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Definition of essay

 (Entry 1 of 2)

Definition of essay  (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

  • composition

attempt , try , endeavor , essay , strive mean to make an effort to accomplish an end.

attempt stresses the initiation or beginning of an effort.

try is often close to attempt but may stress effort or experiment made in the hope of testing or proving something.

endeavor heightens the implications of exertion and difficulty.

essay implies difficulty but also suggests tentative trying or experimenting.

strive implies great exertion against great difficulty and specifically suggests persistent effort.

Examples of essay in a Sentence

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'essay.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Middle French essai , ultimately from Late Latin exagium act of weighing, from Latin ex- + agere to drive — more at agent

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Phrases Containing essay

  • essay question
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Cite this entry.

“Essay.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/essay. Accessed 10 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition

Kids definition of essay.

Kids Definition of essay  (Entry 2 of 2)

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Nglish: Translation of essay for Spanish Speakers

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essay , an analytic , interpretative, or critical literary composition usually much shorter and less systematic and formal than a dissertation or thesis and usually dealing with its subject from a limited and often personal point of view.

Some early treatises—such as those of Cicero on the pleasantness of old age or on the art of “divination,” Seneca on anger or clemency , and Plutarch on the passing of oracles—presage to a certain degree the form and tone of the essay, but not until the late 16th century was the flexible and deliberately nonchalant and versatile form of the essay perfected by the French writer Michel de Montaigne . Choosing the name essai to emphasize that his compositions were attempts or endeavours, a groping toward the expression of his personal thoughts and experiences, Montaigne used the essay as a means of self-discovery. His Essais , published in their final form in 1588, are still considered among the finest of their kind. Later writers who most nearly recall the charm of Montaigne include, in England, Robert Burton , though his whimsicality is more erudite , Sir Thomas Browne , and Laurence Sterne , and in France, with more self-consciousness and pose, André Gide and Jean Cocteau .

definition of an essay

At the beginning of the 17th century, social manners, the cultivation of politeness, and the training of an accomplished gentleman became the theme of many essayists. This theme was first exploited by the Italian Baldassare Castiglione in his Il libro del cortegiano (1528; The Book of the Courtier ). The influence of the essay and of genres allied to it, such as maxims, portraits, and sketches, proved second to none in molding the behavior of the cultured classes, first in Italy, then in France, and, through French influence, in most of Europe in the 17th century. Among those who pursued this theme was the 17th-century Spanish Jesuit Baltasar Gracián in his essays on the art of worldly wisdom.

Keener political awareness in the 18th century, the age of Enlightenment , made the essay an all-important vehicle for the criticism of society and religion. Because of its flexibility, its brevity , and its potential both for ambiguity and for allusions to current events and conditions, it was an ideal tool for philosophical reformers. The Federalist Papers in America and the tracts of the French Revolutionaries are among the countless examples of attempts during this period to improve the human condition through the essay.

The genre also became the favoured tool of traditionalists of the 18th and 19th centuries, such as Edmund Burke and Samuel Taylor Coleridge , who looked to the short, provocative essay as the most potent means of educating the masses. Essays such as Paul Elmer More’s long series of Shelburne Essays (published between 1904 and 1935), T.S. Eliot ’s After Strange Gods (1934) and Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1948), and others that attempted to reinterpret and redefine culture , established the genre as the most fitting to express the genteel tradition at odds with the democracy of the new world.

Whereas in several countries the essay became the chosen vehicle of literary and social criticism, in other countries the genre became semipolitical, earnestly nationalistic, and often polemical, playful, or bitter. Essayists such as Robert Louis Stevenson and Willa Cather wrote with grace on several lighter subjects, and many writers—including Virginia Woolf , Edmund Wilson , and Charles du Bos —mastered the essay as a form of literary criticism .

definition of an essay

What is an Essay?

10 May, 2020

11 minutes read

Author:  Tomas White

Well, beyond a jumble of words usually around 2,000 words or so - what is an essay, exactly? Whether you’re taking English, sociology, history, biology, art, or a speech class, it’s likely you’ll have to write an essay or two. So how is an essay different than a research paper or a review? Let’s find out!

What is an essay

Defining the Term – What is an Essay?

The essay is a written piece that is designed to present an idea, propose an argument, express the emotion or initiate debate. It is a tool that is used to present writer’s ideas in a non-fictional way. Multiple applications of this type of writing go way beyond, providing political manifestos and art criticism as well as personal observations and reflections of the author.

what is an essay

An essay can be as short as 500 words, it can also be 5000 words or more.  However, most essays fall somewhere around 1000 to 3000 words ; this word range provides the writer enough space to thoroughly develop an argument and work to convince the reader of the author’s perspective regarding a particular issue.  The topics of essays are boundless: they can range from the best form of government to the benefits of eating peppermint leaves daily. As a professional provider of custom writing, our service has helped thousands of customers to turn in essays in various forms and disciplines.

Origins of the Essay

Over the course of more than six centuries essays were used to question assumptions, argue trivial opinions and to initiate global discussions. Let’s have a closer look into historical progress and various applications of this literary phenomenon to find out exactly what it is.

Today’s modern word “essay” can trace its roots back to the French “essayer” which translates closely to mean “to attempt” .  This is an apt name for this writing form because the essay’s ultimate purpose is to attempt to convince the audience of something.  An essay’s topic can range broadly and include everything from the best of Shakespeare’s plays to the joys of April.

The essay comes in many shapes and sizes; it can focus on a personal experience or a purely academic exploration of a topic.  Essays are classified as a subjective writing form because while they include expository elements, they can rely on personal narratives to support the writer’s viewpoint.  The essay genre includes a diverse array of academic writings ranging from literary criticism to meditations on the natural world.  Most typically, the essay exists as a shorter writing form; essays are rarely the length of a novel.  However, several historic examples, such as John Locke’s seminal work “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” just shows that a well-organized essay can be as long as a novel.

The Essay in Literature

The essay enjoys a long and renowned history in literature.  They first began gaining in popularity in the early 16 th century, and their popularity has continued today both with original writers and ghost writers.  Many readers prefer this short form in which the writer seems to speak directly to the reader, presenting a particular claim and working to defend it through a variety of means.  Not sure if you’ve ever read a great essay? You wouldn’t believe how many pieces of literature are actually nothing less than essays, or evolved into more complex structures from the essay. Check out this list of literary favorites:

  • The Book of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon
  • Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
  • Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag
  • High-Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now and Never by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion
  • Naked by David Sedaris
  • Walden; or, Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau

Pretty much as long as writers have had something to say, they’ve created essays to communicate their viewpoint on pretty much any topic you can think of!

Top essays in literature

The Essay in Academics

Not only are students required to read a variety of essays during their academic education, but they will likely be required to write several different kinds of essays throughout their scholastic career.  Don’t love to write?  Then consider working with a ghost essay writer !  While all essays require an introduction, body paragraphs in support of the argumentative thesis statement, and a conclusion, academic essays can take several different formats in the way they approach a topic.  Common essays required in high school, college, and post-graduate classes include:

Five paragraph essay

This is the most common type of a formal essay. The type of paper that students are usually exposed to when they first hear about the concept of the essay itself. It follows easy outline structure – an opening introduction paragraph; three body paragraphs to expand the thesis; and conclusion to sum it up.

Argumentative essay

These essays are commonly assigned to explore a controversial issue.  The goal is to identify the major positions on either side and work to support the side the writer agrees with while refuting the opposing side’s potential arguments.

Compare and Contrast essay

This essay compares two items, such as two poems, and works to identify similarities and differences, discussing the strength and weaknesses of each.  This essay can focus on more than just two items, however.  The point of this essay is to reveal new connections the reader may not have considered previously.

Definition essay

This essay has a sole purpose – defining a term or a concept in as much detail as possible. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, not quite. The most important part of the process is picking up the word. Before zooming it up under the microscope, make sure to choose something roomy so you can define it under multiple angles. The definition essay outline will reflect those angles and scopes.

Descriptive essay

Perhaps the most fun to write, this essay focuses on describing its subject using all five of the senses.  The writer aims to fully describe the topic; for example, a descriptive essay could aim to describe the ocean to someone who’s never seen it or the job of a teacher.  Descriptive essays rely heavily on detail and the paragraphs can be organized by sense.

Illustration essay

The purpose of this essay is to describe an idea, occasion or a concept with the help of clear and vocal examples. “Illustration” itself is handled in the body paragraphs section. Each of the statements, presented in the essay needs to be supported with several examples. Illustration essay helps the author to connect with his audience by breaking the barriers with real-life examples – clear and indisputable.

Informative Essay

Being one the basic essay types, the informative essay is as easy as it sounds from a technical standpoint. High school is where students usually encounter with informative essay first time. The purpose of this paper is to describe an idea, concept or any other abstract subject with the help of proper research and a generous amount of storytelling.

Narrative essay

This type of essay focuses on describing a certain event or experience, most often chronologically.  It could be a historic event or an ordinary day or month in a regular person’s life. Narrative essay proclaims a free approach to writing it, therefore it does not always require conventional attributes, like the outline. The narrative itself typically unfolds through a personal lens, and is thus considered to be a subjective form of writing.

Persuasive essay

The purpose of the persuasive essay is to provide the audience with a 360-view on the concept idea or certain topic – to persuade the reader to adopt a certain viewpoint. The viewpoints can range widely from why visiting the dentist is important to why dogs make the best pets to why blue is the best color.  Strong, persuasive language is a defining characteristic of this essay type.

Types of essays

The Essay in Art

Several other artistic mediums have adopted the essay as a means of communicating with their audience.  In the visual arts, such as painting or sculpting, the rough sketches of the final product are sometimes deemed essays.  Likewise, directors may opt to create a film essay which is similar to a documentary in that it offers a personal reflection on a relevant issue.  Finally, photographers often create photographic essays in which they use a series of photographs to tell a story, similar to a narrative or a descriptive essay.

Drawing the line – question answered

“What is an Essay?” is quite a polarizing question. On one hand, it can easily be answered in a couple of words. On the other, it is surely the most profound and self-established type of content there ever was. Going back through the history of the last five-six centuries helps us understand where did it come from and how it is being applied ever since.

If you must write an essay, follow these five important steps to works towards earning the “A” you want:

  • Understand and review the kind of essay you must write
  • Brainstorm your argument
  • Find research from reliable sources to support your perspective
  • Cite all sources parenthetically within the paper and on the Works Cited page
  • Follow all grammatical rules

Generally speaking, when you must write any type of essay, start sooner rather than later!  Don’t procrastinate – give yourself time to develop your perspective and work on crafting a unique and original approach to the topic.  Remember: it’s always a good idea to have another set of eyes (or three) look over your essay before handing in the final draft to your teacher or professor.  Don’t trust your fellow classmates?  Consider hiring an editor or a ghostwriter to help out!

If you are still unsure on whether you can cope with your task – you are in the right place to get help. HandMadeWriting is the perfect answer to the question “Who can write my essay?”

A life lesson in Romeo and Juliet taught by death

A life lesson in Romeo and Juliet taught by death

Due to human nature, we draw conclusions only when life gives us a lesson since the experience of others is not so effective and powerful. Therefore, when analyzing and sorting out common problems we face, we may trace a parallel with well-known book characters or real historical figures. Moreover, we often compare our situations with […]

Ethical Research Paper Topics

Ethical Research Paper Topics

Writing a research paper on ethics is not an easy task, especially if you do not possess excellent writing skills and do not like to contemplate controversial questions. But an ethics course is obligatory in all higher education institutions, and students have to look for a way out and be creative. When you find an […]

Art Research Paper Topics

Art Research Paper Topics

Students obtaining degrees in fine art and art & design programs most commonly need to write a paper on art topics. However, this subject is becoming more popular in educational institutions for expanding students’ horizons. Thus, both groups of receivers of education: those who are into arts and those who only get acquainted with art […]

Cambridge Dictionary

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Meaning of essay in English

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  • I want to finish off this essay before I go to bed .
  • His essay was full of spelling errors .
  • Have you given that essay in yet ?
  • Have you handed in your history essay yet ?
  • I'd like to discuss the first point in your essay.
  • boilerplate
  • composition
  • corresponding author
  • dissertation
  • essay question
  • peer review
  • go after someone
  • go all out idiom
  • go down swinging/fighting idiom
  • go for it idiom
  • go for someone
  • shoot for the moon idiom
  • shoot the works idiom
  • smarten (someone/something) up
  • smarten up your act idiom
  • square the circle idiom

essay | Intermediate English

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to cause someone or something to fall to the ground by hitting him, her, or it

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definition of an essay

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[ noun es -ey es -ey , e- sey verb e- sey ]

  • a short literary composition on a particular theme or subject, usually in prose and generally analytic, speculative, or interpretative.

a picture essay.

  • an effort to perform or accomplish something; attempt.
  • Philately. a design for a proposed stamp differing in any way from the design of the stamp as issued.
  • Obsolete. a tentative effort; trial; assay.

verb (used with object)

  • to try; attempt.
  • to put to the test; make trial of.
  • a short literary composition dealing with a subject analytically or speculatively
  • an attempt or endeavour; effort
  • a test or trial
  • to attempt or endeavour; try
  • to test or try out
  • A short piece of writing on one subject, usually presenting the author's own views. Michel de Montaigne , Francis Bacon (see also Bacon ), and Ralph Waldo Emerson are celebrated for their essays.

Other Words From

  • es·sayer noun
  • prees·say verb (used without object)
  • unes·sayed adjective
  • well-es·sayed adjective

Word History and Origins

Origin of essay 1

Example Sentences

As several of my colleagues commented, the result is good enough that it could pass for an essay written by a first-year undergraduate, and even get a pretty decent grade.

GPT-3 also raises concerns about the future of essay writing in the education system.

This little essay helps focus on self-knowledge in what you’re best at, and how you should prioritize your time.

As Steven Feldstein argues in the opening essay, technonationalism plays a part in the strengthening of other autocracies too.

He’s written a collection of essays on civil engineering life titled Bridginess, and to this day he and Lauren go on “bridge dates,” where they enjoy a meal and admire the view of a nearby span.

I think a certain kind of compelling essay has a piece of that.

The current attack on the Jews,” he wrote in a 1937 essay, “targets not just this people of 15 million but mankind as such.

The impulse to interpret seems to me what makes personal essay writing compelling.

To be honest, I think a lot of good essay writing comes out of that.

Someone recently sent me an old Joan Didion essay on self-respect that appeared in Vogue.

There is more of the uplifted forefinger and the reiterated point than I should have allowed myself in an essay.

Consequently he was able to turn in a clear essay upon the subject, which, upon examination, the king found to be free from error.

It is no part of the present essay to attempt to detail the particulars of a code of social legislation.

But angels and ministers of grace defend us from ministers of religion who essay art criticism!

It is fit that the imagination, which is free to go through all things, should essay such excursions.

