Definition essays are among the common classes of expository essays. As a student, you may be tasked with several definition essays in the course of your high school education or college education. Although definition essays may seem pretty uncomplicated at the onset, not following the right format or not covering the key aspects of a definition essay can result in unpleasant consequences.

Besides, there can be multiple approaches to writing a definition essay and you should ideally have the basic knowledge of the different techniques that can be applied to definition essays. That is exactly what this guide is about. This is an all-inclusive guide on definition essays that does not only touch upon the various approaches to a definition essay but explains the entire process of writing a definition essay. Besides, we have explained the entire development of a definition essay with a sample for greater understanding. So, let us get started.

What is a definition essay?

As the name suggests, a definition essay is aimed at presenting an elaborated definition of a terminology, abstract, or concept. Needless to say, defining a concept in a few lines or one paragraph seems quite an easy task, isn’t it? But when you have to define a concept in an essay ranging from 800 to 1500 words (or more), it can be quite challenging.

This is where learning about the approaches or techniques of writing a definition essay can help. When you know the right way of going about a definition essay, you can actually organize a definition and key concepts linked to it in an entire essay without repetition. The more techniques you know the better you can deal with your definition essays.

Further, speaking of the topics for definition essays, a few examples are listed below.

  • What is liberal democracy?
  • What is employee turnover?
  • Define actuarial science
  • Define photosynthesis
  • What is polygamy?

Techniques of a definition essay

Different techniques to write a definition essay

As mentioned above, there are various techniques that you can use to develop a definition essay. The common techniques for writing a definition essay are listed below.

1. Analysis

In this approach, what you can do is, you can bifurcate the main theme/topic of the expository essay into different sections and subsections to present an individual analysis of each section. By doing so, you can create a clear roadmap for your essay with different sections and subsections.

For instance, let’s say you are tasked with an essay: Define employee engagement

So, as per the analysis approach, you can split the topic into various subsections. These subsections can include the definition of employee engagement, the determinants of employee engagement, and some recommendations for boosting employee engagement.

2. Negation

In the negating approach, you first create a perception of what the topic is not about to further narrow down on the precise explanation of what the topic actually is. Let us look at it in a simpler way.

Let’s say you have to write an essay on defining depression. So, the approach you can take is that firstly, you can discuss the different myths about depression to explain what depression is not about. Further, after shedding light on the misconceptions about depression, you can then define what depression actually is.

3. Origins and causes

Yet another technique of writing a definition essay is to discuss the origin of the terminology or the concept your essay is about. While discussing the origin, you can also shed light on the background of the topic or the history of the topic. This is where you can bring etymology into the picture.

Etymology refers to the origin of a specific term or the history of a concept. For instance, if we talk about democracy, as per the commonly believed etymology, democracy is derived from the Greek words demos (the people) and kratia (power). So, in this way, there can be a body paragraph exclusively discussing the background and history of the topic.

Alternatively, if the topic of the essay is a problem statement, you can discuss the causes of the problem. Let’s say your essay topic is: Define Xenophobia. Here, you can present the various causes of Xenophobia in the essay along with the explanation of xenophobia.

4. Results, consequences, and application

Another way of going about a definition essay is that you can discuss the results or the consequences of the topic. Besides, you can also talk about the application or the use of the concept that you are defining in your essay. Of course, it is subject to the scope of your topic. You can discuss the consequences or the uses of a concept only if the topic offers that scope.

Let us try to understand this technique through examples. So, let’s say your essay topic is: Define digital marketing. So, in this topic, there is scope for you to discuss the results of digital marketing and the advantages of digital marketing.

We can take another example of a topic where there is scope to discuss the consequences. If the essay topic is: Define global warming, you can shed light on the effects and consequences of global warming. Makes complete sense, isn’t it?

5. Denotation

Denotation refers to the literal or the dictionary meaning of terminology or concept. When it comes to denotation, it does not take into account the contextual definition or the subjective aspect of the main subject. Having said that, denotation is purely about the objective meaning of a theme or subject.

One approach that you can take while writing a definition essay is that you can stick to the literal meaning of the subject and develop the entire essay around it. For instance, let’s suppose your essay topic is: What is post-traumatic stress disorder? So, in this case, going by the denotation technique will mean that you entirely stick to the medical definition of post-traumatic stress disorder and create the entire essay with the literal meaning being at the epicenter.

6. Connotation or classification

Connotation is often explained as the opposite of denotation. While denotation refers to the literal meaning of a subject or term, connotation refers to the figurative or subjective meaning of an abstract. For instance, happiness is a subjective abstract and different people can have different perceptions about it.

