Definition Essay Structure

Writing an academic essay means fashioning a coherent set of ideas into an argument. Because essays are essentially linear—they offer one idea at a time—they must present their ideas in the order that makes most sense to a reader. Successfully structuring an essay means attending to a reader's logic.

The focus of such an essay predicts its structure. It dictates the information readers need to know and the order in which they need to receive it. Thus your essay's structure is necessarily unique to the main claim you're making. Although there are guidelines for constructing certain classic essay types (e.g., comparative analysis), there are no set formula.

Answering Questions:  The Parts of an Essay

A typical essay contains many different kinds of information, often located in specialized parts or sections. Even short essays perform several different operations: introducing the argument, analyzing data, raising counterarguments, concluding. Introductions and conclusions have fixed places, but other parts don't. Counterargument, for example, may appear within a paragraph, as a free-standing section, as part of the beginning, or before the ending. Background material (historical context or biographical information, a summary of relevant theory or criticism, the definition of a key term) often appears at the beginning of the essay, between the introduction and the first analytical section, but might also appear near the beginning of the specific section to which it's relevant.

It's helpful to think of the different essay sections as answering a series of questions your reader might ask when encountering your thesis. (Readers should have questions. If they don't, your thesis is most likely simply an observation of fact, not an arguable claim.)

"What?"  The first question to anticipate from a reader is "what": What evidence shows that the phenomenon described by your thesis is true? To answer the question you must examine your evidence, thus demonstrating the truth of your claim. This "what" or "demonstration" section comes early in the essay, often directly after the introduction. Since you're essentially reporting what you've observed, this is the part you might have most to say about when you first start writing. But be forewarned: it shouldn't take up much more than a third (often much less) of your finished essay. If it does, the essay will lack balance and may read as mere summary or description.

"How?"  A reader will also want to know whether the claims of the thesis are true in all cases. The corresponding question is "how": How does the thesis stand up to the challenge of a counterargument? How does the introduction of new material—a new way of looking at the evidence, another set of sources—affect the claims you're making? Typically, an essay will include at least one "how" section. (Call it "complication" since you're responding to a reader's complicating questions.) This section usually comes after the "what," but keep in mind that an essay may complicate its argument several times depending on its length, and that counterargument alone may appear just about anywhere in an essay.

"Why?"  Your reader will also want to know what's at stake in your claim: Why does your interpretation of a phenomenon matter to anyone beside you? This question addresses the larger implications of your thesis. It allows your readers to understand your essay within a larger context. In answering "why", your essay explains its own significance. Although you might gesture at this question in your introduction, the fullest answer to it properly belongs at your essay's end. If you leave it out, your readers will experience your essay as unfinished—or, worse, as pointless or insular.

Mapping an Essay

Structuring your essay according to a reader's logic means examining your thesis and anticipating what a reader needs to know, and in what sequence, in order to grasp and be convinced by your argument as it unfolds. The easiest way to do this is to map the essay's ideas via a written narrative. Such an account will give you a preliminary record of your ideas, and will allow you to remind yourself at every turn of the reader's needs in understanding your idea.

Essay maps ask you to predict where your reader will expect background information, counterargument, close analysis of a primary source, or a turn to secondary source material. Essay maps are not concerned with paragraphs so much as with sections of an essay. They anticipate the major argumentative moves you expect your essay to make. Try making your map like this:

  • State your thesis in a sentence or two, then write another sentence saying why it's important to make that claim. Indicate, in other words, what a reader might learn by exploring the claim with you. Here you're anticipating your answer to the "why" question that you'll eventually flesh out in your conclusion.
  • Begin your next sentence like this: "To be convinced by my claim, the first thing a reader needs to know is . . ." Then say why that's the first thing a reader needs to know, and name one or two items of evidence you think will make the case. This will start you off on answering the "what" question. (Alternately, you may find that the first thing your reader needs to know is some background information.)
  • Begin each of the following sentences like this: "The next thing my reader needs to know is . . ."  Once again, say why, and name some evidence. Continue until you've mapped out your essay. 

Your map should naturally take you through some preliminary answers to the basic questions of what, how, and why. It is not a contract, though—the order in which the ideas appear is not a rigid one. Essay maps are flexible; they evolve with your ideas.

Signs of Trouble

A common structural flaw in college essays is the "walk-through" (also labeled "summary" or "description"). Walk-through essays follow the structure of their sources rather than establishing their own. Such essays generally have a descriptive thesis rather than an argumentative one. Be wary of paragraph openers that lead off with "time" words ("first," "next," "after," "then") or "listing" words ("also," "another," "in addition"). Although they don't always signal trouble, these paragraph openers often indicate that an essay's thesis and structure need work: they suggest that the essay simply reproduces the chronology of the source text (in the case of time words: first this happens, then that, and afterwards another thing . . . ) or simply lists example after example ("In addition, the use of color indicates another way that the painting differentiates between good and evil").

Copyright 2000, Elizabeth Abrams, for the Writing Center at Harvard University

You see a new word that absolutely means nothing to you. The word seems interesting enough so as a wise student you decide to look it up in the dictionary. After researching the term online, you find a proper definition that seems logical enough. Great, you have learned a new word!

However, sometimes a term cannot be described in a sentence or two. This word is so complex and deep that it requires hundreds or even thousands of words to explain it.


Table Of Contents


What is a Definition Essay?

A definition essay can be tricky to write. This type of paper requires you to write a partially personal and also formal explanation of . Considering the fact that this is an essay, you can not pick a term that is describable in a few words. It has to be a complex term that has significant background and origin in history, as well as a term that people can relate to in some way or form. For example, the word "love". It is seemingly impossible to explain this concept in a sentence or two, so we must create an entire essay about it to give it an accurate UNIVERSAL representation!

