Definition Essay

Essay #3: Definition Argument: 4-5 pages, or 1000-2000 words


The third major writing assignment of the semester will be a definition argument. In a definition argument, you take a specific case (object, situation, person) and argue whether or not it falls into a specific category or not. The definition argument topic has to be BOTH arguable AND consequential: for whatever topic you choose, you will have to ask yourself:

  1. Could someone credibly argue, with reasons and evidence, that the specific case (object, situation, person) does NOT fit into the category you are assigning it? (or DOES fit, if you are taking the “does not fit” position)
  2. Are there consequences (ethical, legal, financial, social) involved in putting the case (object, situation, person) in the category in question? What are they?

You’ll also need to cover those two questions in the paper itself. To give you some examples of categories that could work if you supply an object, situation, or person as a case, see the following list:


  • Plagiarism
  • Marriage material
  • Arbitrary and capricious grading
  • Sexist
  • Racist
  • Academic
  • Accurate predictors of college success
  • Sensationalist
  • Middle class
  • Working class
  • Poor
  • Wealthy
  • Invasion of privacy
  • College-ready



A successful definition argument will:

  • Make a categorical claim that is both arguable and consequential: whether a specific case does or does not fall into the category you are dealing with
  • Provide a thorough description of the case you are analyzing
  • State criteria that must be met (a thorough definition of the category you are focusing on, plus the consequences of putting the case in that category)
  • Explain, using specific evidence and details, why your case does or does not fall into the category
  • Summarize and refute counterarguments: different definitions of your category and different interpretations of your case
  • NOT use a definition from a nonacademic dictionary (,, etc.) but rather a specialized dictionary or reference source from the library (legal, economic, etc.) or the Oxford English Dictionary – available via the library’s databases
  • Demonstrate academic standards of formatting: MLA format


Course objectives emphasized in this assignment:

  • Engage in writing as a recursive process
  • Develop essays around a specific purpose
  • Explore the nature of academic discourse and examine what counts as evidence in academic writing


Using Outside courses:

  • Integrate outside sources into their own writing
  • Apply the appropriate conventions of citation style and mechanics






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