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How to Write a Definition Essay

Definition Essay

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Definition essays require you to write your personal definition of a certain word. Even though this task is more about your own understanding of a certain subject, action or idea, your thoughts must be based on good research and supported by evidence. Students often have to write definition essays in college, and we also suggest trying such a task for everyone who wants to improve writing skills.

First of all, you have to select a certain word. Define it briefly and think about it. Now you’ll need to expand your definition and develop it by using sources and references. Start with a draft and then write the essay according to your plan.  After that, you’ll also have to proofread it and fix any grammar mistakes.

Even if you have no idea about how to write such an essay, don’t worry — we decided to help you with an understandable step-by-step guide. Enjoy!

  1. Define your general idea

We suggest choosing words that describe a certain concept or a broad subject. Think about ideas that can be described in a form of an essay. You need to find a topic which can be considered from various angles and which you have strong associations with. It may be love, feminism, justice, truth, democracy, family, and so on. Such concepts can be easily described by using various sources and your own experience.

No matter what associations or feelings you have related to a chosen word. It may be something associated with positive emotions, such as “success”, “happiness”, or “friendship”, or you can choose words like “pain” or “death” as well.

  1. Don’t write about concrete things

It’s difficult to write a definitive essay about material objects. Obviously, you don’t need to write a lot about such words as “ball”, “mug”, or “shoe”. Such objects also are impossible to consider in a deep context.

However, some concrete objects may be replaced with more broad subjects. For example, the word “house” can be described in a couple words, while the word “home” is a nice subject for a definition essay.

  1. Choose familiar words

You must have at least basic understanding of a word to write about it. Don’t go for words that are too complicated for you. Notice that the subject of your essay shouldn’t be necessarily sophisticated. The point is that you have to provide your own definition, so it’s all about your individual perspective. With such an approach, even the most obvious thing may be a subject of a great essay.

  1. Find a word that has various meanings

Such words are the best for definition essays. Choose a subject that can be considered in different dimensions and contexts. This will allow you to provide more information and use more sources.

For instance, the word “pain” may be explained quite differently depending on the context. it may be a physical pain or deep sadness. Both things are familiar to everyone from your audience, and you can think about your own understanding of pain, by recalling moments associated with pain of any kind.

Define the Word

  1. Search the word in a dictionary

Check a dictionary to find the traditional definition. We also suggest noticing the structure of the definition. Dictionaries usually include information on what class any word belongs to, as well as synonyms. Note synonyms so you can use them in your essay.

For example, a dictionary will define the word “trust” as a noun that means belief in truth and reliability of something. Thus, you can start your essay like this: “Trust is a noun which can be compared to such thing as truth”.

  1. Find information on the history of your word

The easiest way to get information on the origin of the word and its history is to find it in encyclopedias. You can use common online and printed encyclopedias, and also learn what it means in certain disciplines. For example, you can search for the word “justice” in a law encyclopedia, and you’ll find different definitions of justice in various legal systems.

  1. Find online sources, articles, and books that discuss your subject

There are many sources where your word is discussed in detail. Check academic papers, online journals, and blogs. Collect as much information as you can. We suggest using such sources as ProQuest, JSTOR, or Google Scholar to search for articles. You can also find some educational videos devoted to your subject.

  1. Talk to others

Talk to your friends and family, ask them what they think about the word, and how they could define it. Ask them about feelings associated with such a word, how they use it, and what they consider its main meaning. Take your notes and take into account their perspective when writing.

  1. Make up your own definition

Write your definition of the word based on your experience and research. Consider it from a broad viewpoint, and compare it to the synonyms that you noted before. Don’t forget about the definition structure: it must begin with a word, followed by a coherent definition sentence, which must reflect the context that looks most important to you.

Write a Draft

Make a blueprint that will help you arrange your thoughts in a right way.

  1. Make a five-part structure

A structure which consists of five sections is most common and convenient. Such essays include one paragraph of an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion paragraph at the end. Such a structure may include more than five paragraphs, in case you keep the ratio. We suggest asking your instructor to clarify how long your essay should be.

In the introduction, you have to mention your thesis statement. It also must be reminded in the conclusion.

  1. Introduce the regular definition

To acquaint your readers with the subject, provide them with the regular definition of the term which you found in dictionaries and encyclopedias. Don’t forget to specify your sources.

  1. Write your thesis statement

When writing definition essays, you have to provide your own, unique definition of the word. This is your thesis statement. It must be written in an active voice and be one sentence long. Create a thesis statement based on your experience and research.

  1. Discuss the word

Begin with a bit of history. Or, if the historical context of the word is most important, make sure that your readers have all necessary information about it. Tell where this word appeared for the first time, pay special attention to its root and in what areas it’s used most often.

After this, analyze the standard definition. Write a detailed analysis of the definition, considering each word and think about deeper meanings.

Compare the word with synonyms and other similar terms in such an area. Tell what exactly these words have in common and how they differ. Don’t stay focused only on synonyms. It’s easier to understand any word if one knows what this word does not mean in any case.

After this, you can explain your own point. Start with the clear definition which serves as your thesis statement. Remember that it must reflect your personal perspective and be based on your experience and memories.

In case you’ve interviewed people about this word, you can use their experience as well, providing a broader viewpoint.

Support your thesis statement with evidence. Make references. Use your notes and refer to various sources that you’ve found during the research. Make sure that your quotes and references are written according to a required citation format. If you’re not sure what format to choose, ask your instructor. Chicago, APA, and MLA are the most common styles. Familiarize yourself with the general principles of citation by studying manuals.

  1. Write a conclusion

Summarize your essay by restating your thesis statement and briefly reminding key points. Don’t give any new information in this section. Make sure that you mention only points that you discussed in the body part.

  1. Polish your Essay

First of all, read it a few times. We also suggest reading it out loud, so you could hear how it sounds and get rid of unnatural phrases and repetitions.

Let your friends or relatives read your essay and ask them, what they think about it. Sometimes it’s hard to estimate your own work, so they may find something that you haven’t noticed.

Check grammar, punctuation, and stylistic mistakes. If you’re not sure about some words or punctuation marks, ask for help. You can even order writing essay online, to make sure that you didn’t miss any mistake.

Pay special attention to references. Don’t forget that common citation formats include certain requirements for cover page writing, the text format, and footnotes.