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The definition essay is about explaining what a term or phrase or such means. Simple, right? Well, it can be. More concrete items - things - have clear definite meanings; they are objective terms. A rose by any other name is still a rose. But things get a bit muddied when looking at abstract items - ideas or concepts. These do not have clear definite meanings; they are instead subjective terms. Here is where this type of paper can forward the word or phrase that is: abstract or ethereal (such as ‘beauty’), obscure (say what?), misunderstood (‘Like, do you get me, man?”), or one that is required for a particular discipline or area of study. An extended definition essay would be needed if the word, phrase or idea is really complex or if it is intended to persuade or entertain, etc.
You may want to define the thing in terms of its function, or structure, or its complete opposite, and so on. It will depend on what the thing is, what you want to say about it and how. Examples, anecdotes, stories work because this is how most of us assimilate information: they offer us a point of reference – a starting point from where our understanding can blossom. But remember who you are writing this for: your classmates will relate to stories about the local pub, but your professor probably won’t. A formal definition essay will have specifics that differ from an informal one. The extended definition essay may have specifics that are expected. So, before you get your hands dirty, make sure you check what is required of you in the assignment.