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How to Write a Definition Essay: Meaning, Outline, Steps & Examples

How to Write a Definition Essay
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A definition essay is a type of academic writing that requires the writer to define a particular term or concept. The term or concept can be abstract, such as love or success, or concrete, such as a computer or a tree. The writer's goal in a definition essay is to provide a detailed and comprehensive explanation of terminology, using examples, analysis, and personal experiences.

Read our guide and learn how to write a definition essay. More specifically, we will cover what a definition essay is, how to structure and outline it properly. You will find detailed steps to writing a definition essay accompanied by free examples. 

If you have a tough deadline, contact our writing essay service. Our professionals will review any definition and create an essay that you are sure to like.

What Is a Definition Essay: Meaning

Definition essay is a type of writing where students explain the meaning of any particular term. The key goal is to go beyond a dictionary definition and offer a more in-depth explanation that showcases your understanding. Before writing a definition 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 a simple word, such as "desk", "bed", "equipment". But 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.

Approaches to Defining a Term in a Definition Essay

Before you describe the meaning of any concept, it's important to use the right strategy. There are several approaches you can take to explain a term in your definition essay.

  • Basic definition 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.
  • Extended definition Explore the meaning from different angles. You should go beyond a dictionary definition and consider different perspectives of a word.
  • Example-based definition You can use facts that prove a correct interpretation of some word. Complex definitions are better understood if you use illustrative examples.
  • Etymology Explore the origin and historical development of the term. Investigate the root of the word, its linguistic evolution, and any cultural or historical influences that have shaped its meaning over time.
  • Analysis A term may have several parts. You will need to analyze each part and explore how each component contributes to the general meaning.
  • Classification Classify the term into broader categories or subcategories, highlighting its core features and characteristics within the group. This approach is widely used in a classification essay and helps to establish the term's place within a larger conceptual framework.
  • Comparison Compare the term to something more familiar or relatable to help the reader grasp its meaning. Comparison and contrast can make complex terms more understandable by drawing parallels to everyday experiences.
  • Negation Define the term by explaining what it is not. Highlight the boundaries or limitations of the term by contrasting it with related or similar concepts.
  • Results and effects  In this case, you need to examine the impact and implications of the term. Demonstrate how it influences individuals, societies, or various aspects of life.

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

Definition Essay Structure

A definition essay structure comprises 3 essential parts: the introduction, body, and conclusion. Each section plays a critical role in conveying the full understanding of the chosen word:

  • Introduction An opening paragraph is where you introduce the term and provide a basic interpretation. This section should pique the reader's curiosity and present a thesis statement.
  • Body The body of a definition essay contains a detailed explanation of the term. It includes different types of definitions and approaches. Each body paragraph should focus on a different angle to let readers see a full picture. The number of paragraphs depends on how many details you want to cover.
  • Conclusion A definition essay conclusion should succinctly summarize your key points.

How to Write a Definition Essay Step-By-Step?

Before you start writing a definition essay, check out our step-by-step guide. From picking the word to concluding your ideas, we will cover all stages on how to write a definition essay. Make sure you go through each step to define your term.

1. Choose a Term 

Every definition essay should start with selecting an appropriate term. Don’t choose simple words that everyone knows. Objects or geographical places won’t be the best choice. Such words are easy to describe, and provide no space 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. This is where abstract, intangible terms come into play. They can be explored in multiple ways and provide more room for creativity. For example, such ideas like “courage,” “truth,” “freedom,” or “racism” provide more opportunities for definition based on your knowledge. 

You may also reflect on terms that relate to your experiences, values, or areas of expertise. Writing about a term that you are passionate about can make your essay more engaging. Don’t hesitate to browse our definition essay topics to decide on a fitting idea for your writing.

2. Conduct Research and Explore the Meaning 

Now it’s time to conduct research and explore the meaning of your chosen term. Look up background information in reputable sources, such as encyclopedias or specialized dictionaries. You can also find definitions that are posted on scholarly websites.

Finding a Definition of a Word

Don't forget to take notes while researching, so you don’t lose any important information. Make sure to pay attention to the usage of your term in different contexts, such as literature or scientific research. Investigate the origin of your word and how the meaning has changed over time.

