Guide on How to Write a Definition Essay: All You Need to Know!

Writing guide
Posted on February 8, 2019

Writing an essay often requires defining a specific term and conducting profound research in order to interpret the meaning. Some disciplines may pose a challenge for students when they face some difficult notions or theories. In this way, they should look for various sources in the attempt to explain the meaning of the term, relate the definition to one’s life experiences, and form a personal opinion. It often comes that you may find contrasting ideas and interpretations of specific definitions on the web, though you need to base your opinion on the background knowledge and mix of various ideas.

What is a Definition?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word definition implies “a statement of the exact meaning of a word, especially in a dictionary.” Therefore, a person who tries to form a definition of the word should explain its essence. While forming a definition, one should smoothly move from the abstract to the concrete meaning. Writing a definition essay, you should not simply provide the definition, but also expand upon the meaning and add your interpretation based on the life experience. You are required to send a new message and bring an emotional appeal to the target audience in order to establish trust and render emotions.

Guide to Selecting the Right Word

1. Select an abstract word with different meanings
While forming a definition, choosing a simple word may pose difficulties to dwell upon it in the essay. Thus, a complex word may be the ultimate decision to move from abstract to concrete meaning.

– In linguistic terms, a word has semantic fields implying that it has a range of different meanings, which may resemble each other in its shade. One should always rely on the primary meaning of the word to shape the ultimate definition.
– Using more abstract nouns can help you expand upon the definition and structure it into various elements. For instance, the abstract word love can be used more widely than the word affection. This word constitutes a concept and may include different shades in its meaning, ranging from mother’s love to her children to physical love.

2. Choose a debatable word
The word used to form a definition should be disputable enough, so that you may construct your own opinion. While analyzing a definition, you should interpret the meaning from your perspective and come to a certain conclusion. You are required to contribute to the primary meaning of the definition in an attempt to create a coherent and extensive definition.

3. Select a familiar word
Relying on the dictionary is good, though you should always choose the word you are familiar with to incorporate it into the definition. While you should develop the meaning of the word you select, it is important to apply both theoretical and practical knowledge to shape the definition.

4. Check a dictionary definition
Before analyzing a specific concept, it is advised to turn to the dictionary in order to find an academic explanation of its meaning. For instance, based on the online etymological dictionary, the word anxiety derives from Latin anxietatem implying “apprehension caused by danger, misfortune, or error, the uneasiness of mind respecting some uncertainty, a restless dread of some evil.” In this way, you may compare your understanding of the definition with the registered one and form your thoughts based on the formal explanation.

5. Find an etymological meaning of the word
Thus, except for the dictionary meaning, you may find the origin and history of the word, which can be related to the specific historic period and existing norms of that time.

Compiling an Effective Definition: A Few Tips from Our Writers

  1. Divide a word into different morphological parts and derive its meaning separately. For instance, the word deconstruct can be separated into prefix de, and the base morpheme construct. In this context, de presupposes “down, away, off, from among,” which forms a negation in the word. Therefore, you may rely on the significance of the prefix and then, come to the philosophical interpretation of the word depending on the context of its use.
  2. Provide a classification of the word and define the part of speech it belongs to. You may compare the notion to other similar notions that relate to the same class. In this way, you may distinguish the differences between them and differentiate the most important features of the word’s meaning. For instance, based on the Longman Dictionary, pine is “a tall tree with long hard sharp leaves” in comparison to other trees such as maple, oak, birch, or cherry.
  3. Define the function of the word by telling what it means. You should explain how it is related to other words in a specific context.
  4. Compare a term you are not acquainted with to something more familiar to you. For instance, you may explain an uncommon for most people term by using the words that are more familiar to average people. For example, the word effete, which is not commonly used, can be substituted with the word over-refined or used in a different shade like feminine.
  5. Define the physical characteristics of the word to visualize its meaning. For instance, the abstract word childhood may not only indicate the physical attribute of age, but also feelings and states, such as coziness, warmness, and even anxiety you may feel during childhood.
  6. Use negation in order to explain the definition. For instance, while defining the word anxiety, you may contrast it with the word peace to explain its meaning.
  7. You are welcome to use anecdotes and examples to express the meaning of the definition. You can pose some questions to yourself like: Which examples can be applicable to the given definition? In what way can I appeal to the readers? Will this anecdote convey the term’s meaning?

Organizing a Structure

1. Indicate the dictionary definition in the introduction
In the introductory paragraph, you are required to quote the word-for-word definition from a trustworthy dictionary. Therefore, you may produce space for your own interpretation, which can be amplified by your background knowledge. Then, you may elaborate on the given term you have to analyze.
2. Give a definition of the term in the thesis
In the thesis statement, you should determine the term in your own perspective. Note that the definition should be clear and brief, as you will further develop it in the body. Avoid passive constructions and use more positive statements to prevent redundancy.
3. Break up various parts of the given definition into different paragraphs
You should choose a specific strategy, which would help you to explore the definition in depth. Do not stick only to one tactic, as sometimes it cannot be applicable to all terms. Utilize a range of methods in the attempt to visualize the general picture of the notion.
4. Provide your own in-depth research of ideas in the main body
In the main part, you should form coherent and strong topic sentences to present your claim. You should support your topic sentences with credible sources. Therefore, you are welcome to use dictionaries of different types including definition and etymological ones. Likely, you may indicate the cases in which the notion can be used, its origin, and development through history. It can also be useful to involve common fallacies faced by students in an attempt to define the term. As evidence, use your life experiences and examples to support the topic sentences.

