Writing Definition Essays


In a definition essay, you explain the meaning of a certain term by giving a detailed description of it, and support your definition with clear examples or facts. Such explanations are needed if a term is special, abstract, disputed, or does not have a common meaning. For instance, individuals can interpret the definition of the words ‘freedom’ or ‘abuse’ quite differently.

Steps for Writing a Definition Essay

  1. Choose a term you want to define, and introduce it to your readers. This can be done in several ways, but your main goal at the outset is to indicate the contents of your paper clearly.
  2. Use several sources (dictionaries or encyclopedias) to see how the term you have chosen is usually defined. Then, think of a way to combine or merge them to give your own, unique definition.
  3. Present the term you’ve chosen to your readers in the introductory part of your paper.
  4. In the main body paragraphs, provide your readers with information about the term. Along with your own description, you can point out some cases in which this term is used, as well as historical information about its origins and the evolution of its use in literature. Also, you can highlight any common mistakes in its definition.
  5. Think of a couple of sound examples that will fully illustrate and explain your definition.

Definition Essay Topics

There are plenty of terms we use every day. Many of them are clear to almost everybody, but still there is a vast body of abstract or scientific terms that can become a topic of discussion. While all of us know what a phone, TV, or dog is, concepts such as happiness, faith, love, or calmness may be difficult for some people to grasp. Some terms that could be chosen as a topic for your definition essay are listed below:

  • Laziness
  • Success
  • Marriage
  • Family
  • Real estate
  • Attitude
  • Love
  • Religion
  • Christianity
  • Endurance
  • Love
  • God
  • Hatred
  • Beauty
  • Morale
  • Good and evil
  • Enlightenment
  • Happiness
  • Confidence
  • Intelligence

Key Points to Consider

  1. Giving a definition is not just copying what has been written in other dictionaries. If you cannot define a new meaning for some concept on your own, then use the definition that already exists, but give your own interpretation of it.
  2. Choose terms you understand, or ones that have impacted your own personal experience. Do not try to define a term you don’t understand, or else you will confuse your readers with the wrong explanation.
  3. You can define a term by explaining its functions, structure, or nature. You can also define the term by specifying what it does not mean, or by comparing it with other members of the same class of words and emphasizing the differences.
  4. Follow a determined structure. It would be logical to present your term in the introduction, give extended explanations in the main body paragraphs, and end with brief conclusions.

Do and Don’t

Do
  • Do narrow the term if it has an excessively wide meaning. For instance, you might need to write many pages to define the term ‘fear’ adequately, but if you limit your topic to ‘panic fear,’ it will be much easier for you to craft your essay.
  • Do look for solid transitions to connect the parts of your essay together.
  • Do try to think of a definition that would be uniquely yours. Don’t be afraid to be creative in giving non-standard explanations—that approach should be encouraged.
  • Do proofread your essay carefully to avoid factual mistakes.
Don’t
  • Don’t use definitions like: ‘X is when’ or ‘Y is where.’ Try to make you definitions look more scientific. For example, compare these two definitions: “Totalitarianism is when the state tries to control the society” and “Totalitarianism is a political regime which presumes that the state holds authority over society and controls various aspects of its life such as….”
  • Don’t try to write a paper on too narrow of a topic or a well-known, obvious term.
  • Do not write in an overly-detailed manner. However, don’t be too brief either. Consider the word limit of your essay before you begin writing.
  • Don’t repeat the defined term within the bounds of the definition itself. No one will appreciate your prose if you write along the lines of “Swine flu is a flu that people can catch from swines.”

Common Mistakes When Writing a Definition Essay

– Trying to define a term that is too broad in scope for the essay.

– Forgetting to emphasize the term that one is defining. In this case, it may be hard for readers to understand what your essay is ultimately about.

– Writing about terms that are well-known and which do not have conflicting interpretations.

– Ignoring the necessity of examples. No matter how detailed and clear your definition is, without concrete examples, it may be difficult for readers to understand how or when a certain term should be used.

– Copying the existing definition word-by-word. Instead, reinterpret the meaning. Do not be afraid to use your own thoughts for a new, unique definition.

Now that you have acquainted yourself with the basic definition essay writing tips and rules, you can check out our definition essay samples to link theory with practice.

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Samples for Writing a Definition Essay

The True Meaning of Absurd

The term absurd is used when an individual faces an occurrence that is beyond his or her comprehension, when he or she is anxious, or cannot deal with a certain issue (Fen 23). It would be rather fair to say that, in many cases, people avoid makin...

Zombie

The word “zombie” is not as clear cut as one might think. It can infer a fictional, undead creature, a state of stupor, or an act of mindless devotion. The term has been a part of popular culture the world over for over a century. Not only is a zombie ...

Momentum

A conserved quantity of motion Your first encounter with the conservation of momentum may have come as a small child unjustly confined to a shopping cart. You spot something interesting to play with, like the display case of imported wine down ...

What is a Definition Essay?

A definition essay is writing that explains what a term means. Some terms have definite, concrete meanings, such as glass, book, or tree. Terms such as honesty, honor, or love are abstract and depend more on a person's point of view.

Three Steps to Effective Definition

  1. Tell readers what term is being defined.
  2. Present clear and basic information.
  3. Use facts, examples, or anecdotes that readers will understand.

Choosing a Definition

Choosing a definition is a key step in writing a definition essay. You need to understand the term before you can define it for others. Read the dictionary, but don't just copy the definition. Explain the term briefly in your own words. Also, it's important to limit your term before you start defining it. For example, you could write forever on the term "love." To limit it, you would write about either "romantic love," "platonic love," or "first love."

Thesis Statement of a Definition Essay

The thesis statement usually identifies the term being defined and provides a brief, basic definition.

(term) (basic definition)

Ex: Assertiveness is standing up for your rights.

How To Write an Effective Definition

  1. Create a definition. There are several ways to define a term. Here are a few options.
    • Define by function. Explain what something does or how something works.
    • Define by structure. Tell how something is organized or put together.
    • Define by analysis. Compare the term to other members of its class and then illustrate the differences. These differences are special characteristics that make the term stand out. For example, compare a Siberian husky to other dogs, such as lap dogs, mutts, or sporting dogs.

      (term) (precise definition)

      Ex: A Siberian husky is a dog reputed for its ability to tolerate cold, its distinctive features, and its keen strength and stamina.

    • Define by what the term does not mean. This distinction can sometimes clarify a definition and help a reader to better understand it.
  2. Use understandable facts, examples, or anecdotes. Select facts, examples, or anecdotes to fully explain your definition. Ask yourself, "Which examples will best help readers understand the term? What examples would most appeal to my readers? Will a brief story reveal the term's meaning?" Do not use any examples that will not support the definition.

Remember: A definition essay is writing that explains what a term means. When writing a definition essay, remember to tell readers what term is being defined, to present a clear and basic definition, and to use facts, examples, or anecdotes that readers will understand

Here are the examples of popular definition essay topics:

  • Kindness
  • Sense of Humor
  • Love
  • ...

Whatever essay topic you choose, you should be interested in the subject and familiar with it. It would be great if you had your personal experience in the matter you are going to define.

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