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How to Write a Definition Essay: Writing Guide with Sample Essays

How to Write a Definition Essay: Writing Guide with Sample Essays

When a new word catches your attention, naturally, the first reaction is to look it up in a dictionary. If you are extra curious about it, you may even research the term online to see its origins. After researching the term online, you find a proper definition that seems logical enough. This is the usual process of learning new words.

However, in some cases, a brief description of a term is not enough. Some words have complex and deep meanings and require an in-depth explanation. This is what the definition essay is all about.

Table of Contents

What Is a Definition Essay?

This type of paper involves writing a formal explanation of one specific word. It is important to note that this is an essay, which means you cannot pick a simple term that can be described in a few words.

A definition essay is meant to describe a complex term that has significant background and historical origin and is a relatable term. The word “love” is an excellent example of such term as it is seemingly impossible to explain this concept very briefly. This gives us room to write a definition essay about it, which would give it an accurate representation.

Types of Definitions Commonly Used in Essays

So, you have found an exciting term with a complex background worth delving into? Before you decide to make it the subject for your definition essay, consider what you can do with it.

Here are some ways to approach your definition essay:

  • Analysis: Break the subject up into parts and define each element individually.
  • Classification: What classes does the issue belong to?
  • Comparison: Unusual things may be determined by showing how similar or different they are from the usual things.
  • Details: What are the characteristics and other distinguishing features that describe the idea of the paper?
  • Negation: Explain what it isn't to narrow down what it is.
  • Origins and Causes: What is the origin of the theme? What is the background information? What is the history of the idea?
  • Results, Effects, and Uses: Describe the after effect and uses of the subject.

Interesting Defintion Essay Topics to Consider

  • What makes someone a Hero?
  • Compare Love and Hate. Which one is the stronger emotion?
  • Analyze the definition of Beauty.
  • What is the opposite of Respect? Explain why.
  • How did a term Fidelity originate?
  • What are the origins of the term Parlay?
  • What is the opposite of Happiness and why?
  • How to describe Integrity?
  • Characterize an Antihero.
  • What are the defining attributes of Royalty?
  • What makes someone a Villain and why?
  • What are the origins of the word Zenith?

These are just some common examples of definition essay topics and questions that are commonly asked on tests and coursework assignments. The goal here is to pick the best essay topic that as a student you feel comfortable explaining and portraying.

Pre-Writing Steps

Before you begin writing your essay, make sure that the word you chose to write about is worth writing about.

Here are a few tips to consider before choosing your golden term.

  • Choosing a proper term. It is not productive to try to squeeze out a definition paper out of a simple word.

✅Term "Writing"

  • Gives you more wiggle room
  • There are different ways to describe it
  • ⛔️Term "Pencil"

  • The term is too concrete
  • Has no deeper meaning to delve into
    • The word should be multi-dimensional. Avoid using terms that are universal in every language.

    ✅Terms "Hello" or "Telephone"

  • It i possible to expand description of these terms.
  • Much better to pick a more complex term for the start.
  • Words with double meanings are especially interesting to explore.
    • Choose a word that you know well and be confident about your paper.
    ✅Term "Intimacy"

  • Write about a term that has a correlation with your life.
  • You may sound like you know what you are talking about.
    • Use the word’s background history in your definition essay. The origin or etymology of a word has some historical reason for being why it is. Explore the history of the term and publish your findings in your definition paper.

    Definition Essay Outline

    Every essay should be written in the classic Intro-Body-Conclusion format. According to the definition essay structure, the introduction should address the central question within a thesis statement.

    Depending on the term, however, the body of a definition essay outline may vary in length and should include all of the points made by the writer as the conclusion should summarise all of the main ideas and suggest anything that can be done in the future.


    In a definition essay, the introduction has two goals. You must give a "standard", or the most common explanation of the term, and introduce your thesis.

    The initial section of the introduction should state the dictionary version. Because the standard definition will slightly vary from the thesis one, which allows for multi-dimensionality.

    Thesis Statement

    Your thesis statement is a part of the introduction. For a definition paper, the thesis is your version of what the term means. This can be a mix of the standard explanation and your personal experiences and interpretation style. Keep it short. Do not try to describe too much in this section. This is where you transition into the body of the paper.

    Body Paragraphs

    Break down the term into its core parts in the body of your essay. Analyze the term from different angles and provide a relevant explanation. More than three paragraphs may be necessary depending on the nature of your assignment.

    An example of a good body paragraph structure:

  • Body Paragraph 1: History and Origin
  • Body Paragraph 2: Full dictionary explanation and use.
  • Body Paragraph 3: Personal definition created from experience.
  • Conclusion

    Keep the conclusion simple. The main goal here is to summarize the main points of your argument. Rephrase your thesis as well as the main parts of the explanation and sum up everything you said in the body of the definition paper.

    The last thing that should be mentioned in your definition paper outline is how this term has impacted you. Usually, before even writing the essay, there is a reason a specific word is picked, and part of the reason has to do with personal experience.

    Do you need help with any of the steps above? Count on the support of our professional writers.

    How to Write a Definition Essay: Video Guide

    Post-Writing Tips

    • References. Choose the most appropriate references.
    • Proofread. Remember to proofread your finished essay to make sure there are no typing errors — this can lower your grade.
    • Editing. It’s a good idea to make any necessary changes to the paper once proofread.
    • Sources. Remember that sources control the essay. Meaning, never choose inappropriate sources, so the audience doesn’t misinterpret the paper.

    Definition Essay Examples

    Here are some samples with definition paragraph examples for college. Pay attention to the structure of these papers. Any of these definition essay examples can also be used as a definition essay template if you wish to have the same structure and format for your paper.

    Definition Essay Example: What Is Success?

    Different people have different definitions of success. In order to critically define the real meaning of success – perhaps the first and most significant recognition which any person can make – is that no single defined formula exists which outlines the way to personal success.

    Definition Essay Example: Who Is a Hero?

    The term hero has been in social use for the longest time in history. The main characters of most fairy tales, such as Disney productions, revolve around the title. People use the term hero as a compliment in different contexts.

    Need Some Definition Essay Guidance?

    Sometimes it can be hard to find a term we know well that also has a multi-dimensional definition. This is a common problem for college students and one that is commonly solved by our essay writing help service. Push the button below to get your definition essay in no time.

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