You might choose any structure you wish, though you can start the main body with the origin of the word. You should define different points in the body to appeal to the reader. After providing the history, you might make up your own definition based on dictionary meaning. You should note that after providing an interpretation of the definition, you can include specific characteristics of the word, which make it stand out. Then, you can describe your own attitude and feelings associated with the word.

While forming a definition, you should identify its grammatical meaning, breaking it into several parts. This could be done by classifying the word based on its morphological composition and semantic meaning. You should also explain its usage and significance in the spheres of life it might be applicable. For instance, if the word is outdated, you should explain how it disappeared from everyday use. Define the causes and dwell upon the word’s use through a historical prism. If the word is still used on a regular basis, you can indicate its possible limitations in use. Therefore, you can identify in which contexts the word can be used and in which situations the word cannot be applicable. In addition, define the effectiveness of the word and its impact on human perception.

5. Summarize your thoughts
In the concluding paragraph, you should reiterate the main points you covered in the body paragraph. Pay close attention to the topic sentence in order to distinguish the major points. You may also include limitations or recommendations to leave food for thoughts for the reader.
6. Highlight the associations you have with the given definition
If you can relate your own stories and feelings to the given definition, you are welcome to include your thoughts in conclusion. If you show the role of definition in your life, the reader is more likely to be engaged in reading the guideline.

Definition Topics

You should remember that choosing abstract nouns for compiling the definition is the best strategy for analysis. While all people are acquainted with common nouns, it is better to dwell upon uncountable complex nouns. Some of the most known abstract concepts involve love, happiness, family, religion, life, and death.
These are possible definition essay topics:

  1. How to Find the Meaning in Life If There Is No Meaning in Life?
  2. What Is the Concept of Temporality from the Existentialist Point of View?
  3. Define the Notion of Love Based on the Elements of Eros, Philia, and Agape;
  4. Define the Notion of Solitude in Plato’s Interpretation;
  5. How to Define Type of Personality Based on Body Language?
  6. How to Struggle Anxiety If the Life Always Poses a Challenge?
  7. What Does It Mean to Be a True Self?
  8. How to Get Positivity in the Cases of Disappointment and Sufferings?
  9. Define the Concept of Life from the Existentialist Perspective;
  10. Define the Notion of Fear of Death Based on Religious Theories.

Definition Writing Tips from Our Experts

  1. When shaping a definition, you should not be biased and provide different viewpoints based on several sources. You are welcome to use encyclopedias and dictionaries to check the registered academic definitions.
  2. Always include examples and life stories to illustrate how the word is used.
  3. You may include common mistakes related to the word’s usage and underline its application in everyday life.
  4. Do not merely provide a copy of the exact definition from the dictionary. Always provide your own interpretation of the word or paraphrase it in your own way.
  5. Provide a unique definition that does not only comply with academic one.
  6. Check spelling and grammar before submitting a final draft.
  7. Select a notion that you understand and to which you can relate your own experience. If you do not understand the term, you may consult your instructor and receive an in-depth explanation of the notion.
  8. Include many perspectives on the interpretation of the notion. You may cover such points as etymological meaning, functions, uses, effectiveness, and limitations. You can include both similarities and differences to compare the term with others and define its unique characteristics.
  9. When coming up with the definition, do not start with when or where.
  10. Follow a logical flow of ideas and keep a coherent structure throughout your essay. You should have a clear introduction with a thesis statement, the main body, and conclusion.
  11. Pick up the broad term as the too narrow topic may restrain you from writing a well-grounded guide definition. Though, a topic should be neither too broad nor too specific in order to take different perspectives.
  12. Try to use smooth transitions in the guideline to combine various types of your essay.
  13. Write in accordance with the word count to produce a succinct and coherent guide definition.

Anxiety. (n.d.) In Online etymology dictionary. Retrieved from
Definition. (n.d.) In Oxford Dictionary. Retrieved from
Definition Essay: A Powerful Guide to Writing an Excellent Paper | PrivateWriting. (2018). Retrieved from
Definition essay writing help, ideas, topics, examples. (2018). Retrieved from
Essay Writing Guide: Definition Essay. (2018). Retrieved from
How to Write a Definition Essay | English Composition I: Rhetorical Methods–Based. (2018). Retrieved from
Pine. (n.d.) In Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. Retrieved from
Tips and Hints on How to Write a Definition Essay: Guides – A Research Guide for Students. (2018). Retrieved from

Upgrade your essays with these FREE writing tools!
Get started now