Sample Definition Essay Assignment

English 100                                               Essay 2: Argument of Definition (750 points

Writing Assignment

Definition is a challenging rhetorical mode.  Writing definitions, one might be asked to challenge a widely accepted definition, create a controversial definition, or try to figure out if something fits an existing definition.  For this assignment, I will require you to find at least two outside sources.

Using at least two library database, book, or ebook sources other than reference works or dictionaries, write a three-page (not counting the Works Cited) definition of a term or phrase in one of the following topics:

A) How has Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm altered the meaning of the Star Wars franchise?

B) Since Babilonia’s essay “The Celebrity Chef” has been written, argue for an expanded definition of the celebrity chef. With what added duties, concerns, activities does the contemporary celebrity chef concern herself?  (Don’t use my last sentence’s wording in your essay.)

C) Using several examples, define the ideal video game protagonist (hero or heroine). You may not reuse any sources, ideas, or examples from Essay 1.

D) Write an essay analyzing how conventional definitions of good and evil are called into question in O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”

E) Write an essay explaining how a group of workers you have observed, blue-collar or otherwise, appeared to understand and define some important aspect of their work. Refer in detail to individual members of the group and what they had to say. (Their ideas can be cited as personal interviews.)
F) Write a definition of Voodoo outlining the origins and traditional beliefs of this religion or cult. (Which is it, by the way? A good definition should explain.)  Remember that facts which aren’t common knowledge would get cited, and so would used patterns of source thinking.

Narrow your focus so your definition is more specific than “defining chefs.”  Include a thesis claim about the word being defined.


Write to argue, since you’re redefining a term readers believe they know.  Convince us that your claims about the definition are valid.  Your readers have a familiarity with the topics.  Do not retell them.  We’re not “proving” how _____ works, either!  Avoid the pitfall of writing an editorial or summarizing blandly.  What does the word argue?


Your instructor and classmates are your audience, as with Essay 1.

Additional Information

You may not use definitions in your introduction.  (Also, any cited definitions need quotes around used words—something a lot of writers neglect.)  No wikis are allowed.

Decide whether your essay will expand, reduce, or alter the meaning of a term.  You can adopt a surprising number of strategies for an argument of definition.  You will argue that your definition is the most valid one.  This means you are competing with other definitions.  Some writers try and expand our accepted definition while others attempt to limit a definition’s applications.

Here are some techniques you might use:

  1. Illustration
  2. Comparison and contrast
  3. Negation (saying what something is not)
  4. Analysis
  5. Explanations of a process (how something is measured or works)
  6. Identifications of causes or effects
  7. Simile, metaphor, or analogy
  8. Reference to authority
  9. Reference to the writer’s or others’ personal experience or observation
  10. Etymology (word origins)

Don’t Forget. . .

  • Avoid the overuse of I or you.
  • Only papers in MLA format are accepted. Arial and Times are accepted fonts.
  • Anticipate problems when you narrow the topic. Sharpen your focus so that you can do a three-page paper on the topic—it’s not a book or a one-page essay, either.  A paper that floats around in a topic too big for it receives a poor grade.
  • Focus on connotations (readers would bring) and denotations (dictionary definitions). These often clash or reveal boundaries of definitions.
  • Close non-examples are ways of bringing focus to an argument of definition.
  • If you use examples, make sure they connect to the definition and aren’t just used for shock effect.