Related Words

  • dissertation
  • Literary Terms
  • Definition & Examples
  • When & How to Write an Essay

I. What is an Essay?

An essay is a form of writing in paragraph form that uses informal language, although it can be written formally. Essays may be written in first-person point of view (I, ours, mine), but third-person (people, he, she) is preferable in most academic essays. Essays do not require research as most academic reports and papers do; however, they should cite any literary works that are used within the paper.

When thinking of essays, we normally think of the five-paragraph essay: Paragraph 1 is the introduction, paragraphs 2-4 are the body covering three main ideas, and paragraph 5 is the conclusion. Sixth and seventh graders may start out with three paragraph essays in order to learn the concepts. However, essays may be longer than five paragraphs. Essays are easier and quicker to read than books, so are a preferred way to express ideas and concepts when bringing them to public attention.

II. Examples of Essays

Many of our most famous Americans have written essays. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson wrote essays about being good citizens and concepts to build the new United States. In the pre-Civil War days of the 1800s, people such as:

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson (an author) wrote essays on self-improvement
  • Susan B. Anthony wrote on women’s right to vote
  • Frederick Douglass wrote on the issue of African Americans’ future in the U.S.

Through each era of American history, well-known figures in areas such as politics, literature, the arts, business, etc., voiced their opinions through short and long essays.

The ultimate persuasive essay that most students learn about and read in social studies is the “Declaration of Independence” by Thomas Jefferson in 1776. Other founding fathers edited and critiqued it, but he drafted the first version. He builds a strong argument by stating his premise (claim) then proceeds to give the evidence in a straightforward manner before coming to his logical conclusion.

III. Types of Essays

A. expository.

Essays written to explore and explain ideas are called expository essays (they expose truths). These will be more formal types of essays usually written in third person, to be more objective. There are many forms, each one having its own organizational pattern.  Cause/Effect essays explain the reason (cause) for something that happens after (effect). Definition essays define an idea or concept. Compare/ Contrast essays will look at two items and show how they are similar (compare) and different (contrast).

b. Persuasive

An argumentative paper presents an idea or concept with the intention of attempting to change a reader’s mind or actions . These may be written in second person, using “you” in order to speak to the reader. This is called a persuasive essay. There will be a premise (claim) followed by evidence to show why you should believe the claim.

c. Narrative

Narrative means story, so narrative essays will illustrate and describe an event of some kind to tell a story. Most times, they will be written in first person. The writer will use descriptive terms, and may have paragraphs that tell a beginning, middle, and end in place of the five paragraphs with introduction, body, and conclusion. However, if there is a lesson to be learned, a five-paragraph may be used to ensure the lesson is shown.

d. Descriptive

The goal of a descriptive essay is to vividly describe an event, item, place, memory, etc. This essay may be written in any point of view, depending on what’s being described. There is a lot of freedom of language in descriptive essays, which can include figurative language, as well.

IV. The Importance of Essays

Essays are an important piece of literature that can be used in a variety of situations. They’re a flexible type of writing, which makes them useful in many settings . History can be traced and understood through essays from theorists, leaders, artists of various arts, and regular citizens of countries throughout the world and time. For students, learning to write essays is also important because as they leave school and enter college and/or the work force, it is vital for them to be able to express themselves well.

V. Examples of Essays in Literature

Sir Francis Bacon was a leading philosopher who influenced the colonies in the 1600s. Many of America’s founding fathers also favored his philosophies toward government. Bacon wrote an essay titled “Of Nobility” in 1601 , in which he defines the concept of nobility in relation to people and government. The following is the introduction of his definition essay. Note the use of “we” for his point of view, which includes his readers while still sounding rather formal.

 “We will speak of nobility, first as a portion of an estate, then as a condition of particular persons. A monarchy, where there is no nobility at all, is ever a pure and absolute tyranny; as that of the Turks. For nobility attempers sovereignty, and draws the eyes of the people, somewhat aside from the line royal. But for democracies, they need it not; and they are commonly more quiet, and less subject to sedition, than where there are stirps of nobles. For men’s eyes are upon the business, and not upon the persons; or if upon the persons, it is for the business’ sake, as fittest, and not for flags and pedigree. We see the Switzers last well, notwithstanding their diversity of religion, and of cantons. For utility is their bond, and not respects. The united provinces of the Low Countries, in their government, excel; for where there is an equality, the consultations are more indifferent, and the payments and tributes, more cheerful. A great and potent nobility, addeth majesty to a monarch, but diminisheth power; and putteth life and spirit into the people, but presseth their fortune. It is well, when nobles are not too great for sovereignty nor for justice; and yet maintained in that height, as the insolency of inferiors may be broken upon them, before it come on too fast upon the majesty of kings. A numerous nobility causeth poverty, and inconvenience in a state; for it is a surcharge of expense; and besides, it being of necessity, that many of the nobility fall, in time, to be weak in fortune, it maketh a kind of disproportion, between honor and means.”

A popular modern day essayist is Barbara Kingsolver. Her book, “Small Wonders,” is full of essays describing her thoughts and experiences both at home and around the world. Her intention with her essays is to make her readers think about various social issues, mainly concerning the environment and how people treat each other. The link below is to an essay in which a child in an Iranian village she visited had disappeared. The boy was found three days later in a bear’s cave, alive and well, protected by a mother bear. She uses a narrative essay to tell her story.

VI. Examples of Essays in Pop Culture

Many rap songs are basically mini essays, expressing outrage and sorrow over social issues today, just as the 1960s had a lot of anti-war and peace songs that told stories and described social problems of that time. Any good song writer will pay attention to current events and express ideas in a creative way.

A well-known essay written in 1997 by Mary Schmich, a columnist with the Chicago Tribune, was made into a popular video on MTV by Baz Luhrmann. Schmich’s thesis is to wear sunscreen, but she adds strong advice with supporting details throughout the body of her essay, reverting to her thesis in the conclusion.

Baz Luhrmann - Everybody's Free To Wear Sunscreen

VII. Related Terms

Research paper.

Research papers follow the same basic format of an essay. They have an introductory paragraph, the body, and a conclusion. However, research papers have strict guidelines regarding a title page, header, sub-headers within the paper, citations throughout and in a bibliography page, the size and type of font, and margins. The purpose of a research paper is to explore an area by looking at previous research. Some research papers may include additional studies by the author, which would then be compared to previous research. The point of view is an objective third-person. No opinion is allowed. Any claims must be backed up with research.

VIII. Conclusion

Students dread hearing that they are going to write an essay, but essays are one of the easiest and most relaxed types of writing they will learn. Mastering the essay will make research papers much easier, since they have the same basic structure. Many historical events can be better understood through essays written by people involved in those times. The continuation of essays in today’s times will allow future historians to understand how our new world of technology and information impacted us.

List of Terms

  • Alliteration
  • Amplification
  • Anachronism
  • Anthropomorphism
  • Antonomasia
  • APA Citation
  • Aposiopesis
  • Autobiography
  • Bildungsroman
  • Characterization
  • Circumlocution
  • Cliffhanger
  • Comic Relief
  • Connotation
  • Deus ex machina
  • Deuteragonist
  • Doppelganger
  • Double Entendre
  • Dramatic irony
  • Equivocation
  • Extended Metaphor
  • Figures of Speech
  • Flash-forward
  • Foreshadowing
  • Intertextuality
  • Juxtaposition
  • Literary Device
  • Malapropism
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Parallelism
  • Pathetic Fallacy
  • Personification
  • Point of View
  • Polysyndeton
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Frequently asked questions

What is an essay.

An essay is a focused piece of writing that explains, argues, describes, or narrates.

In high school, you may have to write many different types of essays to develop your writing skills.

Academic essays at college level are usually argumentative : you develop a clear thesis about your topic and make a case for your position using evidence, analysis and interpretation.

Frequently asked questions: Writing an essay

For a stronger conclusion paragraph, avoid including:

  • Important evidence or analysis that wasn’t mentioned in the main body
  • Generic concluding phrases (e.g. “In conclusion…”)
  • Weak statements that undermine your argument (e.g. “There are good points on both sides of this issue.”)

Your conclusion should leave the reader with a strong, decisive impression of your work.

Your essay’s conclusion should contain:

  • A rephrased version of your overall thesis
  • A brief review of the key points you made in the main body
  • An indication of why your argument matters

The conclusion may also reflect on the broader implications of your argument, showing how your ideas could applied to other contexts or debates.

The conclusion paragraph of an essay is usually shorter than the introduction . As a rule, it shouldn’t take up more than 10–15% of the text.

The “hook” is the first sentence of your essay introduction . It should lead the reader into your essay, giving a sense of why it’s interesting.

To write a good hook, avoid overly broad statements or long, dense sentences. Try to start with something clear, concise and catchy that will spark your reader’s curiosity.

Your essay introduction should include three main things, in this order:

  • An opening hook to catch the reader’s attention.
  • Relevant background information that the reader needs to know.
  • A thesis statement that presents your main point or argument.

The length of each part depends on the length and complexity of your essay .

Let’s say you’re writing a five-paragraph  essay about the environmental impacts of dietary choices. Here are three examples of topic sentences you could use for each of the three body paragraphs :

  • Research has shown that the meat industry has severe environmental impacts.
  • However, many plant-based foods are also produced in environmentally damaging ways.
  • It’s important to consider not only what type of diet we eat, but where our food comes from and how it is produced.

Each of these sentences expresses one main idea – by listing them in order, we can see the overall structure of the essay at a glance. Each paragraph will expand on the topic sentence with relevant detail, evidence, and arguments.

The topic sentence usually comes at the very start of the paragraph .

However, sometimes you might start with a transition sentence to summarize what was discussed in previous paragraphs, followed by the topic sentence that expresses the focus of the current paragraph.

Topic sentences help keep your writing focused and guide the reader through your argument.

In an essay or paper , each paragraph should focus on a single idea. By stating the main idea in the topic sentence, you clarify what the paragraph is about for both yourself and your reader.

A topic sentence is a sentence that expresses the main point of a paragraph . Everything else in the paragraph should relate to the topic sentence.

The thesis statement is essential in any academic essay or research paper for two main reasons:

  • It gives your writing direction and focus.
  • It gives the reader a concise summary of your main point.

Without a clear thesis statement, an essay can end up rambling and unfocused, leaving your reader unsure of exactly what you want to say.

The thesis statement should be placed at the end of your essay introduction .

Follow these four steps to come up with a thesis statement :

  • Ask a question about your topic .
  • Write your initial answer.
  • Develop your answer by including reasons.
  • Refine your answer, adding more detail and nuance.

A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . Everything else you write should relate to this key idea.

An essay isn’t just a loose collection of facts and ideas. Instead, it should be centered on an overarching argument (summarized in your thesis statement ) that every part of the essay relates to.

The way you structure your essay is crucial to presenting your argument coherently. A well-structured essay helps your reader follow the logic of your ideas and understand your overall point.

The structure of an essay is divided into an introduction that presents your topic and thesis statement , a body containing your in-depth analysis and arguments, and a conclusion wrapping up your ideas.

The structure of the body is flexible, but you should always spend some time thinking about how you can organize your essay to best serve your ideas.

The vast majority of essays written at university are some sort of argumentative essay . Almost all academic writing involves building up an argument, though other types of essay might be assigned in composition classes.

Essays can present arguments about all kinds of different topics. For example:

  • In a literary analysis essay, you might make an argument for a specific interpretation of a text
  • In a history essay, you might present an argument for the importance of a particular event
  • In a politics essay, you might argue for the validity of a certain political theory

At high school and in composition classes at university, you’ll often be told to write a specific type of essay , but you might also just be given prompts.

Look for keywords in these prompts that suggest a certain approach: The word “explain” suggests you should write an expository essay , while the word “describe” implies a descriptive essay . An argumentative essay might be prompted with the word “assess” or “argue.”

In rhetorical analysis , a claim is something the author wants the audience to believe. A support is the evidence or appeal they use to convince the reader to believe the claim. A warrant is the (often implicit) assumption that links the support with the claim.

Logos appeals to the audience’s reason, building up logical arguments . Ethos appeals to the speaker’s status or authority, making the audience more likely to trust them. Pathos appeals to the emotions, trying to make the audience feel angry or sympathetic, for example.

Collectively, these three appeals are sometimes called the rhetorical triangle . They are central to rhetorical analysis , though a piece of rhetoric might not necessarily use all of them.

The term “text” in a rhetorical analysis essay refers to whatever object you’re analyzing. It’s frequently a piece of writing or a speech, but it doesn’t have to be. For example, you could also treat an advertisement or political cartoon as a text.

The goal of a rhetorical analysis is to explain the effect a piece of writing or oratory has on its audience, how successful it is, and the devices and appeals it uses to achieve its goals.

Unlike a standard argumentative essay , it’s less about taking a position on the arguments presented, and more about exploring how they are constructed.

You should try to follow your outline as you write your essay . However, if your ideas change or it becomes clear that your structure could be better, it’s okay to depart from your essay outline . Just make sure you know why you’re doing so.

If you have to hand in your essay outline , you may be given specific guidelines stating whether you have to use full sentences. If you’re not sure, ask your supervisor.

When writing an essay outline for yourself, the choice is yours. Some students find it helpful to write out their ideas in full sentences, while others prefer to summarize them in short phrases.

You will sometimes be asked to hand in an essay outline before you start writing your essay . Your supervisor wants to see that you have a clear idea of your structure so that writing will go smoothly.

Even when you do not have to hand it in, writing an essay outline is an important part of the writing process . It’s a good idea to write one (as informally as you like) to clarify your structure for yourself whenever you are working on an essay.

Comparisons in essays are generally structured in one of two ways:

  • The alternating method, where you compare your subjects side by side according to one specific aspect at a time.
  • The block method, where you cover each subject separately in its entirety.

It’s also possible to combine both methods, for example by writing a full paragraph on each of your topics and then a final paragraph contrasting the two according to a specific metric.

Your subjects might be very different or quite similar, but it’s important that there be meaningful grounds for comparison . You can probably describe many differences between a cat and a bicycle, but there isn’t really any connection between them to justify the comparison.

You’ll have to write a thesis statement explaining the central point you want to make in your essay , so be sure to know in advance what connects your subjects and makes them worth comparing.

Some essay prompts include the keywords “compare” and/or “contrast.” In these cases, an essay structured around comparing and contrasting is the appropriate response.

Comparing and contrasting is also a useful approach in all kinds of academic writing : You might compare different studies in a literature review , weigh up different arguments in an argumentative essay , or consider different theoretical approaches in a theoretical framework .

The key difference is that a narrative essay is designed to tell a complete story, while a descriptive essay is meant to convey an intense description of a particular place, object, or concept.

Narrative and descriptive essays both allow you to write more personally and creatively than other kinds of essays , and similar writing skills can apply to both.

If you’re not given a specific prompt for your descriptive essay , think about places and objects you know well, that you can think of interesting ways to describe, or that have strong personal significance for you.

