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 One of Three:
Choosing the Right Word Edit
Choose an abstract word with a complex meaning.  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.
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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.
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.
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.”  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.
Research the word’s origins. Look up your chosen word in the Oxford English Dictionary or in another etymology dictionary. 
- 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.
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.
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. 
- Do not repeat part of the defined term in your definition.
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.
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.
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.
Hayley Capp, winner of the 2013 QS Leadership Scholarship. shares her top tips on how to write a winning scholarship application essay .
There is no one way to write a winning scholarship application. If you gathered together all the scholarship entries that have ever won a prize, you would find it difficult to identify what made them the same. Each would offer a distinctive style employed by the author; a unique insight into his or her past, present and future aspirations.
This uniqueness is the key, and the first point to remember when you pick up your pen to write. Make your scholarship application essay exclusive to you, personalize it, delve deep into your passion and drive to study your subject, and create a response that could only ever relate to you. It is this individuality that stands out, and that’s exactly what catches a judge’s eye and defines a winner.
I won the 2013 QS Leadership Scholarship. so will base my guidance on my own thought process when shaping my application essay. However, the basic principles that I highlight with this example can be extracted and applied to other scholarship essay writing processes.
1. Read and re-read the essay statement you are being asked to respond to, and identify the key themes.
From my own example, the essay statement was: ‘Where I have demonstrated responsible leadership, or innovation, and how it made a difference either in my community or in my work’. I identified the key themes as ‘leadership’ and ‘community impact’.
2. Understand the meaning of the key themes.
After identifying the key themes, it is important to understand what each of these ideas really means, beyond the initial level. For instance, I acknowledged that the meaning of ‘leadership’ involved identifying the effects my leadership had – the actions taken and results achieved under my leadership – and not simply describing the position I held and my responsibilities. The more depth you bring to your understanding of the meaning of each theme, the more examples you will be able to identify to demonstrate your abilities.
3. Fill your scholarship essay with keywords/synonyms of keywords used in the scholarship statement.
Using the keywords from the scholarship statement throughout your essay will demonstrate your commitment to addressing the question being asked. For instance, I made a special effort to ensure references to ‘leadership’; ‘innovation’ and ‘impacting communities’ ran throughout my essay.
4. Make an engaging start to your essay.
If you are struggling to start your scholarship application essay, why not include a quote or statement that relates to your intended course, and which you can later link to the main body of your text. Showing wider knowledge and aptitude for your subject will help convince the judges that it is a worthwhile investment to support you in your chosen course.
5. Understand the criteria used by the scholarship committee to evaluate application essays.
Based on my own experience, I have outlined what I believe to be the key criteria used by scholarship committee judges for evaluating scholarship application essays on the themes of leadership and community impact. My advice would be to address all of these areas in your essay, whether the question explicitly asks for it or not.
What to include in scholarship essays about leadership:
- The extent of the leadership experience and degree of accomplishment. What were the results? Did you manage to grow a society from 10 to 100 members through your tenure?
- Why you got involved in the leadership experience. What was your initial inspiration and how did the experience make you feel? This is a very important aspect as it allows you to show your sincerity and demonstrates your passion.
- What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them. Inspirational stories of perseverance despite adversity make readers (especially judges) want to help you succeed. It also shows that you have great leadership qualities: the ability to adapt to new situations and the determination to not give up.
- What did you learn. How did these lessons shape you as a leader? Every experience brings new lessons and personal growth opportunities and the best leaders are humble and realize this. Speaking about these lessons indicates that you have truly reflected on your experiences and that you understand what leadership is. (In other words, you know that leadership isn’t just about getting a title like “President” or “Executive Director”.)
- What does this mean for the future. A scholarship isn’t just an award; it’s an investment in your future. So if you plan to continue being involved in your particular leadership activity in the future, tell the judges.
What to include in scholarship essays about community impact:
- How much time did you dedicate to the activity? The scholarship committee is likely to be looking for applicants who made a fairly long commitment to a community activity.
- Why was it important to you? Joy from helping others? Excitement of trying something new? Opportunity to form relationships with others? Having a genuine reason helps build a convincing essay.
- Why was it important to the community? Ask the question: What would be different for your community if you didn’t do what you do? It is most important to show that you recognize the real needs in your communities, and act to address these.
- What did you gain yourself through giving to the community? It is important to show that you understand how through giving, you end up receiving more in the end. Sharing what community service has taught you and how it helped you develop demonstrates that you have truly gained from your participation and suggests you will continue doing so in the future.
My final point of advice when writing your scholarship application essay is to really show that you know who you are. What are the relevant past and present experiences that demonstrate your abilities and where are you headed? Use carefully selected language to emphasize your passion, ambition and enthusiasm and remember to adopt a positive mindset, in which you believe in all the great things you have done and plan to continue achieving in the future. If you don’t believe in yourself, why would the judges?
Hayley Capp is the winner of the 2013 QS Leadership Scholarship. Covering up to US$10,000 of course fees for a graduate program, the scholarship is awarded to the applicant best able to demonstrate his/her ability to use entrepreneurial and leadership skills to make a positive impact on a community.
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