Definition Essays: Explaining a Term With Examples, Facts and Anecdotes

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Definition essays define a specific term through explanation. Defined terms can be concrete or abstract. Concrete terms are words like pencil, coffee or fan; abstract terms are words like integrity, honesty or love. When this type of essay defines something abstract, you usually write from your point of view. Before you jump into writing this essay format, make sure you understand the assignment well.

The main components of definition essays

There are three components that dictate what you write in a definition essay:

  • Stating the term that you intend to define
  • Presenting basic information clearly
  • Using examples, facts or anecdotes that are easily understood
  • In addition, any term you select to define in the definition essay should have a complex meaning, possibly mean different things to different people and stay able to be discussed in a meaningful way.

    Choosing the definition for your essay

    While stating the term you intend to define seems pretty straightforward, some words have multiple meanings. The definition is the central point of the essay, so before you can write about it to explain it to your readers, you must first understand the specific meaning. Some words are very broad in definition and lend themselves to creating too broad of a topic. For example, “sleep” is very broad, but you can narrow the definition by defining “sleep deprivation” instead.

    Writing the thesis statement for a definition essay

    In a definition essay, the thesis statement is the term and its definition. It is very simple in nature and consists solely of the term and a very basic definition. Part of developing your thesis revolves around writing an effective definition. There are multiple approaches to defining your selected term:

  • By analysis—compare it to something similar and show differences
  • By function—what it does or how it works
  • By structure—how it is organized or assembled
  • By opposite definition—explain what the term is not
  • Using facts, examples or anecdotes to write the definition essay

    As you define your term more in-depth, select facts, examples or anecdotes you can use to define your term more completely. Considerations you should make while deciding on the best way to define the term include the following:

    • Do certain examples make the term more understandable?
    • Which examples or facts are the most appealing?
    • Can an anecdote best explain the meaning of the term?

    However you decide to explain the term, never use examples, facts or anecdotes that do not support the definition 100 percent.

    Choosing definition essay topics

    You have virtually unlimited choices when it comes to selecting a term to define in this type of essay. However, abstract terms lend the air to more creativity and personal anecdotes. Examples of terms you might choose include the following:

    • Ambition
    • Compassion
    • Funny
    • Kindness
    • Love
    • Respect

    When selecting a term, aim to pick something that you find interesting and something to which you can personally relate. Not only does it make the writing process easier, but it generally makes what you write more interesting. As you wrap up your essay, the final paragraph is often used to share the personal meaning of the word you selected.