Use A Dictionary 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.

What is a Definition Essay?

A definition essay is writing that explains what a term means. Some terms have definite, concrete meanings, such as glass, book, or tree. Terms such as honesty, honor, or love are abstract and depend more on a person's point of view.

Three Steps to Effective Definition

  1. Tell readers what term is being defined.
  2. Present clear and basic information.
  3. Use facts, examples, or anecdotes that readers will understand.

Choosing a Definition

Choosing a definition is a key step in writing a definition essay. You need to understand the term before you can define it for others. Read the dictionary, but don't just copy the definition. Explain the term briefly in your own words. Also, it's important to limit your term before you start defining it. For example, you could write forever on the term "love." To limit it, you would write about either "romantic love," "platonic love," or "first love."

Thesis Statement of a Definition Essay

The thesis statement usually identifies the term being defined and provides a brief, basic definition.

(term) (basic definition)

Ex: Assertiveness is standing up for your rights.

How To Write an Effective Definition

  1. Create a definition. There are several ways to define a term. Here are a few options.
    • Define by function. Explain what something does or how something works.
    • Define by structure. Tell how something is organized or put together.
    • Define by analysis. Compare the term to other members of its class and then illustrate the differences. These differences are special characteristics that make the term stand out. For example, compare a Siberian husky to other dogs, such as lap dogs, mutts, or sporting dogs.

      (term) (precise definition)

      Ex: A Siberian husky is a dog reputed for its ability to tolerate cold, its distinctive features, and its keen strength and stamina.

    • Define by what the term does not mean. This distinction can sometimes clarify a definition and help a reader to better understand it.
  2. Use understandable facts, examples, or anecdotes. Select facts, examples, or anecdotes to fully explain your definition. Ask yourself, "Which examples will best help readers understand the term? What examples would most appeal to my readers? Will a brief story reveal the term's meaning?" Do not use any examples that will not support the definition.

Remember: A definition essay is writing that explains what a term means. When writing a definition essay, remember to tell readers what term is being defined, to present a clear and basic definition, and to use facts, examples, or anecdotes that readers will understand

Here are the examples of popular definition essay topics:

  • Kindness
  • Sense of Humor
  • Love
  • ...

Whatever essay topic you choose, you should be interested in the subject and familiar with it. It would be great if you had your personal experience in the matter you are going to define.

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