The best kind of object for a descriptive essay is one specific enough that you can describe its particular features in detail—don’t choose something too vague or general.

If you’re not given much guidance on what your narrative essay should be about, consider the context and scope of the assignment. What kind of story is relevant, interesting, and possible to tell within the word count?

The best kind of story for a narrative essay is one you can use to reflect on a particular theme or lesson, or that takes a surprising turn somewhere along the way.

Don’t worry too much if your topic seems unoriginal. The point of a narrative essay is how you tell the story and the point you make with it, not the subject of the story itself.

Narrative essays are usually assigned as writing exercises at high school or in university composition classes. They may also form part of a university application.

When you are prompted to tell a story about your own life or experiences, a narrative essay is usually the right response.

The majority of the essays written at university are some sort of argumentative essay . Unless otherwise specified, you can assume that the goal of any essay you’re asked to write is argumentative: To convince the reader of your position using evidence and reasoning.

In composition classes you might be given assignments that specifically test your ability to write an argumentative essay. Look out for prompts including instructions like “argue,” “assess,” or “discuss” to see if this is the goal.

At college level, you must properly cite your sources in all essays , research papers , and other academic texts (except exams and in-class exercises).

Add a citation whenever you quote , paraphrase , or summarize information or ideas from a source. You should also give full source details in a bibliography or reference list at the end of your text.

The exact format of your citations depends on which citation style you are instructed to use. The most common styles are APA , MLA , and Chicago .

An argumentative essay tends to be a longer essay involving independent research, and aims to make an original argument about a topic. Its thesis statement makes a contentious claim that must be supported in an objective, evidence-based way.

An expository essay also aims to be objective, but it doesn’t have to make an original argument. Rather, it aims to explain something (e.g., a process or idea) in a clear, concise way. Expository essays are often shorter assignments and rely less on research.

An expository essay is a common assignment in high-school and university composition classes. It might be assigned as coursework, in class, or as part of an exam.

Sometimes you might not be told explicitly to write an expository essay. Look out for prompts containing keywords like “explain” and “define.” An expository essay is usually the right response to these prompts.

An expository essay is a broad form that varies in length according to the scope of the assignment.

Expository essays are often assigned as a writing exercise or as part of an exam, in which case a five-paragraph essay of around 800 words may be appropriate.

You’ll usually be given guidelines regarding length; if you’re not sure, ask.

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Definition of Essay

Types of essay, examples of essay in literature, example #1: the sacred grove of oshogbo (by jeffrey tayler).

“As I passed through the gates I heard a squeaky voice . A diminutive middle-aged man came out from behind the trees — the caretaker. He worked a toothbrush-sized stick around in his mouth, digging into the crevices between algae’d stubs of teeth. He was barefoot; he wore a blue batik shirt known as a buba, baggy purple trousers, and an embroidered skullcap. I asked him if he would show me around the shrine. Motioning me to follow, he spat out the results of his stick work and set off down the trail.”

Example #2: Of Love (By Francis Bacon)

“It is impossible to love, and be wise … Love is a child of folly. … Love is ever rewarded either with the reciprocal, or with an inward and secret contempt. You may observe that amongst all the great and worthy persons…there is not one that hath been transported to the mad degree of love: which shows that great spirits and great business do keep out this weak passion…That he had preferred Helena, quitted the gifts of Juno and Pallas. For whosoever esteemeth too much of amorous affection quitted both riches and wisdom.”

Example #3: The Autobiography of a Kettle (By John Russell)

“ I am afraid I do not attract attention, and yet there is not a single home in which I could done without. I am only a small, black kettle but I have much to interest me, for something new happens to me every day. The kitchen is not always a cheerful place in which to live, but still I find plenty of excitement there, and I am quite happy and contented with my lot …”

Function of Essay

Related posts:, post navigation.

What Are the Different Types and Characteristics of Essays?

  • An Introduction to Punctuation
  • Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
  • M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
  • B.A., English, State University of New York

The term essay comes from the French for "trial" or "attempt." French author Michel de Montaigne coined the term when he assigned the title Essais to his first publication in 1580. In "Montaigne: A Biography" (1984), Donald Frame notes that Montaigne "often used the verb essayer (in modern French, normally to try ) in ways close to his project, related to experience, with the sense of trying out or testing."

An essay is a short work of nonfiction , while a writer of essays is called an essayist. In writing instruction, essay is often used as another word for composition . In an essay, an authorial voice  (or narrator ) typically invites an implied reader  (the audience ) to accept as authentic a certain textual mode of experience. 

Definitions and Observations

  • "[An essay is a] composition , usually in prose .., which may be of only a few hundred words (like Bacon's "Essays") or of book length (like Locke's "Essay Concerning Human Understanding") and which discusses, formally or informally, a topic or a variety of topics." (J.A. Cuddon, "Dictionary of Literary Terms". Basil, 1991)
  • " Essays are how we speak to one another in print — caroming thoughts not merely in order to convey a certain packet of information, but with a special edge or bounce of personal character in a kind of public letter." (Edward Hoagland, Introduction, "The Best American Essays : 1999". Houghton, 1999)
  • "[T]he essay traffics in fact and tells the truth, yet it seems to feel free to enliven, to shape, to embellish, to make use as necessary of elements of the imaginative and the fictive — thus its inclusion in that rather unfortunate current designation ' creative nonfiction .'" (G. Douglas Atkins, "Reading Essays: An Invitation". University of Georgia Press, 2007)

Montaigne's Autobiographical Essays "Although Michel de Montaigne, who fathered the modern essay in the 16th century, wrote autobiographically (like the essayists who claim to be his followers today), his autobiography was always in the service of larger existential discoveries. He was forever on the lookout for life lessons. If he recounted the sauces he had for dinner and the stones that weighted his kidney, it was to find an element of truth that we could put in our pockets and carry away, that he could put in his own pocket. After all, Philosophy — which is what he thought he practiced in his essays, as had his idols, Seneca and Cicero, before him — is about 'learning to live.' And here lies the problem with essayists today: not that they speak of themselves, but that they do so with no effort to make their experience relevant or useful to anyone else, with no effort to extract from it any generalizable insight into the human condition." (Cristina Nehring, "What’s Wrong With the American Essay." Truthdig, Nov. 29, 2007)

The Artful Formlessness of the Essay "[G]ood essays are works of literary art. Their supposed formlessness is more a strategy to disarm the reader with the appearance of unstudied spontaneity than a reality of composition. . . . "The essay form as a whole has long been associated with an experimental method. This idea goes back to Montaigne and his endlessly suggestive use of the term essai for his writing. To essay is to attempt, to test, to make a run at something without knowing whether you are going to succeed. The experimental association also derives from the other fountain-head of the essay, Francis Bacon , and his stress on the empirical inductive method, so useful in the development of the social sciences." (Phillip Lopate, "The Art of the Personal Essay". Anchor, 1994)

Articles vs. Essays "[W]hat finally distinguishes an essay from an article may just be the author's gumption, the extent to which personal voice, vision, and style are the prime movers and shapers, even though the authorial 'I' may be only a remote energy, nowhere visible but everywhere present." (Justin Kaplan, ed. "The Best American Essays: 1990". Ticknor & Fields, 1990) "I am predisposed to the essay with knowledge to impart — but, unlike journalism, which exists primarily to present facts, the essays transcend their data, or transmute it into personal meaning. The memorable essay, unlike the article, is not place or time-bound; it survives the occasion of its original composition. Indeed, in the most brilliant essays, language is not merely the medium of communication ; it is communication." (Joyce Carol Oates, quoted by Robert Atwan in "The Best American Essays, College Edition", 2nd ed. Houghton Mifflin, 1998) "I speak of a 'genuine' essay because fakes abound. Here the old-fashioned term poetaster may apply, if only obliquely. As the poetaster is to the poet — a lesser aspirant — so the average article is to the essay: a look-alike knockoff guaranteed not to wear well. An article is often gossip. An essay is reflection and insight. An article often has the temporary advantage of social heat — what's hot out there right now. An essay's heat is interior. An article can be timely, topical, engaged in the issues and personalities of the moment; it is likely to be stale within the month. In five years it may have acquired the quaint aura of a rotary phone. An article is usually Siamese-twinned to its date of birth. An essay defies its date of birth — and ours, too. (A necessary caveat: some genuine essays are popularly called 'articles' — but this is no more than an idle, though persistent, habit of speech. What's in a name? The ephemeral is the ephemeral. The enduring is the enduring.)" (Cynthia Ozick, "SHE: Portrait of the Essay as a Warm Body." The Atlantic Monthly, September 1998)

The Status of the Essay "Though the essay has been a popular form of writing in British and American periodicals since the 18th century, until recently its status in the literary canon has been, at best, uncertain. Relegated to the composition class, frequently dismissed as mere journalism, and generally ignored as an object for serious academic study, the essay has sat, in James Thurber's phrase, ' on the edge of the chair of Literature.' "In recent years, however, prompted by both a renewed interest in rhetoric and by poststructuralist redefinitions of literature itself, the essay — as well as such related forms of 'literary nonfiction' as biography , autobiography , and travel and nature writing — has begun to attract increasing critical attention and respect." (Richard Nordquist, "Essay," in "Encylopedia of American Literature", ed. S. R. Serafin. Continuum, 1999)

The Contemporary Essay "At present, the American magazine essay , both the long feature piece and the critical essay, is flourishing, in unlikely circumstances... "There are plenty of reasons for this. One is that magazines, big and small, are taking over some of the cultural and literary ground vacated by newspapers in their seemingly unstoppable evaporation. Another is that the contemporary essay has for some time now been gaining energy as an escape from, or rival to, the perceived conservatism of much mainstream fiction... "So the contemporary essay is often to be seen engaged in acts of apparent anti-novelization: in place of plot , there is drift or the fracture of numbered paragraphs; in place of a frozen verisimilitude, there may be a sly and knowing movement between reality and fictionality; in place of the impersonal author of standard-issue third-person realism, the authorial self pops in and out of the picture, with a liberty hard to pull off in fiction." (James Wood, "Reality Effects." The New Yorker, Dec. 19 & 26, 2011)

The Lighter Side of Essays: "The Breakfast Club" Essay Assignment "All right people, we're going to try something a little different today. We are going to write an essay of not less than a thousand words describing to me who you think you are. And when I say 'essay,' I mean 'essay,' not one word repeated a thousand times. Is that clear, Mr. Bender?" (Paul Gleason as Mr. Vernon) Saturday, March 24, 1984 Shermer High School Shermer, Illinois 60062 Dear Mr. Vernon, We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did was wrong. But we think you're crazy to make us write this essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us — in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That's the way we saw each other at seven o'clock this morning. We were brainwashed... But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain and an athlete and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club (Anthony Michael Hall as Brian Johnson, "The Breakfast Club", 1985)

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Look up a word, learn it forever.

Other forms: essays; essayed; essaying

A composition that is usually short and has a literary theme is called an essay . You should probably start writing your essay on "To Kill a Mockingbird" sometime before the bus ride to school the day it is due.

As a noun, an essay is also an attempt, especially a tentative initial one. Your essay to make friends at your new school would probably work better if you actually spoke to other students. As a verb, to essay is to make an attempt. If you essay to run for student council, you might lose to the girl who promises more recess, longer lunches, and less homework.

  • noun an analytic or interpretive literary composition see more see less types: show 5 types... hide 5 types... composition , paper , report , theme an essay (especially one written as an assignment) disquisition an elaborate analytical or explanatory essay or discussion memoir an essay on a scientific or scholarly topic thanatopsis an essay expressing a view on the subject of death term paper a composition intended to indicate a student's progress during a school term type of: piece of writing , writing , written material the work of a writer; anything expressed in letters of the alphabet (especially when considered from the point of view of style and effect)
  • verb make an effort or attempt “The infant had essayed a few wobbly steps” synonyms: assay , attempt , seek , try see more see less types: show 17 types... hide 17 types... pick up the gauntlet , take a dare be dared to do something and attempt it fight , struggle make a strenuous or labored effort give it a try , have a go make an attempt at something grope search blindly or uncertainly endeavor , endeavour , strive attempt by employing effort give it a try , give it a whirl try adventure , chance , gamble , hazard , risk , run a risk , take a chance , take chances take a risk in the hope of a favorable outcome lay on the line , put on the line , risk expose to a chance of loss or damage strive , struggle exert strenuous effort against opposition drive , labor , labour , push , tug strive and make an effort to reach a goal flounder behave awkwardly; have difficulties be at pains , take pains try very hard to do something buck to strive with determination go for broke risk everything in one big effort luck it , luck through act by relying on one's luck adventure , hazard , jeopardize , stake , venture put at risk bell the cat take a risk; perform a daring act type of: act , move perform an action, or work out or perform (an action)
  • noun a tentative attempt see more see less type of: attempt , effort , endeavor , endeavour , try earnest and conscientious activity intended to do or accomplish something
  • verb put to the test, as for its quality, or give experimental use to synonyms: examine , prove , test , try , try out see more see less types: control , verify check or regulate (a scientific experiment) by conducting a parallel experiment or comparing with another standard float circulate or discuss tentatively; test the waters with field-test test something under the conditions under which it will actually be used type of: evaluate , judge , pass judgment form a critical opinion of

Vocabulary lists containing essay

Before you can answer a question on the PARCC English Language Arts/Literacy section, you first need to know what the question is asking. Learn this list of 45 words that we extracted from a PARCC practice test's directions, question stems, and answer options.

A thorough survey of various textbooks, assignments, content area standards, and examinations yields the following list of words compiled by Jim Burke . You cannot expect to succeed on assignments if you do not understand the directions.

To improve your fluency in English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR), learn this academic vocabulary list that includes words selected from the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) state standards.

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  • Tags: Academic Writing , Essay , Essay Writing

Writing an effective and impactful essay is crucial to your academic or professional success. Whether it’s getting into the college of your dreams or scoring high on a major assignment, writing a well-structured essay will help you achieve it all. But before you learn how to write an essay , you need to know its basic components.

In this article, we will understand what an essay is, how long it should be, and its different parts and types. We will also take a detailed look at relevant examples to better understand the essay structure.

Get an A+ with our essay editing and proofreading services! Learn more

What is an essay?

An essay is a concise piece of nonfiction writing that aims to either inform the reader about a topic or argue a particular perspective. It can either be formal or informal in nature. Most academic essays are highly formal, whereas informal essays are commonly found in journal entries, social media, or even blog posts.

As we can see from this essay definition, the beauty of essays lies in their versatility. From the exploration of complex scientific concepts to the history and evolution of everyday objects, they can cover a vast range of topics.

How long is an essay?

The length of an essay can vary from a few hundred to several thousand words but typically falls between 500–5,000 words. However, there are exceptions to this norm, such as Joan Didion and David Sedaris who have written entire books of essays.

Let’s take a look at the different types of essays and their lengths with the help of the following table:

How many paragraphs are in an essay?