So, let’s suppose your essay topic is: Define happiness. Now, the technique that you can use is that you can discuss the subjective aspects of happiness touching upon the figurative meanings of happiness.

Similarly, in a definition essay, you can also classify the central topic into different categories and elucidate each of them. For instance, if you are writing an essay about governance, you can talk about different types of governance that can exist in different parts of the world. Similarly, in an essay on corporate social responsibility, you can explain the various types of CSR activities and responsibilities that businesses usually deliver on.

7. Enumeration or details

Another technique that you can use is that you can include a detailed enumeration of the topic. To explain, when you add numberable details about the topic and arrange them in the body paragraphs of your essay.

Enumeration basically refers to highlighting various details about the main subject or theme of the essay. In enumeration, details are added and elucidated one by one. Let us take an example to understand. So, let’s say the topic of the essay is: Define financial management. So, going by the enumeration technique, you can introduce various details about financial management one by one to develop the essay.

8. Analogy (comparison)

Lastly, going by the analogy technique, you can develop your definition essay along the lines of drawing a comparison between two different subjects. Simply put, you can compare what you have been asked to define with its antonym or another classification that has some variations with respect to the subject of the topic.

To cite an example, let’s say your essay topic is: Define globalization and free trade. Now, going by this technique, you can draw a comparison between free trade and trade barriers. In this way, you can develop the content of your essay.

We have now discussed all the possible techniques that you can use to write a definition essay. So, without further ado, we should now move to the process of writing a definition essay. The subsequent sections explain the development of a definition essay in a stepwise manner.

How to write the introduction of a definition essay?

The introduction of the essay should clearly specify to the reader what the purpose of the essay is and what the essay talks about. Knowing how to write an essay introduction in an effective way is the key to starting your essay on an impressive note.

To show you an example of how we need to go about writing a definition essay, we are taking a sample essay topic that we will develop through this guide.

Sample essay topic: What is social-emotional learning?

Generally speaking, every essay introduction should ideally include the following elements.

  • Hook
  • Background brief
  • Purpose of the essay
  • Thesis statement
  • Outline

When you write the introduction paragraph of a definition essay, you need to establish a clear understanding of what you are defining along with the background brief or the history of the topic. Further, it is also essential that you mention in the introduction paragraph the technique that you are using to develop your essay.

For instance, if you are taking the analogy approach, you clearly need to specify the central theme of the essay and the theme with which you are drawing the comparison. Alternatively, if you are taking the analysis approach, you specify the various sections and subsections into which you have divided the essay.

The subsequent sections explain how you can create an impressive hook and write an effective thesis statement for a definition essay.

Introduction element: Hook of a definition essay

A hook is meant to give a solid start to the essay so that you can engage the reader from the word go. You can either begin with a quote, mind-boggling stat, or a strong claim coming from a credible source.

For a definition essay, the hook can be an interesting fact or an insightful statement to mark the beginning of the essay. It has to be in coherence with the central idea that you have been asked to define in the essay.

Let’s see how we can create an impressive hook for our sample essay prompt

Topic: What is social-emotional learning? (Analysis technique)

Sample hook

In contemporary times, more than 60 percent of parents are of the view that social-emotional learning is highly essential for the holistic development of their children.

After the hook, you then give the background information of the topic which can include the history of the topic, the etymology, origin and the present relevance of the topic. After the background information comes the purpose of the essay where you clearly state the objective of the essay. Further, the next element in the introduction is the thesis statement which is a highly important statement with respect to your essay’s introduction.

The next section explains how you should approach the thesis statement of the definition essay.

Introduction element: Thesis statement of the definition essay

What is worth noting here is that the thesis statement of your definition essay is subject to change with the technique you are using in your definition essay. Basically, the thesis statement is meant to concisely present the central idea of your essay and the approach you are taking. If you are taking the analysis approach, the thesis statement will clearly explain that you are dividing the topic into sections and subsections.

Alternatively, if you are taking the connotation approach, the thesis statement should specify that you are going to delve deep into the figurative meanings of the topic in your essay. Besides, the thesis statement has to be in perfect coherence with the purpose of the essay. For helping you comprehend it better, let us look at the thesis statement of our sample essay prompt.

Topic: What is social-emotional learning? (Analysis technique)

Sample thesis statement

Social-emotional learning can be analyzed in a comprehensive way by taking various dimensions into consideration starting from the definition of the concept, its importance in contemporary education, and how it can be integrated into modern curriculums.

