How to Write a Definition Essay Without Any Help

Both at school and college you can be assigned a paper that is aimed to define some term. For example, in psychology courses students frequently write papers on topics like “depression” or “Oedipus complex.” Even in a physics course your tutor may ask you to write a definition essay about certain terms like “universe” or “holography physics.”

Definition essays can be written on a certain topic or term that you choose by yourself. If the tutor gave you a topic, there’s nowhere to go – you need to try to reflect all of your knowledge and worldview! It seems that when you have multiple choices, the writing process is simpler since you are free to decide which term is more familiar and interesting to you.

In the body paragraph of a definition paper you are supposed to present the history of the term, examples, and your own definition which would express your personal point of view on this term on the basis of your experience. You can give examples that will illustratively display your point of view.

how to write a definition essay

What Is a Definition Essay?

A definition essay explores the history of a certain term and the author’s personal understanding of the particular concept or term. Also the essay should consider what experiences and research the author has developed.

A definition essay is more than a simple definition in the dictionary. Also it may be called an extended definition essay. It is the profound research of a particular term and cannot be defined in one sentence. This kind of essay requires the students to pick a term that cannot be similarly described by several persons. For example, people are more likely to agree with a definition of “cat,” while the term “happiness” will be defined in different ways.

Follow the steps and tips in this article which will help you brainstorm, draft, revise, and proofread your definition paper. Also check our sample definition essay paper with comments.

Steps to Write a Definition Essay

Before writing a definition essay:

Step 1. Read the tutor’s requirements. If you have quickly looked through the assignment, there is a possibility that you have missed some important points or misunderstood something. Highlight the key words: your assignment can tell you not only to define some term, but also to discuss it, give examples, or explain how it works.

Step 2. Select a topic. Find out the term that you are interested in defining. You can make a list of words that you would be glad to explore. Search for popular words in news, words related to art or science, words that make you laugh, and words that are unused. To be sure that you will reach the word count, and pick complex, abstract terms or words that are closely connected with personal experience.

Don’t pick simple nouns or simple words. Picking a topic is a very important step for the definition essay, as if you choose the term “door” you won’t be able to write a 500-word definition essay on it because there is not much depth to get into. But if you choose something like “creating,” there will be a great field to make research about it.

A great option is to choose words that have various definitions in different languages. One word can be perceived differently in some countries. For example, the term “time” has different attitudes among people in Arab countries and USA or Japan. Cultural attitudes differ throughout history.
Note: If the assignment asks you to define a certain term, skip this step.

Step 3. Write a prompt about the topic. Start with writing everything that you know about the topic in your own words. Also state a simple definition of the term and an example that you already know, or read the first definition that you find in a dictionary. Avoid copying the definition – you need to write it in your own words. Also set the limit of this definition, as for certain terms like “depression” you can write for a long time. This exercise will be a foundation for your further writing and will show what you already know about the term from personal and academic aspects.

Step 4. Collect information and structure it. There is an advised sequence of actions to find relevant information about the term. Look into a general dictionary and list all literal and associated meanings of the term. Then proceed to more specific dictionaries related to certain disciplines (like music, medicine, physics, philosophy, etc.). Check reference books to find quotations or definitions made by famous people. And lastly, search the web to find the word’s etymology, ask experts, and find where the term is frequently used (book titles, ads, organizations, etc.). To organize your research, make a custom table where you will be able to insert information that you have found and identify details that you need or want to add.

Step 5. Make an outline. A definition essay outline follows the standard 5-paragraph essay outlines. Make a plan for the body paragraph listing support points in the order of importance, starting with the most powerful definition at the beginning of your paper. Then structure the outline depending on the complexity of the term and conduct a more profound research.

For example, if you want to define the term “compassion” your outline may look like this:

1. Introduction
1.1. Attention grabber
1.2. Quick overview of the term
1.3. Thesis statement
2. Body paragraph I
2.1. A historical overview about the term and its origins
3. Body paragraph II
3.1. List of explanations from various dictionaries with examples
4. Body paragraph III
4.1. Definition of term based on personal experience with examples
5. Conclusion
5.1. Summary of the main points
5.2. Description of how the term has influenced your life

Step 6. Review some samples. Before you begin to write, read several good extended definition essay examples. One piece you can find in this article after these steps.

While writing a definition essay:

Step 1. Write the introduction. Start with introducing the term and getting the reader’s attention with a hook. For example, it may be an anecdote or quotation. You can start with stating some interesting information from the history of this term or usage. Also it is necessary to state the main dictionary definition in your introduction so readers can understand the standard meaning from the very beginning. As the common definition will differ from those that you are going to state in the body paragraph, this will underline the fact that the term is multi-dimensional. Look over some ideas of definition essay introduction examples around the internet to get inspired.

Step 2. Write the thesis statement. As a part of the introduction, you should write a definition essay thesis statement that will shortly describe the term that you will be demonstrating in the body paragraph. Your thesis statement should not only point out the term you are going to define, but also the idea that you are going to prove.