Typically, an essay has five paragraphs: an introduction, a conclusion, and three body paragraphs. However, there is no set rule about the number of paragraphs in an essay.

The number of paragraphs can vary depending on the type and scope of your essay. An expository or argumentative essay may require more body paragraphs to include all the necessary information, whereas a narrative essay may need fewer.

Structure of an essay

To enhance the coherence and readability of your essay, it’s important to follow certain rules regarding the structure. Take a look:

1. Arrange your information from the most simple to the most complex bits. You can start the body paragraph off with a general statement and then move on to specifics.

2. Provide the necessary background information at the beginning of your essay to give the reader the context behind your thesis statement.

3. Select topic statements that provide value, more information, or evidence for your thesis statement.

There are also various essay structures , such as the compare and contrast structure, chronological structure, problem method solution structure, and signposting structure that you can follow to create an organized and impactful essay.

Parts of an essay

An impactful, well-structured essay comes down to three important parts: the introduction, body, and conclusion.

1. The introduction sets the stage for your essay and is typically a paragraph long. It should grab the reader’s attention and give them a clear idea of what your essay will be about.

2. The body is where you dive deeper into your topic and present your arguments and evidence. It usually consists of two paragraphs, but this can vary depending on the type of essay you’re writing.

3. The conclusion brings your essay to a close and is typically one paragraph long. It should summarize the main points of the essay and leave the reader with something to think about.

The length of your paragraphs can vary depending on the type of essay you’re writing. So, make sure you take the time to plan out your essay structure so each section flows smoothly into the next.

Introduction

When it comes to writing an essay, the introduction is a critical component that sets the tone for the entire piece. A well-crafted introduction not only grabs the reader’s attention but also provides them with a clear understanding of what the essay is all about. An essay editor can help you achieve this, but it’s best to know the brief yourself!

Let’s take a look at how to write an attractive and informative introductory paragraph.

1. Construct an attractive hook

To grab the reader’s attention, an opening statement or hook is crucial. This can be achieved by incorporating a surprising statistic, a shocking fact, or an interesting anecdote into the beginning of your piece.

For example, if you’re writing an essay about water conservation you can begin your essay with, “Clean drinking water, a fundamental human need, remains out of reach for more than one billion people worldwide. It deprives them of a basic human right and jeopardizes their health and wellbeing.”

2. Provide sufficient context or background information

An effective introduction should begin with a brief description or background of your topic. This will help provide context and set the stage for your discussion.

For example, if you’re writing an essay about climate change, you start by describing the current state of the planet and the impact that human activity is having on it.

3. Construct a well-rounded and comprehensive thesis statement

A good introduction should also include the main message or thesis statement of your essay. This is the central argument that you’ll be making throughout the piece. It should be clear, concise, and ideally placed toward the end of the introduction.

By including these elements in your introduction, you’ll be setting yourself up for success in the rest of your essay.

Let’s take a look at an example.

Essay introduction example

  • Background information
  • Thesis statement

The Wright Brothers’ invention of the airplane in 1903 revolutionized the way humans travel and explore the world. Prior to this invention, transportation relied on trains, boats, and cars, which limited the distance and speed of travel. However, the airplane made air travel a reality, allowing people to reach far-off destinations in mere hours. This breakthrough paved the way for modern-day air travel, transforming the world into a smaller, more connected place. In this essay, we will explore the impact of the Wright Brothers’ invention on modern-day travel, including the growth of the aviation industry, increased accessibility of air travel to the general public, and the economic and cultural benefits of air travel.

Body paragraphs

You can persuade your readers and make your thesis statement compelling by providing evidence, examples, and logical reasoning. To write a fool-proof and authoritative essay, you need to provide multiple well-structured, substantial arguments.

Let’s take a look at how this can be done:

1. Write a topic sentence for each paragraph

The beginning of each of your body paragraphs should contain the main arguments that you’d like to address. They should provide ground for your thesis statement and make it well-rounded. You can arrange these arguments in several formats depending on the type of essay you’re writing.

2. Provide the supporting information

The next point of your body paragraph should provide supporting information to back up your main argument. Depending on the type of essay, you can elaborate on your main argument with the help of relevant statistics, key information, examples, or even personal anecdotes.

3. Analyze the supporting information

After providing relevant details and supporting information, it is important to analyze it and link it back to your main argument.

4. Create a smooth transition to the next paragraph

End one body paragraph with a smooth transition to the next. There are many ways in which this can be done, but the most common way is to give a gist of your main argument along with the supporting information with transitory words such as “however” “in addition to” “therefore”.

Here’s an example of a body paragraph.

Essay body paragraph example

  • Topic sentence
  • Supporting information
  • Analysis of the information
  • Smooth transition to the next paragraph

The Wright Brothers’ invention of the airplane revolutionized air travel. They achieved the first-ever successful powered flight with the Wright Flyer in 1903, after years of conducting experiments and studying flight principles. Despite their first flight lasting only 12 seconds, it was a significant milestone that paved the way for modern aviation. The Wright Brothers’ success can be attributed to their systematic approach to problem-solving, which included numerous experiments with gliders, the development of a wind tunnel to test their designs, and meticulous analysis and recording of their results. Their dedication and ingenuity forever changed the way we travel, making modern aviation possible.

A powerful concluding statement separates a good essay from a brilliant one. To create a powerful conclusion, you need to start with a strong foundation.

Let’s take a look at how to construct an impactful concluding statement.

1. Restructure your thesis statement

To conclude your essay effectively, don’t just restate your thesis statement. Instead, use what you’ve learned throughout your essay and modify your thesis statement accordingly. This will help you create a conclusion that ties together all of the arguments you’ve presented.

2. Summarize the main points of your essay

The next point of your conclusion consists of a summary of the main arguments of your essay. It is crucial to effectively summarize the gist of your essay into one, well-structured paragraph.

3. Create a lasting impression with your concluding statement

Conclude your essay by including a key takeaway, or a powerful statement that creates a lasting impression on the reader. This can include the broader implications or consequences of your essay topic.

Here’s an example of a concluding paragraph.

Essay conclusion example

  • Restated thesis statement
  • Summary of the main points
  • Broader implications of the thesis statement

The Wright Brothers’ invention of the airplane forever changed history by paving the way for modern aviation and countless aerospace advancements. Their persistence, innovation, and dedication to problem-solving led to the first successful powered flight in 1903, sparking a revolution in transportation that transformed the world. Today, air travel remains an integral part of our globalized society, highlighting the undeniable impact of the Wright Brothers’ contribution to human civilization.

Types of essays

Most essays are derived from the combination or variation of these four main types of essays . let’s take a closer look at these types.

1. Narrative essay

A narrative essay is a type of writing that involves telling a story, often based on personal experiences. It is a form of creative nonfiction that allows you to use storytelling techniques to convey a message or a theme.

2. Descriptive essay

A descriptive essay aims to provide an immersive experience for the reader by using sensory descriptors. Unlike a narrative essay, which tells a story, a descriptive essay has a narrower scope and focuses on one particular aspect of a story.

3. Argumentative essays

An argumentative essay is a type of essay that aims to persuade the reader to adopt a particular stance based on factual evidence and is one of the most common forms of college essays.

4. Expository essays

An expository essay is a common format used in school and college exams to assess your understanding of a specific topic. The purpose of an expository essay is to present and explore a topic thoroughly without taking any particular stance or expressing personal opinions.

While this article demonstrates what is an essay and describes its types, you may also have other doubts. As experts who provide essay editing and proofreading services , we’re here to help. 

Our team has created a list of resources to clarify any doubts about writing essays. Keep reading to write engaging and well-organized essays!

  • How to Write an Essay in 8 Simple Steps
  • How to Write an Essay Header
  • How to Write an Essay Outline

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between an argumentative and an expository essay, what is the difference between a narrative and a descriptive essay, what is an essay format, what is the meaning of essay, what is the purpose of writing an essay.

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Definition of essay noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

  • I have to write an essay this weekend.
  • essay on something an essay on the causes of the First World War
  • essay about somebody/something Have you done your essay about Napoleon yet?
  • in an essay He made some very good points in his essay.
  • Essays handed in late will not be accepted.
  • Have you done your essay yet?
  • He concludes the essay by calling for a corrective.
  • I finished my essay about 10 o'clock last night!
  • Lunch was the only time she could finish her essay assignment.
  • We have to write an essay on the environment.
  • You have to answer 3 out of 8 essay questions in the exam.
  • the teenage winner of an essay contest
  • We have to write an essay on the causes of the First World War.
  • be entitled something
  • be titled something
  • address something
  • in an/​the essay
  • essay about

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The Oxford Learner’s Thesaurus explains the difference between groups of similar words. Try it for free as part of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary app

definition of an essay

Definition Essay - Writing Guide, Examples and Tips

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Published on: Oct 9, 2020

Last updated on: Jan 31, 2024

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Many students struggle with writing definition essays due to a lack of clarity and precision in their explanations.

This obstructs them from effectively conveying the essence of the terms or concepts they are tasked with defining. Consequently, the essays may lack coherence, leaving readers confused and preventing them from grasping the intended meaning.

But don’t worry!

In this guide, we will delve into effective techniques and step-by-step approaches to help students craft an engaging definition essay.

Continue reading to learn the correct formation of a definition essay. 

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What is a Definition Essay?

Just as the name suggests, a definition essay defines and explains a term or a concept. Unlike a narrative essay, the purpose of writing this essay is only to inform the readers.

Writing this essay type can be deceivingly tricky. Some terms, concepts, and objects have concrete definitions when explained. In contrast others are solely based on the writer’s understanding and point of view.

A definition essay requires a writer to use different approaches when discussing a term. These approaches are the following:

  • Denotation - It is when you provide a literal or academic definition of the term.
  • Connotation - It is when the writer provides an implied meaning or definition of the term.
  • Enumeration - For this approach, a list is employed to define a term or a concept.
  • Analogy - It is a technique in which something is defined by implementing a comparison.
  • Negation - It is when you define a term by stating what it is not.

A single or combination of approaches can be used in the essay. 

Definition Essay Types

There are several types of definition essays that you may be asked to write, depending on the purpose and scope of the assignment. 

In this section, we will discuss some of the most common types of definition essays.

Descriptive Definition Essay 

This type of essay provides a detailed description of a term or concept, emphasizing its key features and characteristics. 

The goal of a descriptive definition essay is to help readers understand the term or concept in a more profound way.

Stipulative Definition Essay 

In a stipulative definition essay, the writer provides a unique definition of a term or concept. This type of essay is often used in academic settings to define a term in a particular field of study. 

The goal of a stipulative definition essay is to provide a precise and clear definition that is specific to the context of the essay.

Analytical Definition Essay 

This compare and contrast essay type involves analyzing a term or concept in-depth. Breaking it down into its component parts, and examining how they relate to each other. 

The goal of an analytical definition essay is to provide a more nuanced and detailed understanding of the term or concept being discussed.

Persuasive Definition Essay 

A persuasive definition essay is an argumentative essay that aims to persuade readers to accept a particular definition of a term or concept.

The writer presents their argument for the definition and uses evidence and examples to support their position.

Explanatory Definition Essay 

An explanatory definition essay is a type of expository essay . It aims to explain a complex term or concept in a way that is easy to understand for the reader. 

The writer breaks down the term or concept into simpler parts and provides examples and analogies to help readers understand it better.

Extended Definition Essay 

An extended definition essay goes beyond the definition of a word or concept and provides a more in-depth analysis and explanation. 

The goal of an extended definition essay is to provide a comprehensive understanding of a term, concept, or idea. This includes its history, origins, and cultural significance. 

How to Write a Definition Essay?

Writing a definition essay is simple if you know the correct procedure. This essay, like all the other formal pieces of documents, requires substantial planning and effective execution.

The following are the steps involved in writing a definition essay effectively:

Instead of choosing a term that has a concrete definition available, choose a word that is complicated . Complex expressions have abstract concepts that require a writer to explore deeper. Moreover, make sure that different people perceive the term selected differently. 

Once you have a word to draft your definition essay for, read the dictionary. These academic definitions are important as you can use them to compare your understanding with the official concept.

Drafting a definition essay is about stating the dictionary meaning and your explanation of the concept. So the writer needs to have some information about the term.

In addition to this, when exploring the term, make sure to check the term’s origin. The history of the word can make you discuss it in a better way.

Coming up with an exciting title for your essay is important. The essay topic will be the first thing that your readers will witness, so it should be catchy.

Creatively draft an essay topic that reflects meaning. In addition to this, the usage of the term in the title should be correctly done. The readers should get an idea of what the essay is about and what to expect from the document.

Now that you have a topic in hand, it is time to gather some relevant information. A definition essay is more than a mere explanation of the term. It represents the writer’s perception of the chosen term and the topic.

So having only personal opinions will not be enough to defend your point. Deeply research and gather information by consulting credible sources.

The gathered information needs to be organized to be understandable. The raw data needs to be arranged to give a structure to the content.

Here's a generic outline for a definition essay:

Provide an that grabs the reader's attention and introduces the term or concept you will be defining.

of why this term or concept is important and relevant.
that clearly defines the term or concept and previews the main points of the essay.

, , or that will help the reader better understand the term or concept.
to clarify the scope of your definition.

or of the term or concept you are defining in detail.
to illustrate your points.

by differentiating your term or concept from similar terms or concepts.
to illustrate the differences.

of the term or concept.
between the types, using examples and anecdotes to illustrate your points.

, or to support your points.

VII. Conclusion


you have defined.
that leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

Are you searching for an in-depth guide on crafting a well-structured definition essay?Check out this definition essay outline blog!

6. Write the First Draft

Drafting each section correctly is a daunting task. Understanding what or what not to include in these sections requires a writer to choose wisely.

The start of your essay matters a lot. If it is on point and attractive, the readers will want to read the text. As the first part of the essay is the introduction , it is considered the first impression of your essay.

To write your definition essay introduction effectively, include the following information:

  • Start your essay with a catchy hook statement that is related to the topic and the term chosen.
  • State the generally known definition of the term. If the word chosen has multiple interpretations, select the most common one.
  • Provide background information precisely. Determine the origin of the term and other relevant information.
  • Shed light on the other unconventional concepts and definitions related to the term.
  • Decide on the side or stance you want to pick in your essay and develop a thesis statement .

After briefly introducing the topic, fully explain the concept in the body section . Provide all the details and evidence that will support the thesis statement. To draft this section professionally, add the following information:

  • A detailed explanation of the history of the term.
  • Analysis of the dictionary meaning and usage of the term.
  • A comparison and reflection of personal understanding and the researched data on the concept.

Once all the details are shared, give closure to your discussion. The last paragraph of the definition essay is the conclusion . The writer provides insight into the topic as a conclusion.

The concluding paragraphs include the following material:

  • Summary of the important points.
  • Restated thesis statement.
  • A final verdict on the topic.

