A definition essay is a paper that explains something. The topic can be concrete objects such as mice, stars, or airplanes. The definition essay can also be about abstract concepts like honor, justice, or love. In choosing a topic for a definition essay, it is best to create some limits by choosing something specific. If the topic is too general, a short essay will not encompass the definition accurately. For example, an essay on airplanes would be better suited as jet airplanes or commercial airliners. Justice could be limited to family justice or the justice system of the USA.
After a specific topic is chosen, it is necessary to conduct research. At least three reputable sources are needed such as encyclopedia articles or books on the subject. Once the author of the essay feels confident in understanding the subject, it is necessary to form a thesis statement. The thesis statement introduces the topic, provides a very brief definition, such as that found in a dictionary, and can also provide a reason why the subject is being defined in the essay. Once a solid thesis is written, an outline should be compiled with all of the facts to be included in the essay.
The outline with the facts of the topic should roughly follow the parts of the essay. After the thesis statement, there is the body of the essay that gives basic information about the topic with examples to support the information. Contrasting ideas can also be included, depending on how the subject is to be defined. Finally, after the body of the essay, is the conclusion. In the conclusion, the topic and succinct definition is restated along with the key points of the body. A basic definition essay will have at least five paragraphs. The introduction and conclusion will be one paragraph each and the body should have three paragraphs, each covering a different aspect of the topic or a different form of definition.
There are several different methods for creating a strong definition of a term. The definition essay can focus on one method or it can incorporate multiple methods to help the explanation. One of the ways to define a term is through its function. Explaining what something does or how it works is often all that is needed to define many terms, especially objects. Next, a term can be defined by its structure. Explain how the subject is organized or the different parts of the subject. Defining by structure can also include how the object is built. A third way to define the topic is by analysis. Good and bad examples of the term can be included in analysis. The term must also be compared and contrasted to similar things or concepts. Using the jet airplane example from above, a comparative analysis can show the difference between jet airplanes engines and propeller airplane engines. The jet airplane can also be compared to helicopters, balloons, or even cars in how it is used as a mode of transportation. Another way to define the topic is by explaining what it is not. Opposites or similar concepts can be used to help the reader more fully understand the thesis.
A definition essay, essentially, must be easy to understand so by the end, the reader knows just as well as the author, the definition of the subject. The facts should be clear and basic at first, and then they can be more specific. If facts cannot adequately define the subject, sometimes a short story or anecdote helps. Every fact should also be supported by an example.