Typical Mistakes when Choosing Definition Essay Topics
A definition essay is exactly what it says on the tin – it is a paper where you provide a clear and straightforward definition of a word, a term, a concept, or an idea. Definition essay topics can differ wildly, and their choice is only limited by the prompt assigned to you by your instructor and your own ability to be creative and think of unusual ideas. However, many students have a rather vague understanding of how to write such a text – they either misunderstand how detailed their definition is supposed to be or do not get how they should structure their writing. Even studying multiple examples is often not enough to get good at this sort of thing. Do you want to know what mistakes you should avoid when selecting topics for your definition essay? Then read on.
1. Trying to Be Funny
Do not get us wrong – humor in your essay can do you a world of good, simply because the majority of students are likely to make their papers completely formal and straight-faced. A well-written joking definition can be interesting, precise, and clever. However, the keyword here is “well-written”. Not everybody is cut out to be good at joking, and it is not something you can learn simply by reading a sample or two of such essays and trying to imitate them. If you try to be funny but fail, you will achieve the effect that is opposite to what you want. There is nothing more depressing than a writer that spews paragraph after paragraph of unfunny jokes, genuinely believing that the readers are being entertained.
2. Choosing Too Broad or Too Narrow a Term to Define
When you pick a term to analyze and define in your essay, you should maintain a balance between picking a fundamental concept that philosophers have been trying to work out for generations (for example, what is love? Or the meaning of life? Or God? Explain it in 500 words or less!) and choosing something you can effortlessly define in a sentence or two and that does not require any further elaboration. Think about some concrete object, like a table or a knife – while you can tell a lot of interesting things about their uses, their history, and how they tend to look and be used in different cultures, you can specify what these words mean in a couple of simple sentences. There is nothing to elaborate on them.
3. Choosing a Term You Cannot Explore Creatively
If you do it, you will have to copy a definition from somewhere word for word, as there is nothing you can say about the subject matter on your own. While technically you will meet the requirements of your task this way, it is going to be plagiarism, and plagiarism is about the worst thing you can do as an academic writer. Do not do it, period, and always check your papers with online plagiarism checkers before you submit them lest your writing accidentally repeats something written somewhere else. You are given this assignment not to give a precise definition of the term in question (your instructor knows it without you), but to demonstrate your ability to analyze information and express your thoughts in a coherent manner.
4. Failing to Write an Outline
Many students believe that a definition essay is too straightforward a task to require an outline or a plan, and one can easily write it without preparation. Usually, it is a sign of overconfidence – just like with any other kind of writing, you can forget about something, miss certain details, or mix things up. Sometimes it may even be a good idea to prepare a preliminary draft before moving on to writing the essay properly. Anyway, if you are interested in getting a good grade, an outline is always a good idea.
5. Choosing a Term You Cannot Explain without Delving Deep into the Subject Matter
Some terms and concepts are not exactly difficult, complex, or obscure, but require one to have certain preliminary knowledge to understand them. You cannot define them without first providing definitions for a dozen other terms and giving the reader a crash course in the discipline in question. Such a degree of detail and additional information is often not an option when you write an essay of a fairly limited size. Try to look for something you can explain and define without having to resort to such measures.
While writing a definition essay may look like a rather simple task compared to many other essay types, it is still quite challenging, especially if you do not have much experience in this field and do not have time to prepare. We hope that with the help of this article you will be able to avoid the worst mistakes you may suffer from.