7. Proofread and Edit

Although the writing process ends with the concluding paragraph, there is an additional step. It is important to proofread the essay once you are done writing. Proofread and revise your document a couple of times to make sure everything is perfect.

Before submitting your assignment, make edits, and fix all mistakes and errors.

If you want to learn more about how to write a definition essay, here is a video guide for you!

Definition Essay Structure 

The structure of a definition essay is similar to that of any other academic essay. It should consist of an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. 

However, the focus of a definition essay is on defining and explaining a particular term or concept. 

In this section, we will discuss the structure of a definition essay in detail.

Introduction 

Get the idea of writing an introduction for a definition essay with this example:

"Have you ever wondered what it truly means to be a hero?"
Heroes have been celebrated in literature, mythology, and pop culture throughout history.
"In this essay, we will define the term hero, explore the key features that define heroism, and examine real-life examples of heroism in action."

Body Paragraphs

Here is an example of how to craft your definition essay body paragraph:

Heroes are individuals who demonstrate courage, selflessness, and a commitment to helping others. They often risk their own safety to protect others or achieve a noble goal.
Heroes are often confused with protagonists or role models, but they differ in that heroism involves action and sacrifice.
This could include stories of firefighters rescuing people from burning buildings, soldiers risking their lives in battle, or ordinary citizens performing acts of bravery during natural disasters.

Types of the Term/Concept 

If applicable, the writer may want to include a section that discusses the different types or categories of the term or concept being defined. 

This section should explain the similarities and differences between the types, using examples and anecdotes to illustrate the points.

This section could explore the different categories of heroes, such as those who are recognized for their bravery in the face of danger, those who inspire others through their deeds, or those who make a difference in their communities through volunteering.

Examples of the Term/Concept in Action 

The writer should also include real-life examples of the term or concept being defined in action. 

This will help the reader better understand the term or concept in context and how it is used in everyday life.

This could include stories of individuals who risked their lives to save others, such as firefighters who rushed into the Twin Towers on 9/11 or civilians who pulled people from a burning car.
This could include stories of individuals who performed small acts of kindness, such as a stranger who paid for someone's groceries or a teacher who went above and beyond to help a struggling student.

Conclusion 

This example will help you writing a conclusion fo you essay:

Heroes are defined by their courage, selflessness, and commitment to helping others. There are many different types of heroes, but they all share these key features.
Heroism is an important concept because it inspires us to be better people and reminds us of the importance of selflessness and compassion.
"In a world where it's easy to feel cynical and disillusioned, heroes remind us that there is still goodness and bravery in the world."

Definition Essay Examples

It is important to go through some examples and samples before writing an essay. This is to understand the writing process and structure of the assigned task well.

Following are some examples of definition essays to give our students a better idea of the concept. 

Understanding the Definition Essay

Definition Essay Example

Definition Essay About Friendship

Definition Essay About Love

Family Definition Essay

Success Definition Essay

Beauty Definition Essay

Definition Essay Topics

Selecting the right topic is challenging for other essay types. However, picking a suitable theme for a definition essay is equally tricky yet important. Pick an interesting subject to ensure maximum readership.

If you are facing writer’s block, here is a list of some great definition essay topics for your help. Choose from the list below and draft a compelling essay.

  • Authenticity
  • Sustainability
  • Mindfulness

Here are some more extended definition essay topics:

  • Social media addiction
  • Ethical implications of gene editing
  • Personalized learning in the digital age
  • Ecosystem services
  • Cultural assimilation versus cultural preservation
  • Sustainable fashion
  • Gender equality in the workplace
  • Financial literacy and its impact on personal finance
  • Ethical considerations in artificial intelligence
  • Welfare state and social safety nets

Need more topics? Check out this definition essay topics blog!

Definition Essay Writing Tips

Knowing the correct writing procedure is not enough if you are not aware of the essay’s small technicalities. To help students write a definition essay effortlessly, expert writers of CollegeEssay.org have gathered some simple tips.

These easy tips will make your assignment writing phase easy.

  • Choose an exciting yet informative topic for your essay.
  • When selecting the word, concept, or term for your essay, make sure you have the knowledge.
  • When consulting a dictionary for the definition, provide proper referencing as there are many choices available.
  • To make the essay informative and credible, always provide the origin and history of the term.
  • Highlight different meanings and interpretations of the term.
  • Discuss the transitions and evolution in the meaning of the term in any.
  • Provide your perspective and point of view on the chosen term.

Following these tips will guarantee you better grades in your academics.

By following the step-by-step approach explained in this guide, you will acquire the skills to craft an outstanding essay. 

Struggling with the thought, " write my college essay for m e"? Look no further.

Our dedicated definition essay writing service is here to craft the perfect essay that meets your academic needs.

For an extra edge, explore our AI essay writer , a tool designed to refine your essays to perfection. 

Barbara P (Literature, Marketing)

Barbara is a highly educated and qualified author with a Ph.D. in public health from an Ivy League university. She has spent a significant amount of time working in the medical field, conducting a thorough study on a variety of health issues. Her work has been published in several major publications.

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10.6 Definition

Learning objectives.

  • Determine the purpose and structure of the definition essay.
  • Understand how to write a definition essay.

The Purpose of Definition in Writing

The purpose of a definition essay may seem self-explanatory: the purpose of the definition essay is to simply define something. But defining terms in writing is often more complicated than just consulting a dictionary. In fact, the way we define terms can have far-reaching consequences for individuals as well as collective groups.

Take, for example, a word like alcoholism . The way in which one defines alcoholism depends on its legal, moral, and medical contexts. Lawyers may define alcoholism in terms of its legality; parents may define alcoholism in terms of its morality; and doctors will define alcoholism in terms of symptoms and diagnostic criteria. Think also of terms that people tend to debate in our broader culture. How we define words, such as marriage and climate change , has enormous impact on policy decisions and even on daily decisions. Think about conversations couples may have in which words like commitment , respect , or love need clarification.

Defining terms within a relationship, or any other context, can at first be difficult, but once a definition is established between two people or a group of people, it is easier to have productive dialogues. Definitions, then, establish the way in which people communicate ideas. They set parameters for a given discourse, which is why they are so important.

When writing definition essays, avoid terms that are too simple, that lack complexity. Think in terms of concepts, such as hero , immigration , or loyalty , rather than physical objects. Definitions of concepts, rather than objects, are often fluid and contentious, making for a more effective definition essay.

Writing at Work

Definitions play a critical role in all workplace environments. Take the term sexual harassment , for example. Sexual harassment is broadly defined on the federal level, but each company may have additional criteria that define it further. Knowing how your workplace defines and treats all sexual harassment allegations is important. Think, too, about how your company defines lateness , productivity , or contributions .

On a separate sheet of paper, write about a time in your own life in which the definition of a word, or the lack of a definition, caused an argument. Your term could be something as simple as the category of an all-star in sports or how to define a good movie. Or it could be something with higher stakes and wider impact, such as a political argument. Explain how the conversation began, how the argument hinged on the definition of the word, and how the incident was finally resolved.

Collaboration

Please share with a classmate and compare your responses.

The Structure of a Definition Essay

The definition essay opens with a general discussion of the term to be defined. You then state as your thesis your definition of the term.

The rest of the essay should explain the rationale for your definition. Remember that a dictionary’s definition is limiting, and you should not rely strictly on the dictionary entry. Instead, consider the context in which you are using the word. Context identifies the circumstances, conditions, or setting in which something exists or occurs. Often words take on different meanings depending on the context in which they are used. For example, the ideal leader in a battlefield setting could likely be very different than a leader in an elementary school setting. If a context is missing from the essay, the essay may be too short or the main points could be confusing or misunderstood.

The remainder of the essay should explain different aspects of the term’s definition. For example, if you were defining a good leader in an elementary classroom setting, you might define such a leader according to personality traits: patience, consistency, and flexibility. Each attribute would be explained in its own paragraph.

For definition essays, try to think of concepts that you have a personal stake in. You are more likely to write a more engaging definition essay if you are writing about an idea that has personal value and importance.

It is a good idea to occasionally assess your role in the workplace. You can do this through the process of definition. Identify your role at work by defining not only the routine tasks but also those gray areas where your responsibilities might overlap with those of others. Coming up with a clear definition of roles and responsibilities can add value to your résumé and even increase productivity in the workplace.

On a separate sheet of paper, define each of the following items in your own terms. If you can, establish a context for your definition.

  • Consumer culture

Writing a Definition Essay

Choose a topic that will be complex enough to be discussed at length. Choosing a word or phrase of personal relevance often leads to a more interesting and engaging essay.

After you have chosen your word or phrase, start your essay with an introduction that establishes the relevancy of the term in the chosen specific context. Your thesis comes at the end of the introduction, and it should clearly state your definition of the term in the specific context. Establishing a functional context from the beginning will orient readers and minimize misunderstandings.

The body paragraphs should each be dedicated to explaining a different facet of your definition. Make sure to use clear examples and strong details to illustrate your points. Your concluding paragraph should pull together all the different elements of your definition to ultimately reinforce your thesis. See Chapter 15 “Readings: Examples of Essays” to read a sample definition essay.

Create a full definition essay from one of the items you already defined in Note 10.64 “Exercise 2” . Be sure to include an interesting introduction, a clear thesis, a well-explained context, distinct body paragraphs, and a conclusion that pulls everything together.

Key Takeaways

  • Definitions establish the way in which people communicate ideas. They set parameters for a given discourse.
  • Context affects the meaning and usage of words.
  • The thesis of a definition essay should clearly state the writer’s definition of the term in the specific context.
  • Body paragraphs should explain the various facets of the definition stated in the thesis.
  • The conclusion should pull all the elements of the definition together at the end and reinforce the thesis.

Writing for Success Copyright © 2015 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

  • How to Write a Definition Essay

A definition essay can be deceivingly difficult to write. This type of paper requires you to write a personal yet academic definition of one specific word. The definition must be thorough and lengthy. It is essential that you choose a word that will give you plenty to write about, and there are a few standard tactics you can use to elaborate on the term. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when writing a definition essay.

Part 1 of 3: Choosing the Right Word

1: choose an abstract word with a complex meaning. [1].

A simple word that refers to a concrete word will not give you much to write about, but a complex word that refers to an abstract concept provides more material to explore.

  • Typically, nouns that refer to a person, place, or thing are too simple for a definition essay. Nouns that refer to an idea work better, however, as do most adjectives.
  • For example, the word “house” is fairly simple and an essay written around it may be dull. By switching to something slightly more abstract like “home,” however, you can play around with the definition more. A “home” is a concept, and there are many elements involved in the creation of a “home.” In comparison, a “house” is merely a structure.

2: Make sure that the word is disputable.

Aside from being complex, the word should also refer to something that can mean different things to different people.

  • A definition essay is somewhat subjective by nature since it requires you to analyze and define a word from your own perspective. If the answer you come up with after analyzing a word is the same answer anyone else would come up with, your essay may appear to lack depth.

3: Choose a word you have some familiarity with.

Dictionary definitions can only tell you so much. Since you need to elaborate on the word you choose to define, you will need to have your own base of knowledge or experience with the concept you choose.

  • For instance, if you have never heard the term “pedantic,” your understanding of the word will be limited. You can introduce yourself to the word for your essay, but without previous understanding of the concept, you will not know if the definition you describe is truly fitting.

4: Read the dictionary definition.

While you will not be relying completely on the dictionary definition for your essay, familiarizing yourself with the official definition will allow you to compare your own understanding of the concept with the simplest, most academic explanation of it.

  • As an example, one definition of “friend” is “a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.” [2] Your own ideas or beliefs about what a “friend” really is likely include much more information, but this basic definition can present you with a good starting point in forming your own.

5:  Research the word’s origins.

Look up your chosen word in the Oxford English Dictionary or in another etymology dictionary. [3]

  • These sources can tell you the history behind a word, which can provide further insight on a general definition as well as information about how a word came to mean what it means today.

Part 2 of 3: Potential Elements of an Effective Definition

1: write an analysis. [4].

Separate a word into various parts. Analyze and define each part in its own paragraph.

  • You can separate “return” into “re-” and “turn.” The word “friendship” can be separated into “friend” and “ship.”
  • In order to analyze each portion of a word, you will still need to use additional defining tactics like negation and classification.
  • Note that this tactic only works for words that contain multiple parts. The word “love,” for instance, cannot be broken down any further. If defining “platonic love,” though, you could define both “platonic” and “love” separately within your essay.

2:  Classify the term.

Specify what classes and parts of speech a word belongs to according to a standard dictionary definition.

  • While this information is very basic and dry, it can provide helpful context about the way that a given word is used.

3: Compare an unfamiliar term to something familiar.

An unfamiliar or uncommon concept can be explained using concepts that are more accessible to the average person.

  • Many people have never heard of the term “confrere,” for instance. One basic definition is “a fellow member of a profession, fraternity, etc.” As such, you could compare “confrere” with “colleague,” which is a similar yet more familiar concept. [5]

4:  Provide traditional details about the term.

Explain any physical characteristics or traditional thoughts used to describe your term of choice.

  • The term “home” is often visualized physically as a house or apartment. In more abstract terms, “home” is traditionally thought to be a warm, cozy, and safe environment. You can include all of these features in a definition essay on “home.”

5: Use examples to illustrate the meaning.

People often relate to stories and vivid images, so using a fitting story or image that relates to the term can be used in clarifying an abstract, formless concept.

  • In a definition essay about “kindness,” for example, you could write about an act of kindness you recently witnessed. Someone who mows the lawn of an elderly neighbor is a valid example, just as someone who gave you an encouraging word when you were feeling down might be.

6: Use negation to explain what the term does not mean.

If a term is often misused or misunderstood, mentioning what it is not is an effective way to bring the concept into focus.

  • A common example would be the term “courage.” The term is often associated with a lack of fear, but many will argue that “courage” is more accurately described as acting in spite of fear.

7: Provide background information.

This is when your research about the etymology of a word will come in handy. Explain where the term originated and how it came to mean what it currently means.

Part 3 of 3: Definition Essay Structure

1: introduce the standard definition..

You need to clearly state what your word is along with its traditional or dictionary definition in your introductory paragraph.

  • By opening with the dictionary definition of your term, you create context and a basic level of knowledge about the word. This will allow you to introduce and elaborate on your own definition.
  • This is especially significant when the traditional definition of your term varies from your own definition in notable ways.

2: Define the term in your own words in your thesis.

Your actual thesis statement should define the term in your own words.

  • Keep the definition in your thesis brief and basic. You will elaborate on it more in the body of your paper.
  • Avoid using passive phrases involving the word “is” when defining your term. The phrases “is where” and “is when” are especially clunky. [6]
  • Do not repeat part of the defined term in your definition.

3:  Separate different parts of the definition into separate paragraphs.

Each tactic or method used to define your term should be explored in a separate paragraph.

  • Note that you do not need to use all the possible methods of defining a term in your essay. You should use a variety of different methods in order to create a full, well-rounded picture of the term, but some tactics will work great with some terms but not with others.

