Definition Essay

Definition of Definition Essay

A definition essay is a type of essay that defines a term, a concept, or an idea. The difference, however, in a simple definition and a definition essay is that a simple definition is a literal definition, while a definition essay covers all the connotative and denotative definitions of a term. A definition essay introduces the term, concept, or idea being defined, presents clear and specific information about the term, and uses examples to clarify it.

Writing an Effective Thesis Statement for a Definition Essay

A thesis statement is the heart of an essay. The same is the case with a definition essay in which a thesis statement plays a key role in defining the term. The introduction just gives a good hook and background information. It is the thesis statement which presents the major points of the definition. Like all thesis statements of five-paragraph essays, the thesis statement of a definition essay has three major evidences that relate to the definition of the term, idea, or concept being defined. However, it just keeps the topic limited to the definition by structure, by function, or by analysis.

Difference Between a Definition and a Definition Essay

Words, ideas, and concepts have various connotative meanings in different contexts. One concept in one text could be entirely different from the same concept used in another text. In order to explain in meticulous detail, various definitions are collected and analyzed. Definitions are also based on structure and analysis as well as functions. When these definitions are discussed according to their roles in different contexts, it is called a definition essay. A definition is just a simple statement about a term, but a definition essay is a discussion of several definitions of the same term.

Examples of Definition Essays in Literature

Example #1:  An Argument Against Happiness (by Marc Gellman for Newsweek)

“Why is it that bad people can be happy? The reason is that happiness as defined by our culture has become just a synonym for pleasure, and anyone can feel pleasure. A good meal, a winning team, a fabulous vacation can make even the biggest criminal feel just as happy as the most noble hero. The problem is the linkage between happiness and pleasure. Feeling good has no natural connection to doing good. But it does in the teachings of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as well as in the good and decent lives of those who do not find their life’s guidance from ancient-wisdom traditions. For all these people, happiness is linked to goodness, not pleasure.”

This paragraph defines what happiness is. Although it is not a complete definition essay, it is part of a definition essay. Just check how happiness is defined and elaborated in different ways.

Example #2: Beliefs about Families (by Mary Pipher)

“Families are the people for whom it matters if you have a cold, are feuding with your mate or training a new puppy. Family members use magnets to fasten newspaper clippings about your bowling team on the refrigerator door. They save your drawings and homemade pottery. They like to hear stories about when you were young. They’ll help you can tomatoes or change the oil in your car. They’re the people who will come visit you in the hospital, will talk to you when you call with ‘a dark night of the soul’ and will loan you money to pay the rent if you lose your job. Whether or not, they are biologically related to each other, the people who do these things are family.”

This is a paragraph from Mary Pipher’s essay, which defines several things about families. This is an example of how definitions are further elaborated in a definition essay.

Example #3: The Barrio (by Robert Ramirez)

“The barrio is closeness. From the family living unit, familial relationships stretch out to immediate neighbors, down the block, around the corner, and to all parts of barrio. The feeling of family, rare and treasurable sentiment, pervades and accounts for the inability of the people to leave. The barrio is this attitude manifested on the countenances of the people, on the faces of their homes, and in the gaiety of their gardens.”

This is a paragraph from the essay of Robert Ramirez in which he defines barrio families living close to each other. The paragraph demonstrates a glimpse of a definition type of essay.

Function of Definition Essay

A definition essay tends to define a term and settle or resolve a controversy. Readers, when reading a definition essay, finds themselves making distinctions among different definitions of a term. It presents a full picture of different usages of the same term in different contexts, making readers aware of all the contextual interpretations.