Writing and Revising a Multi-paragraph Definition Essay

Learning Objective:

  • Develop a thesis and write a multi-paragraph definition essay.

In this lesson, you will learn how to write a definition essayA writing that explains a term or concept using a variety of techniques such as research, statistics, historical and popular references, comparisons, abstractions, and other ideas., which is a common assignment in the college classroom. It is a tool for instructors to measure your understanding of a subject. While this type of essayA short piece of writing that focuses on at least one main idea. Some essays are also focused on the author's unique point of view, making them personal or autobiographical, while others are focused on a particular literary, scientific, or political subject. may include both formal definitionsThe meaning of a word that consists of three parts: the term, the part of speech to which it belongs, and all the traits or characteristics that set it apart from every other item in that class. and informal definitionsThe meaning of a word that is explained using known words or examples to define an unknown term. These definitions may be synonyms or antonyms introduced by or, in other words, or like., overall it falls in the category of an extended definitionThe meaning of an idea or word that has components of both informal and formal definitions, but is presented in a longer, paragraph format. . For this essay, you will use the following six steps to develop an introductionThe first paragraph of an essay. It must engage the reader, set the tone, provide background information, and present the thesis., thesisAn overall argument, idea, or belief that a writer uses as the basis for a work., and supporting paragraphsA selection of a writing that is made up of sentences formed around one main point. Paragraphs are set apart by a new line and sometimes indentation. (you will not be expected to write a conclusion in this lesson):

  1. Understand the assignment.
  2. Gather ideas.
  3. Create a working thesis.
  4. Develop paragraphs that support your thesis.
  5. Write an introduction.
  6. Revise your essay.

Step 1: Understand the assignment.

You could write the most beautiful essay and still fail an assignment because you did not understand it. Be sure to read your syllabusA guide to a class that includes the instructor's expectations, the topics the class will cover, and the texts that are used. and assignment guideline sheets so that you know what type of essay you need to write. If you wait to look at these until after you finish your essay, you may find that you will need to start the assignment all over again or at least reviseThe process of making changes to a work by editing and proofreading it to improve, correct, and increase clarity. it significantly.

Step 2: Gather ideas.

The next step in developing an essay is knowing what your topicThe subject of a reading. is and gathering ideas about it. It is a good idea to research your topic to gain some ideas of how you want to approach the topic. Then, brainstorm ways to help someone else understand what the term you are trying to define means. OutliningA preliminary plan for a piece of a writing, often in the form of a list. It should include a topic, audience, purpose, thesis statement, and main and supporting points. , freewritingA prewriting technique where the author begins writing without regard to spelling or grammar about ideas, topics, or even characters, descriptions of events, and settings. Often the writer will freewrite for a set period of time. The objective is to develop a storyline through the writing process itself., clusteringA prewriting technique where the author creates an informal visual layout of possible ideas, grouping them together. The objective is to create visual clusters of information on which to base a writing., mind mappingA prewriting technique where the author brainstorms and writes down his or her ideas by grouping and connecting ideas into a type of visual map., and listingA prewriting technique where the author writes down ideas in categorized lists in order to gather ideas. are all good ways to develop ideas. As you gather ideas, try to think in new ways, searching for new and interesting thoughts. Remember, your instructor will want to know how you define your topic, so while reading others' ideas is a good place to start, in the end, it is your definition that counts.

Step 3: Create a working thesis.

After you have gathered some ideas, construct a tentative thesis statementAn early form of a thesis statement that can be developed into a more formal thesis statement by creating supporting details.. Remember, your thesis may change as you write. If all your supporting detailsStatements within a reading that tie directly to major details that support the main idea. These can be provided in examples, statistics, anecdotes, definitions, descriptions, or comparisons within the work. seem to point to a main ideaThe most important or central thought of a reading selection. It also includes what the author wants the reader to understand about the topic he or she has chosen to write about. other than your thesis, feel free to adjust your thesis accordingly. In a definition essay, your thesis statementA brief statement that identifies a writer's thoughts, opinions, or conclusions about a topic. Thesis statements bring unity to a piece of writing, giving it a focus and a purpose. You can use three questions to help form a thesis statement: What is my topic? What am I trying to say about that topic? Why is this important to me or my reader? should include the term, idea, or concept that you are trying to define and the main point that you want to make about it.

