Guidelines: Writing a Definition Essay
The essay of definition explores the significance of a difficult concept, idea, or ideal and shares that deeper understanding with the reader. To kick off your discussion of this particular explanatory form, read out loud or listen to this professional example from linguist Geoff Nunberg: As Fissures Between Political Camps Grow, 'Tribalism' Emerges As The Word Of 2017. Discuss how the essay delivers more than a dictionary definition of the word, exploring its origins, evolution through time, and current context.
Help your students select their own words to define. Review the writing guidelines and have students read the sample definition essay that starts on the next page. Note that this model and the professional one include many types of details: quotations, facts, negative definitions, dictionary definitions, word origins (etymology), and synonyms and antonyms. As students gather information about the terms they wish to define, they should find these same sorts of details (and perhaps more).
When leading students through the guidelines for creating strong beginnings, middles, and endings, help them realize that this structure is not simply academic. It's about helping readers become interested in the topic, understand what you want to say about it, learn the details you have to share, and carry the information away with them.