Descriptive Essay Writing

Dec 2, 2009 Filed under:Descriptive essays — admin @ 9:12 am

Descriptive Essay Writing

Most students are fairly familiar with using definitions and descriptions, and they’ve probably utilized this technique hundreds of times on tests. However, writing an effective definition/description essay can be a challenge because students tend to fall back on dictionary definitions and avoid using their own original thought processes. Therefore, this article will emphasize that students first understand the purposes of a definition essay. Just as importantly, this article will also cover the common pitfalls of student writers, such as using clichés and obvious definitions.

Starting a definition essay can be intimidating for composition students because they are accustomed to falling back on the dictionary for definitions, so this lesson will cover different writing strategies students can use to generate original ideas and make the writing process easier.

Formal vs. Informal Definition

During your educational experience, you’ve probably had to look up definitions hundreds of times. As you write your essays for your classes, you are no doubt accustomed to referring to textbook definitions to clarify terms you are unfamiliar with. When you refer to a dictionary, then, you are looking up what is called a formal definition, which is the explanation of a term using class and differentiation.

Definition is the term that is being explained, and in number one, the class is “the act of” and the differentiation is “defining a word, phrase, or term.” Essentially, this formal definition focuses on a specific term, classifies the type of term, and then shows how that term is different from other members of that class.

Although formal definitions are helpful for quickly knowing what a term means, these types of definitions don’t offer a detailed understanding of what the term signifies. Extended definitions are what you’ll be focusing on throughout the rest of this lesson, and they go beyond the dictionary’s explanation to explore a term’s significance, associations, private meanings, and personal experiences that you have with the term.

  • For example, the sample student essay defines a commonly known word, “honesty,” but goes beyond the formal definition most people would recognize. Instead, the author uses her personal association with the term to show how she came to a deeper understanding of what honesty really means. Judy Syfer’s essay “Why I Want a Wife” also defines the commonly understood term “wife” by looking at the significance of what the term means, the associations society connects with the term, and her own personal experiences with what the term connotes.

Extended definitions have several different purposes. The most common purpose is to inform the audience of a complex term.

  • For instance, Sean Kasugan’s essay “American Patriots: Soldiers, Citizens, Voters” informs the reader about the complex definition of what it means to be a patriot. In addition, definitions can be used to express the writer’s feelings and to tell of the writer’s experience.

Thirdly, definitions can be persuasive in nature. Sean Kasugan’s essay not only informs his audience of what patriotism means but also clearly establishes an argument with his main idea: “Being patriotic means that Americans must do the opposite: they must question their government.”