Although it may seem obvious, the purpose of a definition essay is simply to define something. However, defining terms in writing can be more difficult than simply consulting a dictionary. The way we define terms can have profound consequences for both individuals and collective groups.
Consider alcoholism as an example. The legal, moral, or medical contexts of alcoholism will determine how one defines it. Lawyers might define alcoholism according to its legality. Parents may define it according to its morality. Doctors will define alcoholism according to its symptoms and diagnostic criteria. Also, think about terms that are often debated in our wider culture. The way we define words such as marriage or climate change has a huge impact on policy and daily decisions. Consider the conversations that couples might have where words such as commitment or respect or love may need to be clarified.
Although it can be difficult to define terms in a relationship or other contexts, once you have established a definition between two or more people, it becomes much easier to engage in productive conversations. These definitions are what allow people to communicate their ideas. Definitions are essential because they establish the parameters of a particular discourse.
The Structure of a Definition Essay
The definition essay begins with a discussion about the term being defined. The thesis is your definition of that term.
The rest of your essay should explain why you chose this definition. The dictionary definition can be restrictive, so don’t rely on it. Consider the context in which the word is being used. The context describes the conditions or setting where something occurs or exists. Many words have different meanings depending upon the context in which it is used. A battlefield leader could have a very different meaning than one in elementary school. The essay might be too brief or miss the context, or it could cause confusion or misunderstood.
The rest of the essay should discuss different aspects of the definition. If you wanted to define a good leader in an elementary school setting, you could use personality traits such as patience, consistency, flexibility. Each attribute would be described in its own paragraph.
Writing a definition essay
Select a definition essay topic that is complex enough to allow for lengthy discussions. A word or phrase that is personally relevant can often lead to a more engaging and interesting essay.
Once you have selected your word or phrase, begin your essay by writing an introduction that establishes its relevance in the context. The introduction should include a thesis that clearly explains the meaning of the term within the context. It will help readers to understand the context and reduce misunderstandings.
Each paragraph should be dedicated to explaining one aspect of your definition. Use strong details and clear examples to support your points. To reinforce your thesis, your concluding paragraph should bring together all elements of your definition.