Literacy Definition Essay Outline

LEO: Literacy Education Online

The Definition Essay


def-i-ni-tion (def' e-nish' en) n. 1. The act of defining a word, phrase, or term. 2. The act of making clear and distinct. 3. A determining of outline, extent, or limits.

Consider the following guidelines as you write your definition essay:

  • Make your essay personal, amusing, vigorous, stimulating, memorable.
  • Choose a generic topic rather than a specific topic. For example, write about churches but not Westminster Abbey.

Types of Definitions Traditionally Used in Definition Essays

Any combination of these traditional types of definitions can help clarify meaning for the reader of your definition essay:
  • Analysis: Divide the subject into parts and define each part separately.
  • Classification: According to dictionary definitions, what classes does the subject belong to?
  • Comparison: The unfamiliar may be defined by showing its likeness to the familiar or its difference from it.
  • Details: What are the physical characteristics, traditional thoughts, and other distinguishing attributes that describe the subject of the paper?
  • Examples and Incidents: Narrate illustrations that can clarify a group, theory, or object.
  • Negation: Mention what it is not in order to clear the ground for what it is.
  • Origins and Causes: Where did the subject come from? What is the background information? What is the history of the subject?
  • Results, Effects, and Uses: Discuss the consequences and uses of the subject.

Sample Definition Essay

What is This Thing Called Love?

A wise man once said that love is a wonderful thing. Although this statement leaves sparse room for argument, it does little to define what love is beyond the vague realm of wonderful. It is my duty as a devout romantic to embark upon the seemingly difficult task of defining love by looking at the history, explaining what love is not, and examining the uses of love and the results of that usage.

(Origin and Causes)

The origin of the word is probably the most logical place to start. As with many words in the English language, love is a derivative of the Latin word "causemajoraproblemus" which means "You're miserable when you got it and miserable when you don't." The word was created to explain the biological phenomenon that existed when certain individuals came into contact with each other and either remained together or went about their lives separately. Regardless of the outcome, the relationship was usuallycharacteristic of throat lumps, knotted stomaches, weak knees, temporary loss of language, sweaty palms, dizzyness, sneezing, and occasional nausea. Belligerent insanity also resulted. History clearly illustrates this. Can we ever forget the face that launched a thousand ships? Federally expressingVan Gogh's ear? The construction of Le Tour Eiffel? All of these were results of love and love lost.

(Negation)

Star-crossed lovers have stated that love is not hand nor foot nor any part belonging to a man. Matrimonial ceremonies also claim that love is not jealous or boastful. Let it be stated here that love also is not a gourmet dish, a domesticated animal, or a latest trend. Love is not a strategic defense mechanism nor the best kept secret at the Pentagon. Love is not another seasoning to bottle and stick on the dust-lined shelves of the spice rack. Love is not to be confused with adhesive tape.

Instead, love is a great counterpart to late, evening thunder storms on hot July nights. Love goes well with cold pizza on picnic blankets. Love is cold, wet sand between bare toes. Love is a capitalistic sell-all for novels, Top-40 pop songs, summer movies, and greeting cards.

In its simplest terms, love is a four-letter word. Much like other words of similar letter make up, when expressed it can evoke laughter, pleasure, pain, anger, and virtually any wave of reaction. Love also can be confused with feelings of indigestion and gas. Houses have been built, burned, and banished because of love.

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© 1995, 1996, 1997 The Write Place
This handout was written by Heidi Everett and revised for LEO by Judith Kilborn for the Write Place, St. Cloud State University. It may be copied for educational purposes only. If you copy this document, please include our copyright notice and the name of the writers; if you revise it, please add your name to the list of writers.

Last update: 17 September 2004

URL: http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/acadwrite/definition.html


A Literacy Narrative is a popular way for writers to talk about their relationship with reading, speaking, and writing. Many literacy narratives have been written and published by famous writers to help their audience get to know them. It is also commonly used as a first assignment for college composition courses. It gives students a chance to 1) introduce themselves to their teachers and their classmates, 2) reflect on their relationship with reading and writing in a positive way, and 3) develop an understanding of the impact of reading and writing on their life. Students often find that the assignment is enjoyable, and teachers often find they they enjoy reading literacy narratives. Think of it as a personal story.

What does it mean to be "literate"?

The first Merriam-Webster definition of literate is "able to read and write." Some instructors require that the literacy narrative remains true to this definition of literacy. Another definition of "literacy" is more comprehensive. It is "having knowledge or competence." A literacy narrative can cover literacy in either of these ways.

The second definition of "literacy" may include professional literacy, hobby-related literacy, language literacy, or many other types of broadened understanding of a subject brought on by its connection to language. It is that connection to language that the literacy narrative is concerned with. For example, you may be an athlete. Let's say you play soccer. Well, when did you learn what "off-sides" meant? How did you learn that phrase? What does it mean to "play D"? What is a "football pitch"? A literacy narrative might concern this type of relationship with language. One of the challenges of this type of literacy narrative is making sure that you stay on topic. In the above example, the topic is "soccer literacy," not "soccer." A paper about soccer misses the point. Again, some instructors strictly want a paper about reading and writing, not a paper that is thematically related to another topic. Make sure to clear that with your instructor.

What is a narrative?

The other part of a literacy narrative is the emphasis on narrative. The paper must tell a story. It must have a plot. It must have a theme. It must mean something. It is an opportunity to share a story about your life with others.

This also means that the point of the paper is not to simply list important terminology or explain the meaning of certain words. It is also not to list the books you've read or talk about the poems your wrote. The narrative should talk about what you did and what it means to you in terms of your personal literacy journey.

How does a literacy narrative fit into the real world?

A literacy narrative is an important document detailing individual journeys with being literate. Since we've already established that "literate" and "literacy" have broad definitions, it's easy to see how a literacy narrative is about more than just a story about a person learning the alphabet or learning to read, write, and speak.

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