How to Write a Definition Essay in Classic English Literature

Writing guide
Posted on March 22, 2021

Annually, professors try to invent new types of assignments for their beloved students. Some go for research papers, while some prefer coursework. Those, students who came across a definition essay may sigh with relief because there is no place for complexity. Regularly, it is aimed just to check one’s knowledge regarding the studied material. For instance, what is Classic English Literature in general? Also, it can serve for checking students’ understanding of key terms related to the discipline. But, one hint in advance, you won’t need to sit days writing this paper. One day or even a few hours is more than enough to accomplish the whole task. So, what is it?

A definition essay is a paper revealing the definition of one term related to the studied discipline. One should choose a topic, then word, and give a full meaning of it. It can be done with the help of dictionaries, and a student should also work on his vision or attitude regarding the definition. As far as, the primary goal of this guide is to master Classic English Literature subject, your paper should deal with any related term such as literature, poem, verse, novel, and its full research depending on what your professor would like to see.

Besides, the good point of this essay that it is practically an interesting exercise for developing one’s critical thinking. It does not work only by mentioning the definition taken from the dictionary but one should attach more features or facts to, first off, reach the word count of essay, secondly, research the inside out of the selected topic. Thus, do not try to choose simple words that will bring you nothing than two to three sentences of definition, and you will have to add watery phrases. You can master it with no trouble by selecting only terms with a broad meaning.

Let’s sum up, a definition essay is a paper for brainstorming ideas that will help one to cope with any possible assignment further on.

How to Write a Definition Essay in Classic English Literature? Topic

Let’s come closer to the ‘stuffing’ of this engaging subject. Historically, literary experts state that Classic English Literature is a subject that encompasses pieces of work written in a certain period of time that proved to awake exceptional interest in readers and quality based on experts’ reviews. So, it involves the representatives of non-aging literature who are popular and referred to until now. Nevertheless, here comes the first obstacle, students think that Shakespeare is the only valuable example of Classic Literature neglecting other geniuses who contributed to literature a long time ago but still gain popularity in modern readers.

Students cannot determine what is classic and what is not, in fact, they can provide only their opinion regarding the worth representatives but the choice will be based only on the professor’s decision. For instance, one can have a syllabus with the optional topics where one can derive inspiration from, otherwise online world perfectly provides one with a wide variety of options for any taste.

Once, you do not have a syllabus to rely on, make sure to spend some qualitative time researching the options. Try to avoid easy-manageable terms, and after you decide on the one, discuss this variant with a professor. It is very important to receive his consent.

For your convenience, here you can find an approximate list of topics that are suitable for your definition essay.

  • Classic Literature: What Can You Consider Classic Today?
  • Mystery or Horror in Works of Edgar Allan Po;
  • Tragedy in Shakespear’s Masterpieces;
  • Classic Book. Can You Consider Your Favorite Book Classic?
  • Love and Grief in Works of 20’s Century;
  • Loneliness by Daniel Defo in Robinson Crusoe;
  • Horror in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley;
  • Erotica in Jane Eyre;
  • Entertainment in David Copperfield by Charles Dickens;
  • Sense of Humor in Three Man in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome;
  • Corruption in the Picture of Dorian Grey;
  • Mental Illness in Mrs. Dalloway;
  • Entertainment in the Great Gatsby;
  • Satire in Gulliver’s Travel;
  • Vanity Fair Concept by William Thackeray.

Accordingly, one should read the whole work to trace the whole meaning of the term. For instance, if choosing a Satire in Gulliver’ Travel, you can mention that Jonathan Swift managed to create a masterpiece that by mistake is now considered a tale for children only. Nowadays, many adults can refer to this book to understand the hidden meaning of life. And, satire is the key element of this work contributing to reveal a hidden truth.

Thus, one should find the standard meaning or history of satire, and then attach the evidence of it taking into consideration Jonathan Swift’s masterpiece. After that, it is also necessary to provide a personal opinion on its relevance. And, it will be sufficient for submitting an essay.

Pre-Writing Tips for a Definition Essay in Classic English Literature

Usually, there is no much need for building a plan or outline, one can perfectly cope with the task without it. However, if necessary, it can be done in the way, a student takes a paper and writes down everything worthy coming to mind regarding the possible definitions. For instance, in Mental Illness in Mrs.Dalloway’s topic, you can write down the term Mental Illness in the center of a paper, and turn to Oxford or any other credible dictionaries for a meaning. After, you can find out the well-known individual’s features of this health problem, and compare them to the ones mentioned in the work. Trace how people there behave, live or cope with it.