4: Conclude with a summary of your main points.

Briefly summarize your main points around the start of your concluding paragraph.

  • This summary does not need to be elaborate. Usually, looking at the topic sentence of each body paragraph is a good way to form a simple list of your main points.
  • You can also draw the essay to a close by referring to phrases or images evoked in your introduction.

5: Mention how the definition has affected you, if desired.

If the term you define plays a part in your own life and experiences, your final concluding remarks are a good place to briefly mention the role it plays.

  • Relate your experience with the term to the definition you created for it in your thesis. Avoid sharing experiences that relate to the term but contradict everything you wrote in your essay.

Sources and Citations

  • http://www.roanestate.edu/owl/Definition.html
  • http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/friend?s=t
  • http://www.etymonline.com/
  • http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/acadwrite/definition.html
  • http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/confrere?s=t
  • http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/composition/definition.htm
  • How to Write a Definition Essay. Provided by : WikiHow. Located at : http://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Definition-Essay . License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
  • Table of Contents

Instructor Resources (Access Requires Login)

  • Overview of Instructor Resources

An Overview of the Writing Process

  • Introduction to the Writing Process
  • Introduction to Writing
  • Your Role as a Learner
  • What is an Essay?
  • Reading to Write
  • Defining the Writing Process
  • Videos: Prewriting Techniques
  • Thesis Statements
  • Organizing an Essay
  • Creating Paragraphs
  • Conclusions
  • Editing and Proofreading
  • Matters of Grammar, Mechanics, and Style
  • Peer Review Checklist
  • Comparative Chart of Writing Strategies

Using Sources

  • Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Formatting the Works Cited Page (MLA)
  • Citing Paraphrases and Summaries (APA)
  • APA Citation Style, 6th edition: General Style Guidelines

Definition Essay

  • Definitional Argument Essay
  • Critical Thinking
  • Video: Thesis Explained
  • Effective Thesis Statements
  • Student Sample: Definition Essay

Narrative Essay

  • Introduction to Narrative Essay
  • Student Sample: Narrative Essay
  • "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell
  • "Sixty-nine Cents" by Gary Shteyngart
  • Video: The Danger of a Single Story
  • How to Write an Annotation
  • How to Write a Summary
  • Writing for Success: Narration

Illustration/Example Essay

  • Introduction to Illustration/Example Essay
  • "She's Your Basic L.O.L. in N.A.D" by Perri Klass
  • "April & Paris" by David Sedaris
  • Writing for Success: Illustration/Example
  • Student Sample: Illustration/Example Essay

Compare/Contrast Essay

  • Introduction to Compare/Contrast Essay
  • "Disability" by Nancy Mairs
  • "Friending, Ancient or Otherwise" by Alex Wright
  • "A South African Storm" by Allison Howard
  • Writing for Success: Compare/Contrast
  • Student Sample: Compare/Contrast Essay

Cause-and-Effect Essay

  • Introduction to Cause-and-Effect Essay
  • "Cultural Baggage" by Barbara Ehrenreich
  • "Women in Science" by K.C. Cole
  • Writing for Success: Cause and Effect
  • Student Sample: Cause-and-Effect Essay

Argument Essay

  • Introduction to Argument Essay
  • Rogerian Argument
  • "The Case Against Torture," by Alisa Soloman
  • "The Case for Torture" by Michael Levin
  • How to Write a Summary by Paraphrasing Source Material
  • Writing for Success: Argument
  • Student Sample: Argument Essay
  • Grammar/Mechanics Mini-lessons
  • Mini-lesson: Subjects and Verbs, Irregular Verbs, Subject Verb Agreement
  • Mini-lesson: Sentence Types
  • Mini-lesson: Fragments I
  • Mini-lesson: Run-ons and Comma Splices I
  • Mini-lesson: Comma Usage
  • Mini-lesson: Parallelism
  • Mini-lesson: The Apostrophe
  • Mini-lesson: Capital Letters
  • Grammar Practice - Interactive Quizzes
  • De Copia - Demonstration of the Variety of Language
  • Style Exercise: Voice

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How to Write a Definition Essay

Published September 27, 2020. Updated May 4, 2022.

Definition Essay Definition

A definition essay defines a term or concept but goes beyond the basic definition of a word.

Overview of a Definition Essay

A definition is often used in various essay types to explain a concept. Definition essays can discuss a word’s significance, correct misconceptions, argue for a preferred definition, or argue for a new understanding of the word. Definitions provide readers a deep understanding of not only a word’s meaning but also its significance. Furthermore, definitions help to correct misconceptions about a word.

Definition essays may review different parts of the word’s meaning, including its connotation, denotation, extended definition, and stipulative definition. Always consider the audience for a definition essay to ensure that the argument is relevant and meaningful to readers.

This page will cover the following points:

Key Takeaways

Why write a definition essay, types of definitions.

  • Developing your Definition Essay
  • Definition essays can discuss a word’s significance, correct misconceptions, argue for a preferred definition, or argue for a new understanding of the word.
  • The essay may cover different parts of the word’s meaning, including its denotation, connotation, extended definition, and stipulative definition.
  • Regardless of the approach taken, your essay should contain a thesis statement in the introduction that lays out the claim you will be making about the word and its meaning.
  • It is important to consider the audience for your definition essay to ensure that your argument is relevant and meaningful to them.

A definition is often used as a tool in various essay types when you need to explain a key term or concept. However, a definition can itself be the main focus of an essay. At first, this might seem limited. After all, when you want to know what a word means, you just look it up and read a brief definition. How do you turn something like that into an entire essay?

A definition essay goes beyond the basic definition of a word. It can:

  • Provide readers a deep understanding of not only a word’s meaning but also its significance.
  • Try to correct misconceptions about a word.
  • Argue for a preferred definition.
  • Argue for a new understanding of a word or concept.

Worried about your writing? Submit your paper for a Chegg Writing essay check , or for an Expert Check proofreading . Both can help you find and fix potential writing issues.

There are different types of definitions and different parts of a word or term’s meaning. These can all have a role in a definition essay, although they might not all be emphasized to the same degree. Below, we’ll cover:

Connotation

Stipulative.

The denotation is a word’s dictionary definition. Denotation is the straightforward meaning of a word that you can look up. Words can have multiple denotations and even different parts of speech.

The word “fast” has numerous denotations. “Fast” can mean not eating for a period of time; in this case, “to fast” is a verb, but “fast” is also a noun. “Fast” can also mean swift or speedy; in this case, “fast” is an adjective. It has many other denotations too.

A word’s connotation is its emotional resonance . Associations and usage create emotional resonance. Some words have a neutral connotation, but others have a more distinct connotation. The connotation adds a richness that goes beyond the denotation.

The denotation of “mother” is simply a female parent. However, the word has positive connotations of warmth, love, and care.

Connotation is responsive to how society uses a word. This can sometimes change quite quickly.

The word “pirate” has an appealing connotation of adventure and excitement that probably wasn’t as strong before the extremely popular Pirates of the Caribbean  movie franchise.

Connotation vs. Denotation

Denotations can change, but they are generally more stable than connotations. Connotations are strongly connected to culture, so a word might have a certain connotation in one country or with one group of people but have a different connotation with another. While connotation relates to denotation, we recognize connotation more because of how a word is used.

We don’t often refer to children as “progeny” or “offspring,” so if your parents were to start calling you this, it might seem odd, but no one thinks it’s strange to call children “kids.” All of these words—children, progeny, offspring, kids—have the same denotation but different connotations.

An extended definition goes beyond a word’s denotation(s) to give a more thorough understanding . It might go into such things as:

  • an expanded description of the word or concept
  • comparisons
  • etymology (the study of words’ origins and histories of development)
  • examples of usage

The Oxford English Dictionary is an especially good resource for this. The dictionary is subscription-based, but schools and libraries often subscribe, so students can access it.

A stipulative definition argues for a particular interpretation of a word or term . This is more about how the writer sees the word or term. Your goal would be to convince your readers that your way of understanding the term is ideal. You may also want to argue about why a proper understanding of the term is important. You could support this by considering the negative consequences of misunderstanding the term.

This type of definition focus works well with abstract terms that can be understood in different ways, such as feminism , education , success , and happiness . Stipulative definitions also work well if you’re creating and explaining your own term or concept.

After choosing the word or term you want to define, think about what your purpose will be. Why are you defining it? Your assignment prompt may give you some direction here, but if not, you’ll still need a purpose. The purpose coordinates with your audience and provides guidance as you write. Here are some general purposes you might consider.

In a sense, all essays are meant to inform. If informing is the primary purpose of your definition essay, you might be working with a word, term, or denotation that you know is unfamiliar to your readers. You would probably present an extended definition to teach the readers about the word’s:

  • historical context of when it was in peak use (for archaic or rarely used words)

Presenting a New View

You can use a definition essay to present a new view of a word or term. A new view could help you show the concept in a different light.

Defining “fail” or “failure.” This word has a negative denotation and most often a negative connotation as well. However, you could define the term in a more positive context, arguing that failure is a necessary step in understanding ourselves better, refining our goals, and ultimately achieving success.

Clearing Up Misconceptions

Addressing misconceptions is your purpose if you are trying to correct a misunderstanding or misconception about a word. It’s similar to presenting a new view, but the argumentative component is stronger. You’re not only showing readers something new but also persuading readers to change their minds about something.

Some terms are often debated, such as the concept of freedom. We use this word a lot, but what does it mean to be free? Do any laws we dislike and don’t want to follow keep us from being free? Do some laws or regulations inhibit freedom while others don’t? Can some laws and restrictions actually support freedom? You could develop a definition of freedom while arguing against alternative definitions.

Having an audience in mind will help you shape and focus your material. The audience and purpose should coordinate. Ask yourself:

  • What about this definition is meaningful to the audience?
  • What tone (academic, casual, etc.) is appropriate to use?
  • How much information does the audience already know?
  • Would the audience have questions, concerns, or objections?

All of these factors influence what information you present and how you present it. You must approach the purpose in a way that would be meaningful and convincing to the target audience.

Developing Your Definition Essay

Once you have a word or concept you want to define and a sense of your audience and purpose, you can start developing your essay. Let’s look at tips for each section.

Introduction + Thesis Statement

Your introduction presents the topic in a way that is engaging for the target audience. Since most topics start off pretty broad, an introduction also starts by guiding readers to your specific focus. Like everything in an essay, choose an introduction for its connection to the purpose and audience. Here are some possible strategies:

  • Tell a brief anecdote related to the topic.
  • Present the debate relevant to the topic. This would be especially useful if your goal is to clarify misconceptions about a word or if your word connects to a contentious issue.
  • Describe a scene or situation relevant to the topic.
  • Ask a relevant question to encourage curiosity about the topic.
  • Narrate a brief situation or conversation relevant to the topic.
  • Give a significant quotation related to the topic.

In general, a thesis presents your topic and the claim you are making about the topic. The denotation might be your starting point, and your thesis explains how your essay will go beyond the denotation. The thesis should let the reader know what insight you’ll be presenting or what claim you’ll be making about the word.

Think about what you’ll need to do to develop a well-rounded, thorough definition that addresses your thesis and purpose. Some means of developing your definition include:

  • Exploring denotations and connotations
  • Situating your term in its cultural and/or historical context
  • Discussing how it is used and citing examples
  • Comparing words or usage

Before you turn in that paper, don’t forget to cite your sources in APA format , MLA format , or a style of your choice.

The purpose of a conclusion is to signal closure. Here are some ways you might do that:

  • Reinforce the central message of the thesis.
  • Briefly summarize key takeaways of the essay. (This is more useful in longer or more complicated essays.)
  • Give a call to action. What should the reader do now that they know the information you’ve given them? This might be especially good if the term you’ve defined relates to a social issue or debate.
  • Reinforce the significance of your definition or provide some final wisdom relating to it.
  • Return to the introduction in some way to create a “frame” for the essay. This works especially well if your introduction is an anecdote or refers to an event or situation. Returning to the introduction might mean adding to the anecdote or referencing the event, considering the information and insight in the essay.

As you write, always keep your audience and purpose in mind. Don’t be afraid to change or refine your focus as you go. This is often part of working through your ideas and developing a strong essay.

Example Definition Essay on  Defining Tragedy as a Form of Drama

By Ericka Scott Nelson. Ericka earned a MA in English from the University of California, Riverside. She teaches composition at a community college.

Common Writing Assignments, Apps & Tests

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Definition Essay Examples and Topic Ideas

definition of "definition essay" restated from the article

  • DESCRIPTION man taking notes with definition essay meaning
  • SOURCE Xavier Lorenzo / Moment / Getty Images
  • PERMISSION Used under Getty Images license

A formal definition essay defines a term or concept. Definition essays are a form of expository writing in which the writer provides information about the term to their audience. They typically follow a standard essay format and include both a definition and an analysis of the term. Review the example essays below and try exploring some of the suggested essay topics, too.

Definition Essay Structure

You can follow the general structure for an expository essay when writing a definition essay.

full text essay example from the article with labeled parts

  • DESCRIPTION definition essay example with notes
  • SOURCE Created by Karina Goto for YourDictionary
  • PERMISSION Owned by YourDictionary, Copyright YourDictionary 

While the basic pieces of the essay are the same, definition essays should include some key elements.

  • Introduction: Like most essays, the introduction paragraph in definition essays should start with an introduction sentence or “grabber,” followed by a transition sentence, and end with a strong thesis statement (which is often a clear statement of the definition).
  • Body Paragraphs: Typical definition essays at the middle and high school level should include around three body paragraphs. They begin with relevant topic sentences . Body paragraphs can provide important information about the term, including an extended definition, etymology , denotations and/or connotations , analogies, and negation (non-examples) of the concept.
  • Conclusion: Rephrase the thesis statement and make a larger statement about the term in your conclusion.

Example Essay: Wi-Fi (Concrete Concept)

There are basically two types of definition essays. They can define concrete concepts or abstract concepts. They should also provide a larger understanding of the term as a concept. Here first is an example of a definition essay for a concrete concept.