Types of Definitions commonly used in Definition Essay

  • Analysis: Break the subject into parts and define each part individually.
  • Classification: What classes does the subject belong to?
  • Comparison: Unusual things may be defined by showing its likeness to the common or its contrast from it.
  • Details: What are the characteristics and other distinguishing features that describe the idea of the paper?
  • Negation: Mention what it is not in order to clear the ground for what it is.
  • Origins and Causes: What is the origin of the theme? What is the background information? What is the history of the idea?
  • Results, Effects, and Uses: Describe the after effect and uses of the subject.

Interesting Topics

  • What makes someone a Hero
  • What is Success?
  • Describe Love.
  • Explain the definition of Beauty.
  • What is Happiness?
  • How can one define Respect?
  • What is the definition of Loyalty?
  • What is Courage?
  • Describe Heroism.
  • What is Friendship?

These are just some common examples of definition essay questions and topics that are commonly asked on tests and coursework assignments. There are an infinite number of words that can be defined in the span of an essay. The goal here is to pick one that as a student you feel comfortable explaining and portraying. It is time to become a word artist!

Outline

A definition essay outline will vary in length based on the term one is describing. As stated previously, some terms are fairly logical and more or less "easy to understand". There are some terms, however, that require deep research and analysis in order to be able and formulate an accurate representation of its meaning! Regardless Every Definition Essay should be written in the classic Intro-Body(s)-Conclusion format.

Steps to take Pre-Writing

Before you even begin writing, obviously a word has to be chosen for the essay to be based around. Here are a few tips to consider before choosing your !

  • Choosing a Proper Term:
  • As stated previously, it is impossible to write a hefty custom essay on a simple word. That is why it is important to be meticulous during the decision process. Choosing something like a noun is most likely not going to work out. For example, if you chose the term "pencil", there is really not much depth that you as the writer can get into. Sticking in the same sphere, choosing something like "writing" is much more subjective and gives you as the writer some room for implementing different ideas!
  • The Word Should be Multi-Dimensional
  • Think about it like this: there are certain words in every language that have multiple interpretations; some people will perceive them differently than others!
  • Avoid using terms that are universal in every language; an example would be like "hello" or "telephone". Though there are ways you can stretch information on these terms, it is better to pick a juicy one from the start!
  • Term Familiarity
  • It will be practically impossible to write about a term that has no correlation with your life. You should choose a word that you know well and that also has undiscovered boxes in your life. Ideally, in any research assignment you ever get, there will be some personality knowledgeable gain!
  • Do some historical research!
  • Considering that humans have been lingual for centuries, there is a 100% chance that your term has a significant past. Check out the Oxford Dictionary's explanation in order to get yourself a point of relevance!

Introduction

As with any other essay, you are using this part to start informing your writers about the contents of your paper. In a definition essay, the introduction serves two main goals; first, you must give a "standard" definition of the term, and then give the thesis definition!

  • Standard Definition: The initial section of the introduction should state the dictionary version. This is important for the readers to have a starting point in regards to the term so as to clarify any possible questions. Also, this is especially important because the standard definition will slightly vary from the thesis one, which allows for multi-dimensionality!

Thesis Statement

Similar to the classic thesis statement, the thesis definition is your fully completed version of what the term actually means. This is a hybrid of the standard definition, while also mixing in your personal experiences and explanation style! Do not try and describe too much in this section, as you want to split up the bulk of it for the rest of the essay! Make sure that you don’t use passive phrases involving the word when defining your term. The phrases like and are especially ponderous.

Body Paragraphs

The body paragraphs are the part of the essay that really breaks down the term into its core parts. You are taking every variation of the definition and its history and breaking it down into organized sections. An example of good body paragraph structure:

  • Body Paragraph 1: History and Origin
  • Body Paragraph 2: Full dictionary explanation and use.
  • Body Paragraph 3: Personal definition created from experience.

Conclusion

The conclusion is fairly simple and to the point. The main goal here is to summarize the main points of your argument. Rephrase the main parts of the definition and make sure you summed up everything you planned on saying. The last thing that should be mentioned is how this term has impacted you. Usually, before even writing the essay, there is a reason a specific term is picked and part of the reason has to do with personal experience.

Post-writing Tip

Mention how the definition you were talking about affected you.

If the term you define plays a specific part in your life and experiences, your final concluding comments are a great place to concisely mention the role it plays.

Definition Essay Examples

Essay Writing Advice From Our Professional Team

Jackson Super Writer, from EssayPro

When writing a definition essay, a common mistake is choosing a term that is way too broad for the given assignment. When you’ve chosen a term, try to narrow it down so it is easier to define and find examples for. As the article articulates, the term’s origin is very important to the word’s meaning itself. For example, the word “crush” comes from a variety of similar words in nordic languages. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to list every single one of those words as examples. As with word “crush”, a word can have multiple meanings. You can crush a bag of chips and you can have a crush on someone. Whatever definition your essay has, make sure to define it in a unique way. Be creative and approach it from a new angle. As the article states, it isn’t a bad idea to put in examples from your own life of how that specific word has impacted you. This will definitely make it more interesting for the reader.

Need Some Definition Essay Guidance?

Sometimes it can be hard to find a term we know well that also has a multi-dimensional definition. This is a common problem for college students and one that is commonly solved by buying an essay online! EssayPro, the best essay writing service on the web, has dedicated paper writers that know all the tips and tricks necessary to write an effective definition essay, leaving you and your professor satisfied!

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