There are several patterns that you can use as a basis for your thesis statement:

  • Introductory phrase – Term – Class – Definition
  • Term – Means – Common definition (association)

For example, your thesis according to the first pattern may look like this: “Let me see if I can explain the original meaning of yoga as a great exercise for mind and body.”
Note: Don’t try to include too much information in the thesis statement. Limit it to no more than one or two sentences.

Step 3. Write the body paragraph. Start each paragraph with a topic sentence that will be a short overview of the paragraph. In these paragraphs you need to tell the readers what the term means. You can start with telling the history of the term, how it was used, and how its meaning has changed through the years. Then continue with stating the dictionary’s definitions and other detailed explanations of each example.

There are several approaches to define the term:

  • Explain the function of the term: how it works, how it does something, etc.
  • Tell how it’s structured: how it is put together or organized.
  • Analyze the term. Compare and contrast this definition to others with a similar meaning. Add examples to illustrate the difference. Underline the distinctive features of your term in comparison to other terms.
  • Clarify the term that can be misunderstood. State the distinctive characteristics and what the term doesn’t mean to be sure that the readers will understand the meaning in the right way.

Support your definitions with examples, facts, and other supporting points or details. Ask yourself: “What examples will help your friend understand the meaning of the term?” Make sure that you have used at least three examples that clearly explain every definition.

Step 4. Write the conclusion. A conclusion definition essay section is short but still important. Write several sentences that will sum up your writing and briefly restate the main points of your essay. Make an observation about the term and the supporting details that you have given in the body paragraph. Tell about what place the term has in your life. Do you use this term in every day life? Does it have a special meaning to you? Has your own definition changed after the research? End the essay with a phrase that will create a sense of purpose or connect the reader with the term.

After writing a definition essay:

Step 1. Revise your first draft. Ask someone to read your text and evaluate its readability. Make sure that you have clearly stated all definitions and it tells the readers precisely what they should know in order to fully understand the term. Make sure that each paragraph has the topic sentence and that it offers a particular amount of information and is closed with a small conclusion and transitional phrase.

Step 2. Edit the complete essay. As soon as you finish your second draft, check the words, sentences, correctness of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and mechanics. Make sure that your text will be clear to readers, and sentences are complete and readable. Along with the spellchecker on your computer, use an available online plagiarism checker to make sure that your work is original enough to reach the needed originality score.

Step 3. Send the essay to the tutor. As soon as you will feel that your essay is totally complete and you have no doubts about its clarity, submit it to your tutor.

Checklist for a Definition Essay

  • Make sure that the chosen term is multi-dimensional and also specific enough.
  • Check if the opening clearly identifies the definition.
  • Look through examples that you have used in the text and remove all that don’t meet the meaning of the term.
  • Make sure that you have applied the qualities of brief and extended definitions.
  • Examine whether you have developed definitions that are well reasoned, researched, and supported with examples.
  • Look through the text and check the structure. Have you stated a clear thesis statement? Does you introduction have a hook? Does your conclusion restate the thesis?
  • Check the text for transitional phrases and add them if necessary.
  • Evaluate the quality of your ideas and voice. Make sure that you have properly revised and edited your paper.

Definition Essay Sample

Sometimes it’s better to see it once than read about it several times. It’s much easier to understand how the essay should look when you have a sample at hand. We have asked one of our professional writers to make comments on an extended definition example, so you can better understand the structure and the overall tone that is usually used in writing a definition essay. Students frequently make the same mistakes in definition essays and reading this sample can help you avoid mistakes. Please, take into consideration the comments on the example of definition paragraph when writing your own essay.

Click the images to see their full size.

what is a definition essaydefinition essay introduction exampleshow to write an extended definition essay

Tips for a Definition Essay

  • Avoid such phrases like: According to Webster’s Dictionary…
  • Don’t choose an obvious and simple term that doesn’t require profound research.
  • Don’t repeat one definition more than once in the text.
  • Use a prewriting technique when you choose the topic, as this will be the basis of your essay.
  • Conduct some historical research. As people have used language for many centuries, there is a big chance that you will find some information about the history of the term.
  • Don’t use passive voice in the thesis statement.
  • Add explanations and comments on examples in the body paragraph. Add more examples to help your readers understand the meaning of the term.
  • Don’t forget to add transitions between the paragraphs to connect your ideas.
  • Keep your voice engaging, informative, and instructive while writing your definition essay.
  • Think about your readers and revise all the parts of your text so it will be clear and interesting to them.
  • Ask another person to look through your finished paper and make comments.

All essays require time and passion, so make sure that you have both. We know that its hard to find passion for writing, especially when you are not a skilled writer – that’s why we have created this guide. Our team knows that the best way to start writing the essay is to follow each step of the step-by-step guide. Just start doing it and you will not even notice how you have written it. All you need is to leave enough time before the deadline to be able to complete the essay. Read our tips and sample paper to have a better understanding of how a definition essay should be written. We wish you strength and inspiration!

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