Understanding How to Write a Definition Essay

Susan Wilson, 26 May, 2019
Updated 9 November, 2023

Introduction to Definition Essays

Definition of a Definition Essay A definition essay is a type of expository writing that explains what a term or a concept means. Some terms have definite, concrete meanings, such as glass, book, or tree. Others such as honesty, love, or courage are abstract and depend more on a person’s point of view.

Objectives of a Definition Essay

  • Clarify Meanings: To provide a clear and precise account of a term’s meaning.
  • Explore Concepts: To delve into the deeper nuances of a term, exploring its implications and connotations.
  • Persuade Readers: To convince readers of a particular understanding of a term.

Variations of Definition Essays

  • Abstract Concepts: Dealing with ideas that are open to interpretation.
  • Complex Terms: Examining terms that have layered meanings in different contexts.
  • Controversial and Debated Terms: Exploring terms that spark debate over their true meaning.

Choosing the Right Topic

Selecting a Term or Concept

  • Choose a word that is disputable: Pick a word that has multiple meanings, is abstract, or is subject to personal interpretation.
  • Avoid simple terms: Simple, concrete terms do not provide much material to write about.
  • Go for depth: Choose a word that can be discussed at length and is multi-dimensional.

Importance of Complexity and Personal Relevance

  • Complexity ensures there is enough to write about.
  • Personal relevance will make your writing more engaging and sincere.

Research and Sources

Understanding the Chosen Term

  • Research the historical and contemporary contexts of the term.
  • Consider different viewpoints and definitions from various sources.

Gathering Reliable Sources

  • Academic databases: JSTOR, Google Scholar, etc.
  • Books and encyclopedias for comprehensive coverage.
  • Interviews and personal anecdotes for unique perspectives.

Citing Sources

  • Adhere to a citation style (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.).
  • Ensure all sources are credible and documented properly.

Thesis Development

Crafting a Thesis Statement

  • A thesis for a definition essay should define the term in the writer’s own words.
  • Include the standard definition with your personal interpretation.
  • The thesis should be clear, concise, and convey the term’s meaning effectively.

Outlining the Term’s Meaning

  • Discuss the basic information about the term.
  • Explain your personal interpretation and viewpoint.
  • Outline the main points that will be covered in the essay.

By following these guidelines, you’ll be able to construct a well-organized and insightful definition essay that provides depth and personal insight into the term or concept of your choice.

Essay Structure


  • Hook: Start with a hook to pique interest—quote, startling fact, or anecdote.
  • Background Info: Provide a general background of the term or concept.
  • Thesis Statement: End with a thesis that presents your unique definition.

Body Paragraphs

  • Paragraph 1: Discuss the dictionary definition and origins of the term.
  • Paragraph 2: Explain your personal definition based on experience.
  • Further Paragraphs: Analyze the term from different angles or perspectives, using evidence and examples.
  • Transition Sentences: Ensure each paragraph flows logically to the next.


  • Summarize Main Points: Reiterate the main points without repeating them exactly.
  • Restate Thesis: Remind readers of the term’s definition according to your perspective.
  • Closing Thoughts: Offer final thoughts or consider the implications of the definition.

Writing Tips

Strategies for Clear and Effective Writing

  • Be Concise: Use clear and concise language.
  • Vary Sentence Structure: Mix simple, compound, and complex sentences for flow.
  • Personal Touch: Weave in personal anecdotes or reflections to add depth.

Integrating Personal and Historical Context

  • Relevance: Connect personal experiences to the larger context of the term.
  • Historical Angle: Incorporate historical perspectives to show the term’s evolution.

Revision Strategies

Techniques for Refining the Essay

  • Read Aloud: Identify awkward phrasing or errors.
  • Peer Review: Have others read your essay to spot unclear sections.
  • Refine for Clarity: Clarify any vague points or complex sentences.

Utilizing Feedback

  • Openness: Be open to critiques and willing to make changes.
  • Selective Revision: Consider which feedback aligns with your essay’s goals.

Examples and Explanations

Successful Definition Essays

  • Example Essays: Study essays that effectively define and explore a term.
  • Effectiveness: Note the use of clear language, structured arguments, and persuasive evidence.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Over-Simplification: Avoid overly simple definitions that lack depth.
  • Plagiarism: Ensure all sources are cited properly.
  • Subjectivity: Balance personal perspective with objective analysis.


Summarizing Key Points

  • Remember the structure: Introduction, Body, Conclusion.
  • Clarity, coherence, and personal touch are crucial for effective writing.
  • Revise diligently and incorporate feedback thoughtfully.

Motivational Close

  • Writing a definition essay is an opportunity to explore and express complex ideas.
  • With careful thought and passion, your essay can provide a unique perspective and contribute meaningfully to the understanding of your chosen term.
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