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Teacher Tips and Answers

Revising Definition Essays

Congratulations! You have an essay: You no longer have to worry about the blank page. Instead, you have words, sentences, ideas—all your best initial thinking about the topic. But a great first draft can still be a lackluster final draft. Revising lets you work with those ideas, adding new details, deleting unnecessary stuff, rewriting thoughts that didn't come out just right, and reorganizing material into the best order. The following activities can guide you.

Revising for Order of Details

When you wrote your first draft, you may have been tempted to write one paragraph about denotations, a second about connotations, a third about synonyms and antonyms, and so on. The result might feel a bit formulaic, marching doggedly through the list of details that you found. An effective essay is more than a list of details. It organizes the details with the reader's questions in mind.

In the first sample essay, "Right to the Heart," the first middle paragraph begins with the dictionary definition and then combines quotations and logical arguments to unpack the meaning of the definition. This organization works because readers know the word courage but need to analyze what it means and doesn't mean.

Dictionary Definition Merriam-Webster defines courage as the "mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty," Quotations or, in the words of Ernest Hemingway, "courage is grace under pressure." Logical Arguments Danger, fear, difficulty, pressure—these make courage not only necessary but possible. Courage cannot exist without opposition. One must feel fear before one can courageously persevere in the face of it. As Mark Twain puts it, "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear." The famous World War II general George S. Patton makes the connection even clearer: "Courage is fear holding on a minute longer." So, courage does not remove fear but rather persists in the face of it.

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