Researching the Term Origin

In addition to traditional sources, you may also use online dictionaries and articles that provide unusual explanations.

3. Build a Thesis Statement 

Once you have gathered enough material for your definition paper, it’s time to craft a thesis statement. It will be the main idea of your writing and serve as an anchor for all other elements included in it. 

You can combine a classic concept with your interpretation. A good definition essay thesis statement should define the term in 1-2 sentences. Based on the meaning that you have found in sources, write a definition in your own words.

Example

Freedom is a fundamental human right that allows individuals to express themselves without restraint or interference.

4. Create a Definition Essay Outline 

A well-structured plan of your writing is half the job done. In order to explain the meaning, prepare a simple outline of your work. Essay layout will help you stay on point and organize ideas. A definition essay outline should be written considering the following structure.

Definition Essay Outline Example

  • Introduction
    • Hook a reader and craft a compelling first sentence to capture the reader's attention
    • Provide a dictionary definition of the term
    • Introduce your own definition, which will guide the rest of the essay
  • Body paragraph 1: Origin and history
    • Discuss the term's origin and historical development
    • Integrate examples if relevant
  • Body paragraph 2: Dictionary meaning and modern usage
    • Describe the official definition and how it's commonly used today
    • Discuss any misconceptions or typical misunderstandings
  • Body paragraph 3: Personal interpretation
    • Share your own description of the term
    • Discuss why you define the term this way and how your perspective adds to its understanding
    • Provide real-life examples
  • Concluding paragraph
    • Recap  key points
    • Include final thoughts and explain the importance.

Remember this is just a general outline of a definition essay. Your scheme may look different depending on the methods you choose to formulate your ideas.

5. Write a Definition Essay 

Now, it's time to put all of your research and knowledge into words. Begin by writing an introductory section and explore each aspect gradually. Don’t make your essay too long. A standard definition essay should consist of 500-800 words. A specific essay length is individually chosen based on instructor’s requirements. 

Stick to the structure you created and use transition words to make your essay flow smoothly. Make sure every sentence is related to the topic and logically progresses your thesis.

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 main idea and you will be fascinated by the outcome.  

Example 

Freedom — a term pervasive in discourse yet elusive in its absolute definition. Various online sources render it as 'the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.' However, the complexity of the term extends beyond a mere sentence. To me, freedom is the unrestrained ability to be oneself. Alarmingly, Freedom House reports that only 45% of the global population lives in 'free' countries as of 2023. This staggering statistic underscores the importance of delving deeper into the concept of 'freedom.' In this essay, we will explain the essence of freedom, its various connotations across different cultures, and its relevance in our contemporary world. 

>> Read more: How to Write an Essay Introduction

Definition Essay Body Paragraphs

Generally, the 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. If a concept has "migrated" from another language, mention when people adopted a new term. 

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

Example 

Freedom is often overlooked as a key factor in promoting personal independence and self-determination. In this context, it means being able to make choices that shape our lives without undue pressure from others. It's about having the freedom to decide our own beliefs, associations, and goals. This understanding of freedom emphasizes the importance of individuality and personal growth. It reminds us that freedom is not just a right, but also a personal responsibility. Ultimately, we are in control of our own lives, and freedom gives us the power to shape our own paths.

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.  

Example

Freedom is a complex and multifaceted concept that encompasses the right to act, speak, or think without constraints, and extends to personal autonomy and self-determination. It is both a cherished right and a personal responsibility. As we navigate through life, it is important to appreciate and value liberty instead of taking it for granted. True freedom is not just about enjoying it ourselves, but also ensuring that others have the same liberty to live their lives. After all, in the pursuit of liberty, we find the essence of our humanity.

>> Learn more: How to Conclude an Essay

6. Use Various Strategies

In order to make your definition essay stand out, spice things up with diverse strategies. Each method of defining a term offers a different lens through which the reader can grasp the concept. 

If you combine different methods, it will be way easier for your audience to understand the idea or phenomenon. For example, you may try to explain how something works and compare it with analogous things within the same class. Or, you may elaborate on the origin and demonstrate how a specific word is used now using examples.

