aspects of the essay together

2. Having a unique and distinctive perspective of the definition


Things to avoid:


1. Avoid the word “when” or “where”.

2. Avoid common topics with definite and concrete meaning.

3. Excessive writing should be avoided and the article should be precise and to the point


The definition essay should also have a page outline, that clearly states the outline of the essay structure.


Writing a definition essay

The essay will follow a certain structure; introduction to the word, term or phrase, with the literal meaning from the dictionary. The second part of the introduction should contain the thesis statement. A thesis statement is an actual definition, and also the writer’s point of view on the implied meaning of the word. It should not be longer than one or two sentences, as the rest should contribute to the body of the essay.


The body of the essay will contain most of the matter, with various implied definitions and the actual definition. The body of the essay will contain the analyzation, comparison, and negations if any. Finally, the conclusion will contain a summary of all the points mentioned; the summary should also have a personal understanding of the word, term or phrase in relation to the writer’s experience.


The importance of a definition essay

Definition essays are important for academic tutorials. It is to encourage students to develop concepts in the written form. Writing this type of essay assists the student in developing their skills at analyzation, evaluation, structuring and summarizing the content.


The purpose of a definition essay

The purpose of a definition is to explain not only what is denoted by the word or the term, but also what it connotes. This means in simplified terms, that a word can have a few denotative meanings, like the literal meaning of the word; and also several connotative meanings, which is what is implied by the term or the word. Connotative meanings are an understood emotional or cultural implication of the word or a phrase.


Examples of denotations and connotations

As an example, the term “Wall Street” is literally a road in Lower Manhattan; however, it is synonymous with wealth and power. Similarly, when one says “the dancer glided like a butterfly”, it does not mean that the object or person or thing is actually gliding, rather, it is the movement that is graceful enough to be compared to the butterfly.


Therefore, a definition essay is not only an explanation of a word, term or phrase, it is also the writer’s understanding and experience in relation to the word. A good essay should contain the denotation as well as the connotation of the word, term, or phrase. The writing should have an introduction, split into the definition and the thesis statement; the body will contain the analyzation, comparison, and negations, and lastly, the conclusion will contain a summary of all the notable pointsDefinition Essay, phrased differently. 


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