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Definition Essay: Basics, Outline and Writing Tips

How to write a definition essay? You need to explain the meaning of any term that has been in use for quite some time. It may have an exciting origin story that is worth mentioning. Sometimes, you will have to define some concept that has different interpretations. In this case, you want to consider multiple options. But it may be difficult to arrange your thoughts in logical order.

Read our guide and learn how to create an excellent definition essay, structure your ideas and much more. You will also find an example for inspiration.

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What is a Definition Essay

Definition essay is a type of academic writing where you share your own understanding of a certain term. Before writing an essay, it is necessary to thoroughly research the origin of the term and get familiar with some background behind its meaning.

You can provide a definition of any simple word, such as "desk", "bed", "equipment". If these concepts have "migrated" from another language, discuss what this is about and when people started using a new term.

Most often definition essays focus on complex or abstract subjects. These can be natural phenomena, technical terms, feelings, relationships and many more. Defining such terms will be an easy breeze if you choose an efficient approach. Let’s see what types of concepts exist and how to cope with them.

Definition Types Used in Essays

First of all, you should find a term worthy of essay writing. It should either have an interesting origin story or a significant impact on society. Once done, choose an appropriate way to work with your definition.

There are several definition essay types that are worth familiarizing yourself with before you begin describing any concept:

  1. Analysis. Term may have several parts; you will need to analyze each part.
  2. Classification. Your term can be classified. You should identify these classes.
  3. Comparison. While working with this type of term, you will be looking for similarities and differences between things.
  4. Detailed description. This type requires that you identify some key characteristics that will help to develop your idea.
  5. Negation. Try to answer all possible questions that arise during reading.
  6. Origins. These types of definitions have an extensive historical background. You should elaborate more thoroughly on the emergence of this term.
  7. Summing up. You can suggest options for using some word and the implications of including it in spoken language.

Once you choose an approach to defining your term, you will describe its main characteristics more quickly and accurately.

How to Write a Definition Essay Step-by-Step

Before you start writing a definition essay, check out our step-by-step guide. Make sure you go through each stage to define your term:

  1. Description of a chosen term. Readers will want to know what your essay will be about, so you should include a brief description at the beginning of your paper.
  2. Detailed discussion. Use multiple credible sources to suggest information about some word or concept. These could be dictionaries or encyclopedias that provide a clear definition and offer different interpretations. Digest this information to elaborate your own understanding.
  3. Explanation supported with examples. You can use facts that prove a correct interpretation of some word. Complex definitions are better understood if you use a fresh approach.

Detailed information will increase readers’ interest in your work.

How to Choose Proper Definition Essay Words?

Good definition essay words should be unique. Don’t choose simple words that everyone knows. Also, terms that do not have a solid concept provide more room for creativity. This way, you will be able to present thoughts in a much more interesting way.

Nouns that describe a person or give a concept of a certain city won’t be the best choice. They are easy to describe, but leave no room for imagination. The first dictionary word you come across will not be suitable for an essay either.

Try to find a term that can be understood in different ways. If the concept can evoke certain emotions in people, you are on the right track. Pick up new meanings, interpret the word in a way that the world is not yet familiar with. This will captivate your reader’s attention.

Definition Essay Outline

A proper definition essay structure is half the job done. In order to explain the meaning, prepare a simple outline of your work. It will help you stay on point and organize ideas. A definition essay outline should be written considering the following structure:

  1. Introduction. It gets readers acquainted with the main topic of your paper. In this case, it is necessary to offer a standard definition and one’s own understanding. An excerpt from an online dictionary will help understand what it is about. You are left to explain this concept more in detail.
  2. Term description. An explanation of the word will overlap with your interpretation.
  3. Main body. Divide the concept into several parts. Work through each component thoroughly, and offer multiple descriptions in several sections. You can discuss different variations and their history.
  4. Conclusion. Summarize your work and explain what impact the concept has on your life.

You can suggest the best use of some term and outline the purpose you were pursuing while writing your essay.

Definition Essay: Introduction

A definition essay introduction should start with a classic presentation of the chosen term. For this purpose, look through multiple definitions of this word published online. Complex terms are difficult to put in a single sentence. It is worth choosing a description that is more tailored to your understanding.