7. Proofread and Revise 

When your definition essay is ready, read it several times to check for any inaccuracies. Make sure everything follows the logical structure and that each sentence is related to your thesis statement. Here are some examples of errors students usually make when writing definition essays: 

  • Grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes 
  • Confusing flow
  • Difficult-to-read text
  • Poor vocabulary
  • Inappropriate writing style.

Use a spell checker or another program for grammar checking. You also can ask a friend to read your draft and provide feedback — they may give you a fresh perspective and spot something you’ve missed. 

>> Learn more: How to Revise an Essay

Definition Essay Examples

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

What Makes a Hero?
Other
Pages:
5
Level:
College
Paper type:
Essay (Any Type)
Format:
MLA
2.96 MB
file-pdf
My Definition of Success
Other
Pages:
3
Level:
College
Paper type:
Essay (Any Type)
Format:
MLA
2.46 MB
file-pdf

The Dos and Don’ts When Writing a Definition Essay

To write a good definition essay, you need to consider facts that must be necessarily present in your text. Follow our tips to improve your composition:

  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 and jargon.
  2. Don't consider terms that everyone already knows.
  3. Don’t write vague or obscure explanations.
  4. Don’t ignore historical and cultural contexts.
  5. Don’t rely solely on the dictionary.

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

Definition Essay Writing Checklist 

Below we have included a concise and practical checklist to ensure your definition paper satisfies all essential criteria. Stick to our suggestions to take your writing to a whole new level.

  • I have chosen a word that has several meanings.
  • I carried out a preliminary investigation to understand a phenomenon.
  • I visited online dictionaries such as Cambridge Dictionary or Merriam-Webster.
  • My introduction established sufficient context.
  • I discussed different aspects of the concept in separate body paragraphs.
  • Illustrative examples and metaphors are included in my text.
  • I revised my paper and corrected all errors.

Final Thoughts on How to Write Definition Essay

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 purpose of a definition essay?

The main goal 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.

2. How long should a definition essay be?

A standard definition essay should consist of 500-800 words — a short introduction, 2-3 body paragraphs and conclusion. Approximately 2 pages will suffice for a detailed description. However, the length can vary depending on the complexity of the term being defined and other factors, such as academic level and professor’s instructions.

3. What definition essay format should I use?

The format of a definition essay depends on the discipline you are writing in. For example, papers exploring any literary or linguistic concept should be formatted in the MLA style. If you are working on a definition paper in psychology or other social sciences, apply the rules of APA style. Remember that the entire text should be arranged using a single format.

4. How to write a definition in an essay?

When writing a definition in an essay, begin by introducing the term and providing context. You may present an official dictionary definition or elaborate on the origin. Then, you should integrate your own interpretation based on previous research and personal perspectives. To strengthen your explanation, support it with evidence, examples, or anecdotes that illustrate its meaning.

Article posted on:Apr 27, 2022
Article updated on:May 13, 2024

Comments

Leave your comment here:
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Jerry
6/22/2022 12:42 PM
Hello,
I wanted to ask one question related to the topic. How to write an extended definition essay?
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StudyCrumb
6/23/2022 11:40 AM
Hi Jerry,

Basically, an extended definition essay doesn't differ too much from a general definition essay. The structure and format will remain the same. However, there are still some differences you should pay attention to. Firstly, unlike definition essay, the word you have chosen for your extended definition essay should be complex enough. You will have to explain a difficult term using common words. If the word you picked is too complex, divide it into parts and explain each part separately. Ant tip from StudyCrumb: if you feel you are able to handle a complex word, then it is better to pick up something really difficult. Your classmates are likely to choose some easy extended definition essay topics, thus your paper will stand out from the crowd.
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Jerry
6/23/2022 11:55 AM
Thank you for your advice. I've chosen the topic "The meaning and usage of the term frenemy". I hope it won't be too hard to write.
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StudyCrumb
6/23/2022 11:57 AM
Good luck! We'll keep our fingers crossed!
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Charlie
7/5/2022 4:35 PM
Thank you for a good definition essay sample. It helped a lot!