So, as you can see, from this thesis statement, it is pretty evident that we are bifurcating the topic into different sections by taking the analysis approach to developing a definition essay. Had it been a different technique, the thesis statement would have been completely different.

Going ahead, the last element of the introduction paragraph is the outline of your essay. The same is explained in a delineated manner in the next section.

Introduction element: How to write the outline of a definition essay

The outline simply describes the arrangement of the body paragraphs of your essay. The outline gives a clear idea to the reader about the disintegration of the topic into body paragraphs stating what each paragraph will be about. It is more like giving a blueprint of your essay for complete clarity.

Again, in a definition essay, the outline will be as per the technique that you choose. Let’s see what the outline of our sample essay will look like.

Topic: What is social-emotional learning? (Analysis technique)

Sample outline

The essay will first lay emphasis on defining the concept of social-emotional learning in a holistic and meticulous way. Secondly, the essay will shed light on the significance and relevance of social-emotional learning in modern education. Lastly, the essay will explain how social-emotional learning can be integrated into contemporary curriculums in an effective manner.

Now you have a great idea of how you can ace the introduction of your definition essay, isn’t it? So, let us now see how you need to go about writing the body of your essay.

How to write the body of a definition essay?

Irrespective of the type of essay you are writing, in the general sense, a body paragraph has the following components.

  • Topic sentence
  • Evidence
  • Analysis based on evidence
  • Conclusion

In any type of essay, the body paragraphs should begin with a clear topic sentence stating what the paragraph will be about. The relevance of evidence and analysis may change from one essay type to another. However, the body paragraphs should end in a concise conclusion of their own.

In a definition essay, the relevance of the topic sentence becomes far more important. The topic sentence has to be consistent with the approach you are taking and should leave no room for guessing. The topic sentence should clearly specify which aspect of the central topic is being talked about. Further, the conclusion of the body paragraph can be in terms of future implications or limitations of the topic subject to the scope of the essay. Let us present to you a sample body paragraph in the context of the essay topic we are developing as an example for lucid understanding.

Topic: What is social-emotional learning? (Analysis technique)

Sample body paragraph

To begin with, it is important to delve deep into the definition of social-emotional learning. Social-emotional learning is an approach to education that aims at cultivating social and emotional skills among students to enhance learning outcomes. Further, social-emotional learning as a learning framework lays great emphasis on fostering greater self-awareness, proficiency in interpersonal skills, and self-control among young learners (Weissberg & Cascarino, 2013). The other components of social-emotional learning include relationship skills, social awareness, and responsible decision-making. As a modern approach to learning, the integration of social-emotional learning into the school curriculum is aimed at laying a strong foundation for holistic learning in alignment with skill building from a young age (Bierman et al., 2010). Most education systems today are giving great significance to social-emotional learning frameworks for making education more progressive and skill oriented.

Essentially, this is how the body paragraph of a definition essay should be. After this paragraph, you will further arrange the sections and subsections into subsequent body paragraphs. Usually, an essay contains three to four body paragraphs. If there are more sections than that, you need to club them in the body paragraphs. Otherwise, the best approach is to keep each body paragraph about one central idea.

Next, we move to the last part of the essay i.e conclusion.

How to write the conclusion of a definition essay

In the conclusion of the essay, you need not add any new information or perspectives. The conclusion is simply about restating the thesis statement and the central ideas you put forth in the body paragraphs.

When it comes to concluding a definition essay, you can conclude by discussing the implications of the topic that you are defining and can also present some recommendations for the future. It needs to be consistent with what you have discussed in the body paragraphs. Let’s see how we can go about writing the conclusion of our sample essay.

Topic: What is social-emotional learning? (Analysis technique)

Sample conclusion

To encapsulate, social-emotional learning is an unconventional approach to learning aimed at enhancing social and emotional skills in young learners for optimized learning outcomes. Social-emotional learning has tangible benefits in terms of making learning more collaborative and helping young learners shape strong personalities with exemplary interpersonal skills. Besides, most countries are now acknowledging the need for an education system that is inclusive of social-emotional learning. However, it is analyzed that the initial SEL frameworks need to be refined for greater effectiveness and more research may be needed to confirm the impact of social-emotional learning on the academic performance of students.

So, we are sure that definition essays will seem pretty easy to you after this guide. After all, any task is only as difficult as we make it. This is an all-inclusive resource for writing a definition essay and you need not go anywhere else.

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