Remember to hold the reader's interest throughout your essay. Use statistics, quotations and other information that may hook readers. Provide some context. Consider background details that can help grasp the concept. Don't confuse readers with unrelated meanings, though. Follow your task and you will be fascinated by the outcome.

Definition Essay: Thesis Statement

The main part of an introduction is your definition essay thesis statement. Your personal definition of the chosen word will be a thesis. You can combine a classic concept with your interpretation. Try not to use radically different concepts so as not to get readers confused.

Your thesis statement should be no longer than 1-2 sentences. Brief valuable information will encourage readers to dive deeper into your essay. Further on you can use a more detailed explanation. Keep in mind that your key points should resonate with your thesis.

Definition Essay: Body Paragraphs

Generally, definition essay body should consist of 3 paragraphs. However, the number of paragraphs can vary. The more complex your word is, the more extensive your explanation will be.

At the beginning of the text, it is worth mentioning some history and origin of the term. Readers will be interested to know about words that "came" from other languages.

The second body paragraph should focus on dictionary-based explanations. Mention when the use of the chosen term is most appropriate. These could be some important examples from life, textbooks or usage in colloquial speech.

The final body paragraph should present your own opinion. You can include cases in which you use the chosen term most often.

Definition Essay: Conclusion

A definition essay conclusion is a brief summary of what has been said above. Your main points that seem most interesting can be paraphrased and added to your conclusion.

Don’t forget to mention how this term affects your life. The easiest way is to use examples from personal experience when talking about intangible concepts. "Anger," "falling in love," "disappointment": each of these words has been present in the lives of many readers. Therefore, it will be easy for them to understand what it is about, if you wrap up your ideas.

The Dos and Don’ts when Writing a Definition Essay

While writing a definition essay, you need to consider facts that must be necessarily present in your text. Follow our tips to improve your writing:

  1. If the term is quite multifaceted, try to choose one definition and focus on it throughout your entire paper.
  2. Use additional words that help describe your concept more accurately.
  3. Try to make smooth transitions between parts of your essay.
  4. Use an out-of-the-box explanation that will help draw readers’ attention to your topic.
  5. Proofread your work so it does not contain mistakes.

Try to avoid these common mistakes while writing your definition essay:

  1. Don’t stuff an essay with too sophisticated words.
  2. Don't consider terms that everyone already knows.
  3. Don’t write vague or obscure explanations.

The more informative your text is, the more likely it is to get your professor’s approval.

Definition Essay Examples

Below you can find several definition essay samples. Pay extra attention to how these works are structured. Feel free to use the same topics or apply a similar structure as these definition essay templates have.

What Makes a Hero?
Paper type
Essay (Any Type)

My Definition of Success
Paper type
Essay (Any Type)

Definition Essay: Key Takeaways

There is no doubt about it: terms you choose for a definition essay are the most fundamental part of the entire writing process. In fact, these terms are so critical that they can make or break your essay. For this reason, you should focus on those concepts you are truly passionate about, or at least know well. Besides, this will ensure that you share an in-depth interpretation of this concept.

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FAQ about Definition Essays

1. What is the typical length of a definition essay?

The main purpose of writing this type of paper is to explain the meaning of a single word. A 1-2 pages long definition essay will suffice for a detailed description. This length will be enough to explain a word without getting readers bored.

2. What is the format of a definition essay?

There are several definition essay formats that you can use in your work. MLA style has become the most popular one. It includes essential formatting and citation rules. You may also use APA. In this case, you should create a separate title page. All paragraphs should be formatted using 1 style.

3. How to cite definitions in an essay?

When you start preparing for your definition essay, you should study different sources where the most popular meanings are provided. They should be mentioned in your essay. Many people prefer to use quotations for this purpose. To properly make a reference, you should firstly choose a citation style. Depending on the style, you will provide either an author’s name and date of publication or an author’s name and page number.

4. What is the purpose of a definition essay?

The purpose of a definition essay is to provide your readers with your personal interpretation of some concept. Along with a dictionary meaning, you should define some term in your own words and explain its impact on your life.

Daniel Howard is an Essay Writing guru. He helps students create essays that will strike a chord with the readers.

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