Really Easy Definition Essay

Definition Essays: Explaining a Term With Examples, Facts and Anecdotes

View Worksheet

Definition essays define a specific term through explanation. Defined terms can be concrete or abstract. Concrete terms are words like pencil, coffee or fan; abstract terms are words like integrity, honesty or love. When this type of essay defines something abstract, you usually write from your point of view. Before you jump into writing this essay format, make sure you understand the assignment well.

The main components of definition essays

There are three components that dictate what you write in a definition essay:

  • Stating the term that you intend to define
  • Presenting basic information clearly
  • Using examples, facts or anecdotes that are easily understood
  • In addition, any term you select to define in the definition essay should have a complex meaning, possibly mean different things to different people and stay able to be discussed in a meaningful way.

    Choosing the definition for your essay

    While stating the term you intend to define seems pretty straightforward, some words have multiple meanings. The definition is the central point of the essay, so before you can write about it to explain it to your readers, you must first understand the specific meaning. Some words are very broad in definition and lend themselves to creating too broad of a topic. For example, “sleep” is very broad, but you can narrow the definition by defining “sleep deprivation” instead.

    Writing the thesis statement for a definition essay

    In a definition essay, the thesis statement is the term and its definition. It is very simple in nature and consists solely of the term and a very basic definition. Part of developing your thesis revolves around writing an effective definition. There are multiple approaches to defining your selected term:

  • By analysis—compare it to something similar and show differences
  • By function—what it does or how it works
  • By structure—how it is organized or assembled
  • By opposite definition—explain what the term is not
  • Using facts, examples or anecdotes to write the definition essay

    As you define your term more in-depth, select facts, examples or anecdotes you can use to define your term more completely. Considerations you should make while deciding on the best way to define the term include the following:

    • Do certain examples make the term more understandable?
    • Which examples or facts are the most appealing?
    • Can an anecdote best explain the meaning of the term?

    However you decide to explain the term, never use examples, facts or anecdotes that do not support the definition 100 percent.

    Choosing definition essay topics

    You have virtually unlimited choices when it comes to selecting a term to define in this type of essay. However, abstract terms lend the air to more creativity and personal anecdotes. Examples of terms you might choose include the following:

    • Ambition
    • Compassion
    • Funny
    • Kindness
    • Love
    • Respect

    When selecting a term, aim to pick something that you find interesting and something to which you can personally relate. Not only does it make the writing process easier, but it generally makes what you write more interesting. As you wrap up your essay, the final paragraph is often used to share the personal meaning of the word you selected.


    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.

    Did you like this guide / sample?

    Sign up and we’ll send you ebook of 1254 samples like this for free!

    • 80+ essay types
    • 1000+ essay samples
    • Pro writing tips

    Samples for Writing a Definition Essay

    What is Heat?

    What is heat really? Is it an invisible fluid your bare feet soak up from a hot sidewalk? Can one ever remove all the heat from an object? Is there a maximum to the temperature scale? The theory of heat as a fluid seemed to explain why colder ob...

    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 ...

    Leave a Comment

    (0 Comments)

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *