POINTS: This essay is worth 100 points, 10% of your final grade for the course.

FORMAT: Your essay must be in MLA format as detailed in your syllabus and the MLA Format Information document posted in the course.

LENGTH : Minimum of 3 full pages, maximum 4, not counting the works cited page. Do not pad the language to reach the page length. The pages should be packed with meaningful language; avoid unnecessary or repetitive phrases (like “needless to say,” “in my opinion,” etc.). Use descriptive and creative language; but make the paper concise and edit out words or phrases that are irrelevant or redundant.

SOURCES : Your essay should have at least 2 sources listed in the works cited page and noted in the body of the essay with in-text citations, some of which must be written as parentheticals . Include at least two direct quotations .

While you are welcome to use a dictionary definition in your paper, remember that dictionaries do not have to be cited and therefore will not count as a source. Often, definition arguments will begin with a literal, dictionary definition that the writer will then argue against or prove as incomplete. In that case, just identify the dictionary you use by naming it in your sentence, and then write quotation marks around exact words you took from it.

The sources that count must be credible (no Wikipedia, blog sites, etc.). You may want to use internet sources (from sites that end in .org or .edu or can otherwise be shown to be reputable), books, magazines, or newspapers. Personal interviews and quotes from popular culture sources such as movies, song lyrics, authors, etc., are also acceptable but should be used in combination with more academic sources. Also, be sure that all sources are relevant and add substance and support to your argument.

NOTE : If you need help citing sources, please review the documents posted in the course “Research” folder and/or the relevant chapters in the textbook. Writing tutors are also available to help you with source citations (which will earn extra credit points for you), and I will be happy to help if you email me with questions. Please do NOT just list website addresses at the end of your paper and consider your sources to be cited because that is not enough to protect you from plagiarism, and you will earn a ZERO on your paper. If you have not worked with MLA source documentation before, do your best to follow the guidelines in the documents posted online and the MLA section of the textbook, and I’ll be glad to give feedback on your paper that will help you in your future essays. Each source used in the paper (whether the information is written as a direct quotation or paraphrased) must have a source entry on the works cited page AND be cited in the text (body) of the essay. For a brief review of how source documentation works, see the information in the Research section of our course: “Brief Overview of Source Documentation” and “MLA Works Cited: How to Write Source Entries for Common Source Types.”


Construct an argument for a definition of a word, term, or short phrase. Your essay should contain the basic elements of argumentative writing, including a clear, debatable claim statement, good reasons, evidence that supports your claim and appeals to the reader, and an acknowledgement of counterargument, which in this case will address definitions that you feel are incorrect or oppose the definition you are arguing. Review the information on the Structure of an Argument document posted in the Essays folder. Be sure to provide details and use a voice and tone that is appropriate to the message you are conveying. Be organized and think about the arrangement of your ideas so that your work will be compelling.

Review the assigned pages from the textbook for help with generating topic choices, formulating your claim, developing ideas, etc. Also, be sure to read the Announcements page in our course as more info gets posted there about how to approach the essay. Feel free to use any topic ideas given in the book, but do not use the specific claims given as examples in the book; all of your work should be original. Begin your work early to be sure that you will have time to revise, edit, and proofread.


Most words have multilayered meanings, and what a single term means to one group may not be the same idea embraced by another forum. Often, clarifying or establishing what a word denotes (means) or connotes (implies) requires detailing and defending a definition through a written argument. Also, definition is an important rhetorical tool because, when used alone or along with other strategies, it allows a writer to clarify terms, to set boundaries, and to shape the limits of an argument.

With these ideas in mind, choose a term and think about ways you can shape, clarify, and defend its definition. You can choose an idea from the list below, choose a topic mentioned in the textbook, OR come up with your own word or term to define.

Use the Guide for Writing Arguments of Definition in Chapter 9 of your textbook for more ideas and help.

Do NOT write definitions for “love” or “success.” Those are off-limits topics for this paper, so any essay that is solely focused on defining those terms will be given a zero. That said, if you feel like you can make an original, unique, and insightful topic related to one of those, email me so we can discuss it. The problem is that it’s too easy to oversimplify definitions of those words; your paper should instead make an original argument.

Remember: Do not make an argument that most people already agree with! The topic is not an argument unless a valid, reasonable counterargument can also be made.

Some suggestions / ideas:

Social Justice WarriorPolitical correctnessObscenityCultural appropriation

AllyFree SpeechPornographyCritical Race Theory


LiberalCode-SwitchingRape cultureSexual harassment

The American DreamCheatingAddictionVirtue signaling

Cancel cultureDisciplineTerrorismCo-dependence

Almost any term you think of (especially if you hear it misused or debated in the media or with people you know OR if you can think of an argument that is related to how the word is understood) will work for the assignment, so think of something related to your own interests. The important thing is that your argument must be debatable, which means there must be a valid opposite to your side that is also reasonable .

Good luck, and choose a topic you will enjoy writing about; your work will be stronger if you can have some fun with it!

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