Then, one should familiarize with the common mistakes that other students do:

  1. They do not go deeper into the meaning. A student has to always analyze or research the whole impact of one simple term on society. Satire is a great literary element but what are the changes it provides today’s literature with, how many authors tend to base their works on this genre, or what effect in readers it has. Find out whether it is their favorite genre or it is tough to read such works;
  2. They leave it for the last moment. Even this guide claims it is a task for a few hours. And, it is true if you previously wrote any other type of essay. If you have no practice in writing or you found it hard before, try to dedicate at least one day for your work. It will be enough for brainstorming ideas, formatting, and proofreading;
  3. They do not ask for help. It is a careless attitude toward your studying if you do not satisfy your craving for knowledge. Once you cannot figure out the right direction in writing, do not hesitate to ask for tips from your professor or graduates who have already coped with this assignment before;
  4. They use a lot of slang. Obviously, a definition essay predetermines a creative approach to the paper, and one can easily attach a personal attitude in terms of the selected topic. But, do remember that it is still an academic paper that should comply with your educational establishment rules. If you are sure you need to use it, again ask for a professor’s consent;
  5. They exceed word length. In reality, a definition essay is half of the page or one-page maximum. Those who cannot reach the minimum limit, fail. Those who exceed it also cannot boast a good grade. Make sure to be on the same page with your professor regarding the word count, otherwise, all your efforts will be useless.

Finally, do not be among those students who plagiarize papers. Remember, such intentions are now fastly captivated with plagiarism checkers. And, you won’t get anything but the task to redo your essay or you will straightway receive a bad grade.

How to Format a Definition Essay in Classic English Literature

A definition essay does not differ much from other types of paper. There are still three obligatory components that help students formulate their knowledge. They are an introduction, main body, and conclusion.


  • Provide a brief definition of the selected term;
  • Mention the literary work you base your essay on;
  • Present an explanation of your choice. If possible, make a hint that this term reflects your life or attracts you with its complexity. But, do not go deeper, the whole explanation will be revealed in the main body;
  • Attach an anecdote or rhetorical question if it fits the context;
  • Finish the introduction with a transitional sentence. It will invisibly transfer a reader to the main body;
  • Try to get your reader hooked on the thesis. Do not write that Satire is very interesting, that’s why you chose it. Intrigue a professor, write that Satire is an underestimated genre or literary component because it is a hard nut to crack for the authors. Mention that only people with unbiased state of mind can criticize others or reveal the truth of society. After that, add that you know why satire is still actual. It can provoke a reader to get to know your overconfidence that you know something.

Main Body:

  • Provide an official definition of the selected term from any credible dictionary;
  • Provide a definition based on the selected book or author’s observations;
  • Dedicate each idea a new paragraph. If you have several definitions, structure them separately per paragraph;
  • Attach origin or history of the term. If possible, add explanations taken from other lit-crits. It will greatly raise a grade because you add facts or supporting clues;
  • Do not write judgy statements that the author wrote a work about happiness but could not reveal it to the fullest. It is only your opinion.


  • Explain how the term influenced your knowledge, life or attitude to the author;
  • Address the thesis and show what you achieved with an essay;
  • Do not attach new information that has not been introduced before;
  • You may again end your paper with an anecdote or rhetorical question.

As a result, your work will have several definitions, your personal opinion, and facts that guard your statements. After finishing, reread it and try to understand whether there are enough clues or explanations to satisfy a professor’s requirements. Otherwise, leave it for some time, and think if you achieved the target, of course, if you still have some time in stock.

How to Proofread a Definition Essay in Classic English Literature

Before submitting a definition essay, make sure to proofread your work. This stage eliminates spelling or grammatical mistakes. For the top results, you can try online editors such as Grammarly or Hemingway App. They will highlight the mistakes and you will greatly save your time. Other tips are:

  • Verify that your definitions do not start with – IT IS WHEN – IT IS HOW. Try to formulate them with another approach, or explanations;
  • Read your essay to others. After presenting your essay, you may ask for feedback or ask them if your explanations gave enough meaning, and they could understand the whole concept of work;
  • Check your word count. Do not exceed but reach the minimal limit;
  • Make sure your sentences are not so long. 10 words are more than enough to provide a definition. Otherwise, too long sentences can make professor puzzled;
  • Read backward. Once one can no longer spot mistakes, reading backward can change the situation;
  • Decorate your writing. There are many linking words that can help you with word count and with transitional patters for an essay. It looks bad when one part abrupts and you straightaway proceed with the next one;
  • Do not use too much I, ME. Even though this paper does not predetermine MANY personal expressions, some tend to attach too much. Try to write in the third person. Only, the last paragraphs should be dedicated to your opinion or identification of the selected matter.

Finally, after you are done with proofreading and submitting work, distract on other activities. The time for assessing the work is usually no longer than a few days. Thus, read books, listen to music or go out with friends. Otherwise, make corrections of errors, identify what were your pitfalls when writing, and note them down to avoid in the next papers.


  1. Greetham, Bryan. How to Write Better Essays. Palgrave, 2018.
  2. Starkey, Lauren B. How to Write Great Essays. LearningExpress, 2004.
  3. Shrimpton, Nicholas, et al. “English Literature.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 4 Feb. 2019,
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