Tips on Definition Essay Writing

Writing Tips

While the idea of a definition essay seems simple enough, when it comes time to actually write one, you might be quite surprised of the complexity of the task at hand.  A definition essay is not as straightforward as it might seem, where you might first imagine taking an item and simply defining it.  In fact, a definition essay often examines abstract ideas that are difficult to define.  Consider subjects like love, hate, and beauty, all of which are abstract.  Now take a moment and try to define them.  Instantly you will see that the definitions of abstract concepts are influenced by culture, perceptions, and personal understandings, all of which need to be explored within the body of a quality definition essay.  Here you will find information on how to formulate your ideas correctly so you can produce a clear, comprehensive essay.

Step 1: First choose the abstract concept or word you intend to define.

If your assignment prompt gives you the freedom to choose your topic, you are going to want to find a term that refers to an abstract, complex subject.  You should avoid the use of nouns that reference things, people, and places because the words lack the complexity necessary for a definition essay.  If, however, the noun references an idea, this is something  you might be able to use.  Adjectives, working as descriptive words, may also prove ideal choices for a definition essay.  Some ideal abstract nouns include words like enthusiasm, elegance, goodness, courage, hatred, contentment, honesty, humor, insanity, integrity, and hope, among many others.

Step 2: Test the word to ensure it is an abstraction.

A quick test of the word you choose will definitely tell you if the word is appropriate for your definition essay.  Ask yourself, is the word disputable?  The word you choose for your essay should be one that can change in meaning based on a person’s experiences and perceptions.  With an abstract word, you end up with multiple meanings of a word, some of which are complex and near ambiguous when it comes to a definition.

Step 3: Understand how a definition essay differs from other essay forms.

While many forms of writing require that the writer take an objective stance and offer supporting evidence, the abstract nature of the appropriate word choices for definition essay require that the writer take on a subjective stance.   The writer must analyze a word based, not just on its basic meaning, but the emotional responses and understandings the word invokes, not just in the writer, but in others as well.  The writer will have to empathize with others and consider how a word like “love” or “hate” is understood by another.  Cultural influences on the definition of then word will also need to be examined.

Step 4: Select a word you know, at least in part.

While you many not know every possible use of a word, you should have some familiarity with how a word is used if you are going to use it in a definition essay.  For instance, if you choose a word like “didactic,” and you do not know the meaning of the word or how the meaning might change from another perspective, you will have significant difficulty constructing your paper.

Step 5: Consider the word’s etymological roots.

Examining the roots of a word can reveal much about the different meanings the word  may have currently as well as in the past.  You can use an etymological dictionary to find out where words have come from and what they meant when used in different contexts.

About the Author: Morpheus DeLuca is a Master degree student studying for his MFA.  He is incredibly passionate about creative writing, but also enjoys writing non-fiction and instructive articles that you can check out at this website.  Morpheus’ shares his personal insights on great writing and offers simple, easy to remember tips on how to improve writing techniques.

Previous post: