How To Write An Definition Essay

In a definition essay, you explain the meaning of a certain term by giving a detailed description of it, and support your definition with clear examples or facts. Such explanations are needed if a term is special, abstract, disputed, or does not have a common meaning. For instance, individuals can interpret the definition of the words ‘freedom’ or ‘abuse’ quite differently.

Steps for Writing a Definition Essay

  1. Choose a term you want to define, and introduce it to your readers. This can be done in several ways, but your main goal at the outset is to indicate the contents of your paper clearly.
  2. Use several sources (dictionaries or encyclopedias) to see how the term you have chosen is usually defined. Then, think of a way to combine or merge them to give your own, unique definition.
  3. Present the term you’ve chosen to your readers in the introductory part of your paper.
  4. In the main body paragraphs, provide your readers with information about the term. Along with your own description, you can point out some cases in which this term is used, as well as historical information about its origins and the evolution of its use in literature. Also, you can highlight any common mistakes in its definition.
  5. Think of a couple of sound examples that will fully illustrate and explain your definition.

Definition Essay Topics

There are plenty of terms we use every day. Many of them are clear to almost everybody, but still there is a vast body of abstract or scientific terms that can become a topic of discussion. While all of us know what a phone, TV, or dog is, concepts such as happiness, faith, love, or calmness may be difficult for some people to grasp. Some terms that could be chosen as a topic for your definition essay are listed below:

  • Laziness
  • Success
  • Marriage
  • Family
  • Real estate
  • Attitude
  • Love
  • Religion
  • Christianity
  • Endurance
  • Love
  • God
  • Hatred
  • Beauty
  • Morale
  • Good and evil
  • Enlightenment
  • Happiness
  • Confidence
  • Intelligence

Key Points to Consider

  1. Giving a definition is not just copying what has been written in other dictionaries. If you cannot define a new meaning for some concept on your own, then use the definition that already exists, but give your own interpretation of it.
  2. Choose terms you understand, or ones that have impacted your own personal experience. Do not try to define a term you don’t understand, or else you will confuse your readers with the wrong explanation.
  3. You can define a term by explaining its functions, structure, or nature. You can also define the term by specifying what it does not mean, or by comparing it with other members of the same class of words and emphasizing the differences.
  4. Follow a determined structure. It would be logical to present your term in the introduction, give extended explanations in the main body paragraphs, and end with brief conclusions.

Do and Don’t

  • Do narrow the term if it has an excessively wide meaning. For instance, you might need to write many pages to define the term ‘fear’ adequately, but if you limit your topic to ‘panic fear,’ it will be much easier for you to craft your essay.
  • Do look for solid transitions to connect the parts of your essay together.
  • Do try to think of a definition that would be uniquely yours. Don’t be afraid to be creative in giving non-standard explanations—that approach should be encouraged.
  • Do proofread your essay carefully to avoid factual mistakes.
  • Don’t use definitions like: ‘X is when’ or ‘Y is where.’ Try to make you definitions look more scientific. For example, compare these two definitions: “Totalitarianism is when the state tries to control the society” and “Totalitarianism is a political regime which presumes that the state holds authority over society and controls various aspects of its life such as….”
  • Don’t try to write a paper on too narrow of a topic or a well-known, obvious term.
  • Do not write in an overly-detailed manner. However, don’t be too brief either. Consider the word limit of your essay before you begin writing.
  • Don’t repeat the defined term within the bounds of the definition itself. No one will appreciate your prose if you write along the lines of “Swine flu is a flu that people can catch from swines.”

Common Mistakes When Writing a Definition Essay

– Trying to define a term that is too broad in scope for the essay.

– Forgetting to emphasize the term that one is defining. In this case, it may be hard for readers to understand what your essay is ultimately about.

– Writing about terms that are well-known and which do not have conflicting interpretations.

– Ignoring the necessity of examples. No matter how detailed and clear your definition is, without concrete examples, it may be difficult for readers to understand how or when a certain term should be used.

– Copying the existing definition word-by-word. Instead, reinterpret the meaning. Do not be afraid to use your own thoughts for a new, unique definition.

Now that you have acquainted yourself with the basic definition essay writing tips and rules, you can check out our definition essay samples to link theory with practice.

Did you like this guide / sample?

Sign up and we’ll send you ebook of 1254 samples like this for free!

  • 80+ essay types
  • 1000+ essay samples
  • Pro writing tips

Samples for Writing a Definition Essay

The True Meaning of Absurd

The term absurd is used when an individual faces an occurrence that is beyond his or her comprehension, when he or she is anxious, or cannot deal with a certain issue (Fen 23). It would be rather fair to say that, in many cases, people avoid makin...


The word “zombie” is not as clear cut as one might think. It can infer a fictional, undead creature, a state of stupor, or an act of mindless devotion. The term has been a part of popular culture the world over for over a century. Not only is a zombie ...


A conserved quantity of motion Your first encounter with the conservation of momentum may have come as a small child unjustly confined to a shopping cart. You spot something interesting to play with, like the display case of imported wine down ...

What is a definition essay

A definition essay is a type of essay in which you have to explain the word due to its general meaning, historical background, and cultural perception.

First step: choose the word for your definition essay

To define the word using criteria mentioned above it`s better to choose an abstract term, which has no concrete definition (like a «pen» or «book»). Basically, you choose a concept. Probably, it’s being explained through the history of mankind and has multiple views on the meaning of the word. In general, this is a word which affects moral norms of society.

The complexity of the concept you will define while writing definition essay will influence the length of the essay and quantity of interesting statements you will give.

Nevertheless, don`t define the word which you can`t understand or have no opinion about.

The main thing is to offer your own definition of the word, which rests upon your personal and cultural background.

How to choose the word for definition essay:

Think what worries you, what specific feelings (love, anger, jealousy, hate) have you experienced through life, what is important for you (stability, home, balance) or what social events influenced you or your close people (harassment, bullying, sexism). Then try to define it.

Take the dictionary. Better if it is printed. Open any page and choose any word. Do you have any personal “feelings” about this word? Does it comply with the statements on how to choose an appropriate word mentioned above? If yes, the problem is solved. If no – search again.

Ask somebody to tell you what worries them, what concept they want to understand. If it will interest you, you can make a research on this concept and write your definition essay. Furthermore, the fact that you have to present your definition to your close person will drive you to do it even better.

Second step: research for definition essay

Start with different dictionaries to see what is the takeaway of the word. Compare those definitions, note them in your essay. Search historic origin of the word.

Make an analysis of scientists or philosophers who were trying to define the word you have chosen. You may also try to look for some legal definitions of the word, to show another approach.

Write how the definition of the word changed during different periods or it was constant. You may also defy what factors affected on the word gaining such sense: society, political events or any other reasons.

For example, there are a lot of factors that influenced on what we call “beautiful”. At first, the economy structured the perception of beauty: plump people considered to be beautiful in the 17th century, because it meant that they were rich to buy food and are healthy. Nowadays, it`s generally media, which forms our vision of human beauty.

Now you have gathered overall perception of the world throughout history and outstanding personalities. Move on to the next step in writing definition essay.

Third step: personal point of view in definition essay

Have a say: you definitely have some life experience and specific social and cultural background. That`s why it`s important to choose a concept for your definition essay that interests you and you have experienced it. This will make the writing of definition essay easier. Write how you understand the meaning of the word and what factors made you percept it in such way. Share your knowledge and based on it give your own definition.

In this part, you can describe cases, which characterize the word you are defying. The cases have to show why you see the definition of the word for your definition essay in that way but not another. They have to describe and add value to the definition you made upon your personal level of perception.

Fourth step: finalization of definition essay

Summarize everything you have written above. Define the most important things connected with the word for your definition essay. Explain, why you chose this concrete word to defy. For this reason, try to write your definition essay on the words, which are socially or politically import in present. This will make your definition essay strong and will help to stand out.

Common mistakes:

  • Choosing a too general word. Specify the term which you have chosen. Too general word will make it harder for you to explain and you won’t be able to write each notion in one essay. Or if you take small quotes of each explanation, it will be too vague.
  • Choosing a word which has no meaning for you or you have no idea what it means. Before choosing a word, try to grasp what it means personally for you. If you can formulate your thoughts, start and write your definition essay.
  • Incorrect definition formula. Don’t write “Love it’s when somebody is feeling strong feelings”. First, write to what category of the mental concept the word is related: feeling, state, process, event, etc.
  • Another mistake in the definition is to choose a specific field of the concept and use the concept to explain it. For example, “International conflict is a conflict that...”. Explain the meaning of the word in a whole, including concept and its type.

Topics for definition essay:

  • Faith
  • Trust
  • Criticism
  • Equality
  • Jealousy
  • Procrastination
  • Inspiration
  • Life purpose
  • Sexism
  • Feminism
  • Beauty
  • Gender
  • Evolution
  • Generation
  • Despair
  • Soul
  • Ethics

Helpful links:

0 Replies to “How To Write An Definition Essay”

Lascia un Commento

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *