How To State A Definition In An Essay

What to call the OED: The first time you refer to the dictionary in your paper, use the full title: the Oxford English Dictionary. After the first time (which may come in the body of a paragraph or in a citation), then you may use the abbreviation OED throughout.

A side note on titles and abbreviations: This abbreviated title rule does not always apply for the body of your paper. The OED may be called the OED in the body because, although it is an abbreviated form, people actually call it this (at least this is my explanation). Generally, abbreviated titles are only acceptable within citations, e.g. a paper on Love's Labour's Lost, while referring to the entire title in the prose, may, after the play has been identified, thereafter cite simply by using LLL followed by the act, scene and line number(s). However, the author would not say, "When the acting company first performed LLL?"-this is too informal, and while I have seen it done, it is rare and best avoided for our purposes. When we get into writing papers that compare and contrast multiple texts from this course, you'll be able to abbreviate Fight Club as FC and The Talented Mr. Ripley as TTMR in your citations, after the first time you've identified the text by its full name. In general, one word titles are not truncated to a single letter, so we won't be representing Vertigo as V.

What the citation will look like: Include the particulars in your citation. If you are using one of the definitions of sympathy in your paper, you might say something like this:
Sympathy, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, canbe a "favourable attitude of mind towards a party" (OED, n. 3.d.).OR, if you've already mentioned the OED:sympathy can be a "favourable attitude of mind towards a party"(OED, n. 3.d.).OR, if you haven't yet mentioned the OED, and choose to deferidentifying the source until the citation itself, then:sympathy can be a "favourable attitude of mind towards a party"(Oxford English Dictionary, n. 3.d.).

I've attached the OED's entry for sympathy as a noun; as you'll see, there are four main definitions, and #1 and #3 have sub-definitions. The citation I use above shows my reader that I am referring first to the entry for sympathy as a noun, secondly that it is definition number 3, and thirdly that it is sub-definition d. Citing so specifically is crucial, especially since differences between various definitions can often be maddeningly subtle on first examination. If you are using a definition to shape or support your argument, you want to eliminate any possibility of misunderstanding on the part of your reader.

Choosing Your Definition

It is important to pick out a term or definition that is not a concrete object. For instance, most people can agree on the definition of cat or plane. One is a four-legged fur ball and the other is something that flies in the sky and gets people from point a to point b. This essay is easier to write if you select a less concrete or abstract topic that can be easily explained through your knowledge or experience. Terms like nihilism or honesty are great for essays like these.

Other Definition Essay Topics

  • Feminism
  • Talent
  • Freedom
  • Virtue
  • Leadership
  • Common Sense
  • Communism
  • Motherhood
  • Maturity
  • Intelligence

The Definition Essay’s Structure

  • Introduction ‒ This should include a generic definition of your term or even an attention grabbing fact. Then you can give a contradiction to your term to contrast it. End your introduction by giving your own definition of the term that you are going to expound upon throughout the rest of your essay.
  • Body ‒ In your essay’s body, you need to provide a few different points that construct your interpretation of the definition. You can provide background information but it isn’t necessary. Each point should have its own paragraph
    • Point 1: This will include the first component of your definition. You will need to give your analysis for how the example substantiates your definition.
    • Point 2: This is the second aspect of your term. Once again, give an example and provide analysis.
    • Point 3 etc. if necessary

  • Conclusion ‒ Your conclusion should give an overview of your above points. You can also explain how the definition has impacted your life. The attention grabber at the beginning of your essay can be brought back in to tie everything neatly together.

Definition Essay Examples

Most people might think that a feminist is just a man hater with short spiky hair that goes through the streets protesting every insignificant instance of possible sexism or misconduct. However, a more accepted version of feminism is simply any person, man or woman, who believes that women have the right to be equal with men. If this were better understood amongst the general population, more women would undoubtedly embrace this controversial term. To be a feminist means to not be a second class citizen and to be an intellectual equal on par with the rest of humankind…

The word intelligence brings visions of Albert Einstein or other smart men or women of science. However, I would more readily argue that intelligence should be measured in different areas and ways. It is not only important to be the smartest kid in class. It’s also important to have common sense as well as street smarts and social skills together with book intelligence. All of these key areas affect everyone’s life. Therefore, I would argue that schools and universities should not only be developing their students’ minds intellectually, but they should be building it within all of these other important spheres….
  • Spelling,Grammar,Punctuation
  • Plagiarism
  • Proper formatting


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