You know the feeling: You’re reading a website or streaming a movie when your Wi-Fi goes out. What is Wi-Fi, and why do we depend on it so much? Understanding the concept of Wi-Fi is important for users of modern technology because it connects us to the world. Wi-Fi is the wireless local network between nearby devices, such as wireless routers, computers, smartphones, tablets, or external drives. It is part of the LAN (local area network) protocols and has largely replaced the wired Ethernet option. When your device has Wi-Fi turned on, it can find the nearest router. If the router is connected to a modem and works with an Internet service provider (ISP), your device can now access the Internet and other devices on the network. Wi-Fi covers a much more limited area than a cell phone tower. However, Wi-Fi does not use expensive cellular data like LTE or 4G. Many people believe that Wi-Fi is short for “wireless fidelity.” The founding members of Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance needed a name that was easier to remember than “wireless ethernet,” and much easier than Wi-Fi’s actual original name, “IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence.” They added the slogan “The Standard for Wireless Fidelity,” but dropped it after people mistook the meaning of Wi-Fi. The name is a play on the term “hi-fi,” which is a high-quality reproduction in stereo sound (“high fidelity”), and not related to Wi-Fi at all. The IEEE 802.11b standard has since been upgraded to faster protocols, including 802.11g, 802.11n and 802.11ac. Because of Wi-Fi’s widespread use and popularity, Merriam-Webster added “Wi-Fi” to its dictionary in 2005, only eight years after it was invented. Today, most modern computers depend on Wi-Fi for Internet access. Free Wi-Fi is available in many restaurants, hotels, and coffee shops. It is also easy to install in your home for private use. However, even private Wi-Fi connections should be password-protected. Joining an unprotected Wi-Fi network, or allowing others to join your network, could compromise your online safety and privacy. Understanding what Wi-Fi really is can protect you and your information. When used correctly and safely, Wi-Fi is an essential part of the 21st-century experience. Whether you’re watching your favorite show or finishing up a research paper, you should know more about how data travels to and from your device.

Example Essay: Bravery (Abstract Concept)

The basic structure of a definition essay is the same whether you’re defining a concrete or abstract concept. Here is an example definition essay for an abstract concept.

Everyone feels afraid from time to time. From feeling the jitters to facing a lifelong phobia, it’s difficult to put fears aside when trying to accomplish a goal. But, one doesn’t need to forget that they are afraid in order to be brave; in fact, bravery doesn’t exist without real fear behind it. Bravery is the mindset one takes when facing a challenge that could be dangerous or difficult. The task could be objectively dangerous, such as engaging in battle or driving in adverse conditions. A person could also perceive a seemingly harmless situation as challenging, such as climbing a flight of stairs or talking to someone they’d like to date. A brave act requires one to face and embrace the task rather than withdraw from it. There are examples of bravery in every community. Look no farther than your local fire station or police station to see acts of bravery. Community heroes help others in small and large ways every day, often at great risk to their own lives. Students are brave when they stand up to a bully or present a project in front of the whole class. Practicing small acts of bravery can prepare a person to lead a heroic life. “Fearlessness” can be a connotation of bravery, but it’s not a true synonym (although bystanders may believe that a brave person acts without fear). If a task does not seem frightening in some way, it would be simple to complete, requiring no bravery at all. Heroes who exhibit bravery often put themselves at risk to help others. The closest synonym for bravery would be “courage.” The ability to do what’s right despite a real or perceived threat requires strength, making “fortitude” another near-synonym for bravery. Bravery doesn’t exist without fear. No matter how challenging or dangerous a task can be, bravery allows a person to work alongside their fear rather than forget about it. The next time you see someone acting heroically, remind yourself that they are probably terrified in that moment – and that makes them even braver.

Sample Definition Essay Topics

You just need to ask a question when finding a prompt for a definition essay. Here are some possible topics for your next definition essay. Note that the list includes both concrete and abstract terms and spans a range of subjects.

  • What is democracy?
  • What is classical music?
  • Explain the concept of friendship.
  • What is the Pythagorean Theorem?
  • Define bravery.
  • Define Gothic Romanticism.
  • What is a cold war?
  • Define the concept of grief.
  • What is maturity?
  • What is climate change?
  • Define the concept of race as a social construct.
  • What is math?
  • What is a millennial?
  • Define the concept of privilege.
  • What is a literary theme?
  • What is a political party?
  • Define the concept of sportsmanship.
  • What is an amphibian?
  • What is chemistry?
  • What was the Spanish Inquisition?
  • Explain the concept of dreaming.
  • What is a tomato?
  • What is physical fitness?

More Essay Options

Now that you’ve got the definition essay down, take a look at more writing resources. Get some tips on writing essays or read additional examples of different essay types . If your writing is getting a bit long, learn how to write clear, concise sentences .

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3.2: How to Write a Definition Essay

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A definition essay can be deceivingly difficult to write. This type of paper requires you to write a personal yet academic definition of one specific word. The definition must be thorough and lengthy. It is essential that you choose a word that will give you plenty to write about, and there are a few standard tactics you can use to elaborate on the term. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when writing a definition essay.

Part 1 of 3: Choosing the Right Word

1: choose an abstract word with a complex meaning. [1].

A simple word that refers to a concrete word will not give you much to write about, but a complex word that refers to an abstract concept provides more material to explore.

  • Typically, nouns that refer to a person, place, or thing are too simple for a definition essay. Nouns that refer to an idea work better, however, as do most adjectives.
  • For example, the word “house” is fairly simple and an essay written around it may be dull. By switching to something slightly more abstract like “home,” however, you can play around with the definition more. A “home” is a concept, and there are many elements involved in the creation of a “home.” In comparison, a “house” is merely a structure.

2: Make sure that the word is disputable.

Aside from being complex, the word should also refer to something that can mean different things to different people.

  • A definition essay is somewhat subjective by nature since it requires you to analyze and define a word from your own perspective. If the answer you come up with after analyzing a word is the same answer anyone else would come up with, your essay may appear to lack depth.

3: Choose a word you have some familiarity with.

Dictionary definitions can only tell you so much. Since you need to elaborate on the word you choose to define, you will need to have your own base of knowledge or experience with the concept you choose.

  • For instance, if you have never heard the term “pedantic,” your understanding of the word will be limited. You can introduce yourself to the word for your essay, but without previous understanding of the concept, you will not know if the definition you describe is truly fitting.

4: Read the dictionary definition.

While you will not be relying completely on the dictionary definition for your essay, familiarizing yourself with the official definition will allow you to compare your own understanding of the concept with the simplest, most academic explanation of it.

  • As an example, one definition of “friend” is “a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.” [2] Your own ideas or beliefs about what a “friend” really is likely include much more information, but this basic definition can present you with a good starting point in forming your own.

5: Research the word’s origins.

Look up your chosen word in the Oxford English Dictionary or in another etymology dictionary. [3]

  • These sources can tell you the history behind a word, which can provide further insight on a general definition as well as information about how a word came to mean what it means today.

Part 2 of 3: Potential Elements of an Effective Definition

1: write an analysis. [4].

Separate a word into various parts. Analyze and define each part in its own paragraph.

  • You can separate “return” into “re-” and “turn.” The word “friendship” can be separated into “friend” and “ship.”
  • In order to analyze each portion of a word, you will still need to use additional defining tactics like negation and classification.
  • Note that this tactic only works for words that contain multiple parts. The word “love,” for instance, cannot be broken down any further. If defining “platonic love,” though, you could define both “platonic” and “love” separately within your essay.

2: Classify the term.

Specify what classes and parts of speech a word belongs to according to a standard dictionary definition.

  • While this information is very basic and dry, it can provide helpful context about the way that a given word is used.

3: Compare an unfamiliar term to something familiar.

An unfamiliar or uncommon concept can be explained using concepts that are more accessible to the average person.

  • Many people have never heard of the term “confrere,” for instance. One basic definition is “a fellow member of a profession, fraternity, etc.” As such, you could compare “confrere” with “colleague,” which is a similar yet more familiar concept. [5]

4: Provide traditional details about the term.

Explain any physical characteristics or traditional thoughts used to describe your term of choice.

  • The term “home” is often visualized physically as a house or apartment. In more abstract terms, “home” is traditionally thought to be a warm, cozy, and safe environment. You can include all of these features in a definition essay on “home.”

5: Use examples to illustrate the meaning.

People often relate to stories and vivid images, so using a fitting story or image that relates to the term can be used in clarifying an abstract, formless concept.

  • In a definition essay about “kindness,” for example, you could write about an act of kindness you recently witnessed. Someone who mows the lawn of an elderly neighbor is a valid example, just as someone who gave you an encouraging word when you were feeling down might be.

6: Use negation to explain what the term does not mean.

If a term is often misused or misunderstood, mentioning what it is not is an effective way to bring the concept into focus.

  • A common example would be the term “courage.” The term is often associated with a lack of fear, but many will argue that “courage” is more accurately described as acting in spite of fear.

7: Provide background information.

This is when your research about the etymology of a word will come in handy. Explain where the term originated and how it came to mean what it currently means.

Part 3 of 3: Definition Essay Structure

1: introduce the standard definition..

You need to clearly state what your word is along with its traditional or dictionary definition in your introductory paragraph.

  • By opening with the dictionary definition of your term, you create context and a basic level of knowledge about the word. This will allow you to introduce and elaborate on your own definition.
  • This is especially significant when the traditional definition of your term varies from your own definition in notable ways.

2: Define the term in your own words in your thesis.

Your actual thesis statement should define the term in your own words.

  • Keep the definition in your thesis brief and basic. You will elaborate on it more in the body of your paper.
  • Avoid using passive phrases involving the word “is” when defining your term. The phrases “is where” and “is when” are especially clunky. [6]
  • Do not repeat part of the defined term in your definition.

3: Separate different parts of the definition into separate paragraphs.

Each tactic or method used to define your term should be explored in a separate paragraph.

  • Note that you do not need to use all the possible methods of defining a term in your essay. You should use a variety of different methods in order to create a full, well-rounded picture of the term, but some tactics will work great with some terms but not with others.

4: Conclude with a summary of your main points.

Briefly summarize your main points around the start of your concluding paragraph.

  • This summary does not need to be elaborate. Usually, looking at the topic sentence of each body paragraph is a good way to form a simple list of your main points.
  • You can also draw the essay to a close by referring to phrases or images evoked in your introduction.

5: Mention how the definition has affected you, if desired.

If the term you define plays a part in your own life and experiences, your final concluding remarks are a good place to briefly mention the role it plays.

  • Relate your experience with the term to the definition you created for it in your thesis. Avoid sharing experiences that relate to the term but contradict everything you wrote in your essay.

Sources and Citations

  • www.roanestate.edu/owl/Definition.html
  • http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/friend?s=t
  • http://www.etymonline.com/
  • http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/acadwrite/definition.html
  • http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/confrere?s=t
  • http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/composition/definition.htm
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How to Write a Definition Essay

Last Updated: January 27, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Alexander Ruiz, M.Ed. . Alexander Ruiz is an Educational Consultant and the Educational Director of Link Educational Institute, a tutoring business based in Claremont, California that provides customizable educational plans, subject and test prep tutoring, and college application consulting. With over a decade and a half of experience in the education industry, Alexander coaches students to increase their self-awareness and emotional intelligence while achieving skills and the goal of achieving skills and higher education. He holds a BA in Psychology from Florida International University and an MA in Education from Georgia Southern University. There are 12 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 453,878 times.

A definition essay requires you to write your own definition of a word. The definition must be thorough and well supported by research and evidence. You may have to write a definition essay for a class or try it as a writing challenge to help improve your English skills. Start by selecting and defining the word. Then, create a draft that presents a detailed definition using references and sources. Polish the essay when you are done so it flows well and does not contain any grammatical errors.

Selecting the Word

Step 1 Choose a concept or idea.

  • You can also pick a concept like “Success,” “Friendship,” or “Faith.”
  • Concepts like “Pain,” “Loss,” or “Death” are also good options.

Step 2 Avoid concrete objects or things.

  • You can try taking a concrete object and using a similar word to make it more open-ended. For example, the word “house” is concrete and obvious. But the word “home” is more open-ended and allows you to create your own definition of the word.

Step 3 Select a word you are familiar with.

  • For example, you may choose a word like “success” because you are familiar with the word and feel you may have a lot to say about what it means to be successful or to feel success in your life.

Step 4 Go for a word that can have a variety of meanings.

  • For example, you may choose a word like “pain” because you feel there are a variety of meanings for the word based on who you talk to and how they experience “pain” in their lives.

Defining the Word

Step 1 Look up the word in the dictionary.

  • For example, if you look up the word “justice” in the dictionary, you may get this definition: “noun, the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness.”
  • You can then determine that “justice” is a noun and can be compared to other terms like “righteousness” and “moral rightness.”

Step 2 Research the origin of the word in encyclopedias.

  • For example, you may look up the word “justice” in an online encyclopedia that focuses on philosophy or law. You may then find information on Western theories of justice and how it became an important concept in Western history and the legal system.

Step 3 Search online for articles, websites, and videos that discuss the word.

  • Look on academic search engines like Google Scholar, JSTOR, and ProQuest for scholarly articles.
  • You can also look for educational videos that have been made about the word on YouTube and other video websites.

Step 4 Interview peers, family, and friends about the word.

  • “What comes to mind when you think of the word?”
  • “How do you feel about the word on a personal level?”
  • “How do you interact or deal with the word?”
  • “What does the word mean to you?”
  • Take notes or record the interviews so you can use them as sources in your essay.

Step 5 Create your own definition of the word.

  • For example, you may write: “Justice, a quality or trait where you act in a morally right way.” Or you may write: “Justice, a concept in the legal system where the fair or equitable thing is done, as in ‘justice has been served.’”
  • It's important to have tact and tread carefully here. It's important to preface your own definition of the word, making it clear that's a personal opinion. Make sure not to create the misconception that your own definition is the accepted or official one.
  • At the end of the day, your objective should be to write the actual definition, and not an opinion essay.

Creating an Essay Draft

Step 1 Use five sections for the essay.

  • Your thesis statement should appear in the introduction and conclusion section of your essay.

Step 2 Introduce the term and the standard definition.

  • For example, you may write, “According to the Oxford Dictionary, justice is a noun, and it means: the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness.”

Step 3 Include a thesis statement with your own definition.

  • For example, you may have a thesis statement like, “According to my research and my personal experiences, justice is a quality or trait where you act in a morally correct way.”

Step 4 Discuss the history and origin of the word.

  • For example, you may write, “Justice comes from the Latin jus , which means right or law. It is a commonly used concept in politics, in the legal system, and in philosophy.”

Step 5 Analyze the dictionary definition of the word.

  • For example, you may discuss how justice works as a noun or an idea in politics, the legal system, and in philosophy. You may also discuss what the “quality of being just” means in our society.

Step 6 Compare and contrast the term with other terms.

  • For example, you may talk about how justice is similar and also not quite the same as words like “righteousness” and “equitableness.”
  • You can also discuss words that mean the opposite of the term you are defining. For example, you may contrast the word “justice” with the word “injustice” or “inequality.”

Step 7 Discuss your personal definition.

  • For example, you may write, “On a personal level, I view justice as an essential concept” or “Based on my own experiences, I think justice is blind and often does not serve those who need it the most.”
  • You can also include personal experiences of the word based on interviews you conducted with others.

Step 8 Support your points with evidence and references.

  • Make sure you follow your instructor’s preferred citation style, such as MLA , APA , or Chicago Style .

Step 9 Conclude by restating your main points.

  • Look at the first sentence in each section of the paragraph to help you gather your main points.
  • Include a last sentence that has a strong image or that describes a key phrase in your essay.

Polishing the Essay

Step 1 Read the essay out loud.

