The Definition Essay

Project #2: The Definition Essay

This project asks you to write a 4-5 page essay in which you make a case for defining a term in a specific way.

How to do it: 

  • Keep a double entry notebook during the weeks you’re composing the project
  • Choose one term you think is important for people to understand, a term perhaps many misunderstand or understand in a non-constructive way, and define that term convincingly.
  • Organize your definition in a 4-5 page essay (with examples, sources, and citations)

What’s the point:

  • Words are meaning-gatherers. They are constantly moving, shifting, forming and re-forming, constantly working. This project invites you to scrutinize the way one word in your life is working. Perhaps it’s a word you’ve taken for granted (most words work meanings we take for granted). By investigating the word—who uses it (who has used it in the past), under what circumstances, to do what, why—you might gain some control over how that word works on you and on the people in your life.


  • Minimum: 4-5 pages, double spaced, TNR, 12 point font, 1’’ margins, with title and appropriate citations, of organized writing that clearly, sensibly, and with some insight thinks through an extended definition of a term or phrase. (B)
  • More than minimum: Provide a portfolio of work (scraps of paper, sketches, drafts of paragraphs, sentences, recorded conversations, notebook entries, paper drafts, etc.) documenting the thinking that leads to 4-5 pages of organized writing. This writing works out an extended definition of a term or phrase and is iterated with clarity and cogency (or working towards it). This paper, and/or the accompanying portfolio material, also documents an evolution in your understanding of a definition, or challenges implicitly accepted understandings of a definition, in interesting and compelling ways. (> B)

Assessment Date:

  • Week 10 (October 22, 23, 24)
  • Upload paper to iCollege by Friday 19 October, midnight.
  • Email Mrs. A: What did you think about this project and why? What is it doing for you or not? Why do you think so? How did you do on the project? Does it achieve the project goals? Does the work qualify as “A” quality work? Why or why not? What grade does the work achieve and why do you say so?
  • In preparation for our conference, go back and read your notebook’s left-side notes. Count each entry and record the number. Move some of your notes to the other side of the notebook: consider: what is your mind doing? **You might use the back of the page for these reflections: When do you find something surprising or interesting happening in your writing? Is reading the writing easy? Clear? When is the writing confusing or muddled? Why do you think so? Bring your notebook to our meeting.