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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!


What is a Definition Essay?

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

what is a definition essay

Definition essay is meant to describe a complex term that has significant background and historical origin and be a relatable term.

A word “love” is an excellent example of such term as it is seemingly impossible to explain this concept very briefly. This gives us a room to write an essay about it, which would give it an accurate and UNIVERSAL representation!

Approaching a Definition Essay

So you have found an exciting term with a complex background worth delving in to? Before you decide to make it a 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 into parts and define each element individually.
  • Classification: What classes does the issue belong to?
  • Comparison: Unusual things may be determined by showing its likeness to the common or its contrast from it.
  • Details: What are the characteristics and other distinguishing features that describe the idea of the paper?
  • Negation: Explain what it isn’t to clear the ground for 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 a 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 a 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 questions and topicsthat is commonly asked on tests and coursework assignments. The goal here is to pick the best definition essay topic that as a student you feel comfortable explaining and portraying. It is time to become a word artist!

Steps to take Pre-Writing

Before you begin your writing, 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 an essay out of a simple word.

definition proper term

  • The Word Should be Multi-Dimensional:
    • Avoid using terms that are universal in every language!

definition term

  • Term Intimacy:
    • Choose a word that you know well and be confident in your essay!

term familiarity

  • Use history background on your definition essay:
    • The origin or etymology of a word has some historical reason for being the shape it is.

research of definition

Definition Essay Outline

Every definition 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 part 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 future.


In a definition essay, the introduction has two goals. You must give a “standard”, or the most common definition 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 introduction. For definition essay, the thesis is your version of what the term means. This can be a mix of the standard definition and your personal experiences and explanation style! Keep it short. Do not try to describe too much in this section. This is where you transition to the body of the essay.

Body Paragraphs

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

Here is 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.


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 definition and sum up everything you said in the body of the essay.

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.

Post-writing Tip

Mention how the definition you were talking about affected you.

avant-garde and pop-art

If the term you define plays a specific part in your life and experiences, your final concluding comments are a great place to mention the role it plays concisely.

villain and bullying

  • Thesis. Think about the purpose of the argument to form the thesis. The thesis being the claim of the paper.
  • References. Choose the most appropriate references.
  • Outline. Develop a Definition Essay Outline
  • Proofread. Remember to proofread your finished definition essay to make sure there are no typing errors – that can lower your grade.
  • Editing. It’s a good idea to make any necessary changes to the definition essay once proofread.
  • Sources. Remember that sources control the essay. Meaning, never choose inappropriate sources, so the audience doesn’t misinterpret the paper.

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