Step 4: Develop paragraphs that support your thesis.

Once you have a tentative thesis, you need to support it. Pick one or two of the ideas you created in Step 2 that best relate to your thesis and use them as your major supporting detailsStatements within a reading that tie directly to the work's main idea. These can be provided in examples, statistics, anecdotes, definitions, descriptions, or comparisons within the work.. These will make up the topic sentencesA sentence that contains the controlling idea for an entire paragraph and is typically the first sentence of the paragraph. of your supporting paragraphs. If all the ideas from Step 2 relate equally, consider choosing the ones that you know the most about and that interest you. Writing tends to be easier when you have a better grasp of a topic and enjoy writing about it. Once you have chosen your major supporting details, you may need to do some more brainstorming to develop the minor supporting detailsSmaller statements within a reading that tie directly to major details. for each paragraph. Remember that the overall goal is to show how these ideas relate to the thesis.

Step 5: Write an introduction.

Once you revise your thesis statement so it aligns with the topic sentences in the supporting paragraphs, you are ready to develop your introduction. Begin with an attention-getting hookIn writing, a device used to grab a readers' attention, often in the form of interesting, surprising, or provocative information., give some background on your topic in a general way, and then incorporate your thesis statement into the flow of the paragraph. An introductory paragraphThe first paragraph of an essay. It must engage the reader, set the tone, provide background information, and present the thesis. has many important roles. It must engage the reader, set the toneThe feeling or attitude that a writer expresses toward a topic. The words the writer chooses express this tone. Examples of tones can include: objective, biased, humorous, optimistic, and cynical, among many others. , provide background information, and present the thesis.

Step 6: Revise your essay.

Once you write your introduction, you are ready to revise your essay. Remember that revision involves adding or deleting ideas in each paragraph and possibly reorganizing the order of the paragraphs themselves. You will editThe process of improving a writing by reviewing content and making changes that affect its overall meaning and clarity. and proofreadThe process of carefully searching a writing draft for mistakes at the sentence- and word-level in order to correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. at the sentence level when you are done revising. To revise your essay, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Have I followed the assignment?

(Should my details be more relevant to my topic?)

  1. Is this a definition essay? Have I defined a term in some way?

(Have I shown how specific details apply to my topic?)

  1. Does the bodyThe main portion of a writing that contains the main ideas and supporting details of the writing. This is where the author's purpose and thesis statement are supported and/or developed. of the essay support my thesis?

(Are these details factual and pertinent?)

  1. Is all my support relevant?

(Notice where there are notes to myself to add specifics for relevance.)

  1. Do I need more or less support?

(Check to add material or delete any details that do not support the thesis.)

  1. Have I included the transitionsTying two events, passages, or pieces of information together in a smooth way. In writing, transitions are sometimes called links. necessary to guide the reader from point to point?

(Check to improve the transition between the introductory paragraph and paragraph two.)

  1. Does my introduction hook the reader and provide adequate background and introduction to my topic?

(Is the hook relevant and interesting enough to grab the reader's attention?)

Revising is almost as important as drafting the essay. It is in the revision stage that writers deepen their thinking and refine their writing. If possible, allow plenty of time between drafting and revising so that you bring a fresh view to your draft. This fresh look can help you to spot an unsupported thesis or places where you may have wandered from your main point. This is also the time to check your sources again for accuracy and relevance, and check grammar, spelling, and punctuationMarks such as such as a comma (,), period (.), question mark (?), and exclamation mark (!), among others, that help break a writing into phrases, clauses, and sentences. Different types of punctuation marks give the reader different impressions of the writer’s purpose in that sentence..