  • You should also check for any spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors in the essay.

Step 2 Show the essay to others for feedback.

  • Be open to constructive criticism from others and take their feedback to heart. It will only make your essay better.

Step 3 Revise the essay.

  • If there is a word count or a page count for the definition essay, make sure you meet it.
  • Include a reference page at the end of the essay and a cover page at the beginning of the essay, if required.

Expert Q&A

Alexander Ruiz, M.Ed.

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Thanks for reading our article! If you'd like to learn more about writing essays, check out our in-depth interview with Alexander Ruiz, M.Ed. .

  • ↑ https://owl.excelsior.edu/rhetorical-styles/definition-essay/
  • ↑ https://open.lib.umn.edu/writingforsuccess/chapter/10-6-definition/
  • ↑ https://quillbot.com/courses/introduction-to-college-level-academic-writing/chapter/how-to-write-a-definition-essay/
  • ↑ https://examples.yourdictionary.com/definition-essay-examples-and-topic-ideas.html
  • ↑ https://owlcation.com/humanities/How-to-Write-a-Definition-Essay-from-Multiple-Sources
  • ↑ https://academichelp.net/academic-assignments/essay/write-definition-essay.html
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/common_writing_assignments/definitions.html
  • ↑ https://owl.excelsior.edu/rhetorical-styles/definition-essay/definition-essay-techniques/
  • ↑ https://quillbot.com/courses/rhetorical-methods-based-essay-writing/chapter/how-to-write-a-definition-essay/
  • ↑ https://wts.indiana.edu/writing-guides/using-evidence.html
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/reading-aloud/
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/the_writing_process/proofreading/steps_for_revising.html

About This Article

Alexander Ruiz, M.Ed.

To write a definition essay, choose a word that describes a concept or idea. Look up the dictionary definition, the origin of the word, and any scholarly essays or articles that discuss the word in detail, then use this information to create your own definition. When you write your paper, introduce the term and the standard dictionary definition of the word, followed by a thesis stating your own definition. Use the body of the paper to include historical information and explain what the word means to you, then conclude by restating your thesis. For tips on picking your word, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Understanding the Definition and Impact of Gun Violence

This essay about projectile violence examines its definition and impact on society, including various forms such as murders, suicides, domestic violence, accidental shootings, and mass shootings. It highlights the causes, consequences, and potential solutions, emphasizing the need for stricter gun control laws, community interventions, and public education to reduce harm and promote safety.

How it works

Category projectile every violence has legible caractéristiques and plays in favour of postmen, asks, for access done directed an order he and adjured them.

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Understanding the Definition and Impact of Gun Violence. (2024, Jun 28). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/understanding-the-definition-and-impact-of-gun-violence/

"Understanding the Definition and Impact of Gun Violence." PapersOwl.com , 28 Jun 2024, https://papersowl.com/examples/understanding-the-definition-and-impact-of-gun-violence/

PapersOwl.com. (2024). Understanding the Definition and Impact of Gun Violence . [Online]. Available at: https://papersowl.com/examples/understanding-the-definition-and-impact-of-gun-violence/ [Accessed: 10 Jul. 2024]

"Understanding the Definition and Impact of Gun Violence." PapersOwl.com, Jun 28, 2024. Accessed July 10, 2024. https://papersowl.com/examples/understanding-the-definition-and-impact-of-gun-violence/

"Understanding the Definition and Impact of Gun Violence," PapersOwl.com , 28-Jun-2024. [Online]. Available: https://papersowl.com/examples/understanding-the-definition-and-impact-of-gun-violence/. [Accessed: 10-Jul-2024]

PapersOwl.com. (2024). Understanding the Definition and Impact of Gun Violence . [Online]. Available at: https://papersowl.com/examples/understanding-the-definition-and-impact-of-gun-violence/ [Accessed: 10-Jul-2024]

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An Antidote to the Cult of Self-Discipline

A new novel sees procrastination as one of the last bastions of the creative mind.

a cup in front of a painting of clouds against floral wallpaper

Procrastination, or the art of doing the wrong things at one specifically wrong time, has become a bugbear of our productivity-obsessed era. Wasting resources? Everybody’s doing it! But wasting time? God forbid. Schemes to keep ourselves in efficiency mode—the rebranding of rest into self-care, and of hobbies into side hustles—have made procrastinating a tic that people are desperate to dispel; “life hacks” now govern life. As the anti-productivity champion Oliver Burkeman once put it , “Today’s cacophony of anti-procrastination advice seems rather sinister: a subtle way of inducing conformity, to get you to do what you ‘should’ be doing.” By that measure, the procrastinator is doing something revolutionary: using their time without aim. Take to the barricades, soldiers, and when you get there, do absolutely nothing!

The novel has been sniffily maligned throughout its history as a particularly potent vehicle for wasting time—unless, of course, it improves the reader in some way. (See: the 19th-century trend of silly female characters contracting brain rot from reading, which Jane Austen hilariously skewered with Northanger Abbey ’s Catherine Morland.) Which makes Rosalind Brown’s tight, sly debut, Practice , a welcome gift for those who dither about their dithering. It presents procrastination as a vital, life-affirming antidote to the cult of self-discipline, while also giving the reader a delicious text with which to while away her leisure time.

definition of an essay

In Practice , Annabel, a second-year Oxford student, wakes long before sunrise on a misty Sunday morning “at the worn-out end of January.” The day holds only one task—to write a paper on Shakespeare’s sonnets—but Annabel is a routinized being and must act accordingly: “The things she does, she does properly.” So first she makes herself tea (coffee will rattle her stomach) and leaves the radiator turned off to keep the room “cold and dim and full of quiet.” She settles in with a plan: a morning spent reading and note-taking, a lunch of raw veggies, a solo yoga session in the afternoon, writing, a perfectly timed post-dinner bowel movement. A day, in short, that is brimming with possibilities for producing an optimized self. Except that self keeps getting in its own way: Her mind and body, those dueling forces that alternately grab at our attention, repeatedly turn her away from Shakespeare. Very little writing actually takes place in Practice ; Annabel’s vaunted self-discipline encounters barrier after barrier. She wants to “thicken her own concentration,” but instead she takes walks, pees, fidgets, ambles down the unkept byways of her mind. She procrastinates like a champ.

Read: How to spend your time ‘poorly’

Brown’s novel elevates procrastination into an essential act, arguing that those pockets of time between stretches of productivity are where living and creating actually happen. Which makes procrastination one of the last bastions of the creative mind, a way to silently fight a hundred tiny rebellions a day. Screwing around, on the job and otherwise, isn’t just revenge against capitalism; it’s part of the work of living. And what better format for examining this anarchy than the novel, a form that is created by underpaid wandering minds?

Practice is technically a campus novel, but it makes far more sense as a complement to the recent spate of workplace fiction that wonders what exactly we’re all doing with our precious waking weekly hours. Some Millennial novelists, born in an era of prosperity and then launched into adulthood just as the usual signposts of success slid out of reach, have fixated on the workplace as a source of our discontent. Many of us were told in childhood that we can do anything we want, that “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Work was supposed to be a promised land of fulfillment, a place where your aptitudes would flourish and— bonus —you’d get paid. But no job could live up to such a high standard. It doesn’t help that a torrent of systemic issues—inadequate health care, drastic rent hikes, underfunding of the arts—have left members of this generation feeling like they’re dedicating 40-plus hours a week to treading water.

Recent literature has been flush with examples. In Helen Phillips’s The Beautiful Bureaucrat , a 20-something spends her workdays entering inexplicable series of numbers into “The Database” at a labyrinthine office. The job itself turns out to be vital to humanity, but compensation, explication, and basic human dignity aren’t on offer. Halle Butler’s The New Me features a 30-year-old working as a temp at a design firm, the kind of place populated by ash-blondes in “incomprehensible furry vests.” Her try-hard personality keeps her from climbing the office social ladder, which in turn leaves her pathetically shuffling papers and slipping further into loneliness, both at work and in her personal life. The young narrator of Hilary Leichter’s barely surreal Temporary takes gigs as a mannequin, a human barnacle, a ghost, and a murderer—but all she really wants is what she and the other temps call “the steadiness,” an existence in which work and life feel benignly predictable. According to these novels, the contemporary workplace turns us into machines, chops our intellect into disparate bits, and hands our precious attention over to the C-suite.

What’s missing in each of these characters’ lives is the space for rumination, the necessary lapses our brains need to live creatively, no matter our careers. Brown exquisitely spells out how procrastination is intrinsic to the imaginative process. Despite her professed allegiance to a schedule, Annabel interrupts her own routine early and often. Just after waking, she opens a window and then immediately wishes she could experience the feeling of opening it again: “She wants to know exactly how the cold blue light feels when it begins to appear, she doesn’t want to miss a single detail of the slow dawn , the reluctant winter morning .” While settled at her desk under a cape-like blue blanket, she spends as much time considering how to spend her time as she does actually spending it. She imagines her old tutor advising her to “look away from the text and out the window if you have to, try and pause your mind on the one thing.” Sure, she jots down occasional adjectives to describe Shakespeare and the mystery lover he courts in the sonnets, but most of Annabel’s focus is in the moment, in the rabbit hole of lightly connected memories and notions her brain accesses when it’s drifting off piste. Rather than turn her ideas into a work product, she listens to a robin sing, thinks through an unconsummated relationship from the past year, and fondly recollects her time studying Virginia Woolf—a writer who herself dwelled in the interstices of passing time.

Read: Procrastinating ourselves to death

Like Woolf, Brown understands that life is lived in the in-between moments, and that buckling down to produce a piece of art does not necessarily have the intended effect. (Anyone who has sat at a desk, desperate for the words to come, can affirm.) It’s no surprise, then, that Annabel admires Woolf, whose churning novels of the mind revolve around ordinary activities that are often waylaid by characters’ fancies and distractions. Mrs. Dalloway’s party planning ends up on the back burner as she considers alternate versions of her life; the Ramsay family fails to reach the tower at Godrevy in To the Lighthouse because their musings intervene; the children of The Waves spend as much time dallying as they do putting on their play. Similarly, Practice places Annabel’s decision making—what to write about the sonnets, whether her much-older boyfriend should visit her at college—on the same footing as her daydreams.

What Annabel senses, and Brown beautifully drives home, is that it’s the strange mental collisions between the thinking mind and the wandering mind that yield the most interesting results. These are the moments when artistry sneaks in unbidden; Annabel understands that if art is created out of life, the latter has to have space to happen. She copies out a line from the poetry critic Helen Vendler: “A critical ‘reading’ is the end product of an internalisation so complete that the word reading is not the right word for what happens when a text is on your mind. The text is part of what has made you who you are.” The creative life isn’t about doling a self out into different portions—it’s about sitting in the stew that a whole life makes and offering your perspective on it.

Annabel’s day turns extraordinary, albeit in small ways. She breaks a treasured brown mug, the one thing she’d rescue in a fire; this slash through her routine almost makes her cry. She finally decides whether to invite her boyfriend for a weekend, and maybe invite him deeper into her life. A tragedy in the bedroom next door jerks her toward the understanding that all lives are as complicated as her own. She also ends the day with no more than some notes and a few words on Shakespeare’s poems: “slick — bitter — nimble.” Who is to say if she’s been productive or not?

The art of procrastination requires confrontation—with our inefficiencies, with the allure of easy pleasure, with the fact that time will someday end for us. But we can melt into it. We can let ourselves float in the in-between. Perhaps with a meaningful, self-aware novel.

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  1. Essay Definition & Meaning

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  3. Essay

    essay, an analytic, interpretative, or critical literary composition usually much shorter and less systematic and formal than a dissertation or thesis and usually dealing with its subject from a limited and often personal point of view. Some early treatises—such as those of Cicero on the pleasantness of old age or on the art of "divination ...

  4. ESSAY

    Learn the meaning of essay as a noun and a verb, with examples of different types of essays and how to use them. Find out how to pronounce essay and see translations in other languages.

  5. What is an Essay? Definition, Types and Writing Tips by HandMadeWriting

    The essay is a written piece that is designed to present an idea, propose an argument, express the emotion or initiate debate. It is a tool that is used to present writer's ideas in a non-fictional way. Multiple applications of this type of writing go way beyond, providing political manifestos and art criticism as well as personal ...

  6. ESSAY

    Learn the meaning of essay as a noun and a verb, with examples of different types of essays and how to use them. Find out how to pronounce essay and see translations in other languages.

  7. ESSAY Definition & Meaning

    Essay definition: a short literary composition on a particular theme or subject, usually in prose and generally analytic, speculative, or interpretative.. See examples of ESSAY used in a sentence.

  8. Essay: Definition and Examples

    Learn what an essay is, how to write one, and see examples of different types of essays. An essay is a form of writing that uses informal or formal language to explore and explain ideas, or to persuade or narrate.

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  10. The Definition of an Essay Including Writing Resources

    A conclusion is an end or finish of an essay. Often, the conclusion includes a judgment or decision that is reached through the reasoning described throughout the essay. The conclusion is an opportunity to wrap up the essay by reviewing the main points discussed that drives home the point or argument stated in the thesis statement.

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    Definition of Essay. Essay is derived from the French word essayer, which means "to attempt," or "to try."An essay is a short form of literary composition based on a single subject matter, and often gives the personal opinion of the author. A famous English essayist, Aldous Huxley defines essays as, "a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything.

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    By Richard Nordquist. " [An essay is a] composition, usually in prose .., which may be of only a few hundred words (like Bacon's "Essays") or of book length (like Locke's "Essay Concerning Human Understanding") and which discusses, formally or informally, a topic or a variety of topics." (J.A. Cuddon, "Dictionary of Literary Terms".

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    3. Argumentative essays. An argumentative essay is a type of essay that aims to persuade the reader to adopt a particular stance based on factual evidence and is one of the most common forms of college essays. 4. Expository essays. An expository essay is a common format used in school and college exams to assess your understanding of a specific ...

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  17. Definition Essay

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  18. 10.6 Definition

    The definition essay opens with a general discussion of the term to be defined. You then state as your thesis your definition of the term. The rest of the essay should explain the rationale for your definition. Remember that a dictionary's definition is limiting, and you should not rely strictly on the dictionary entry. Instead, consider the ...

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  22. 3.2: How to Write a Definition Essay

    Keep the definition in your thesis brief and basic. You will elaborate on it more in the body of your paper. Avoid using passive phrases involving the word "is" when defining your term. The phrases "is where" and "is when" are especially clunky. [6] Do not repeat part of the defined term in your definition.

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    5. Create your own definition of the word. Use your research and your own experiences to write the definition. You may focus on how the word works in society or the world at large. You can also compare it to other similar terms. Format the definition by stating the word, followed by a one-sentence definition. [8]

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  25. Procrastination Is an Essential Act

    In Practice, Annabel, a second-year Oxford student, wakes long before sunrise on a misty Sunday morning "at the worn-out end of January."The day holds only one task—to write a paper on ...