60 Writing Topics: Extended Definition

Writing Suggestions for a Definition Paragraph, Essay, or Speech

extended definition
How would you define trust?. Tom Merton/Getty Images

Simply put, a definition is a statement of the meaning of a word or phrase. An extended definition, however, goes beyond what can be found in a dictionary, offering an expanded analysis and illustration of a concept that may be abstract, controversial, unfamiliar, or frequently misunderstood. Take, for example, writings such as William James' "Pragmatic Theory of Truth" or John Berger's "The Meaning of Home."

Approaching the Abstract

Abstract concepts, like many of the broad terms in the list below, need to be "brought to earth" with an example to relate what they mean to your reader and get your point or opinion across. Illustrate the concepts with an anecdote from your personal life, an example from the news or current events, or write an opinion piece, for example. There's no single method for developing and organizing a paragraph or essay by extended definition. The 60 concepts listed here can be defined in various ways and from different points of view.

Brainstorming and Prewriting

Start with brainstorming your topic. If you work well with lists, write the word at the top of the paper and fill it with all the things that the word makes you think of, feel, see, or even smell, without stopping. It's OK to go off on tangents, as you may find a surprising connection that could make a powerful, insightful, or even humorous essay. Alternatively, brainstorm by writing the word in the middle of your paper, and connect other related words to it and them.

As you develop your angle, think about the concept's background, features, characteristics, and parts. What's is the concept's opposite? What are its effects on you or others? Something in your list or word map will spark a writing idea or theme to use to illustrate the abstract concept, and then it's off to the races. And if you start falsely the first time, just go back to your list and pick another idea. It's possible your first draft attempt turns out to be prewriting and leads to a better idea that can be developed further and can possibly even incorporate the prewriting exercise. Time spent writing is time spent exploring and is never wasted, as sometimes it takes a bit of pursuit to discover the perfect idea.

If seeing some examples will help spark your essay, take a look at "Gifts," by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Gore Vidal's "Definition of Prettiness," or "A Definition of Pantomime," by Julian Barnes.

60 Topic Suggestions: Extended Definitions

Looking for a place to start? Here's a list of 60 words and phrases so broad that writings on them could be infinite:

  1. Trust
  2. Kindness
  3. Sexism
  4. Gumption
  5. Racism
  6. Sportsmanship
  7. Honor
  8. Modesty
  9. Self-assurance
  10. Humility
  11. Dedication
  12. Sensitivity
  13. Peace of mind
  14. Respect
  15. Ambition
  16. Right to privacy
  17. Generosity
  18. Laziness
  19. Charisma
  20. Common sense
  21. Team player
  22. Maturity
  23. Integrity
  24. Healthy appetite
  25. Frustration
  26. Optimism
  27. Sense of humor
  28. Liberal
  29. Conservative
  30. A good (or bad) teacher or professor
  31. Physical fitness
  32. Feminism
  33. A happy marriage
  34. True friendship
  35. Courage
  36. Citizenship
  37. Success
  38. A good (or bad) coach
  39. Intelligence
  40. Personality
  41. A good (or bad) roommate
  42. Political correctness
  43. Peer pressure
  44. Leadership
  45. Persistence
  46. Responsibility
  47. Human rights
  48. Sophistication
  49. Self-respect
  50. Heroism
  51. Thrift
  52. Sloth
  53. Vanity
  54. Pride
  55. Beauty
  56. Greed
  57. Virtue
  58. Progress
  59. A good (or bad) boss
  60. A good (or bad) parent