How to Write a Definition Essay: Writing Guide with Sample Essays

What Is a Definition Essay?

This type of paper involves writing a formal explanation of one specific word. It is important to note that this is an essay, which means you most likely cannot pick a simple term that can be described in a few words.

A definition essay is meant to describe a complex term that has significant background and historical origin, and is a relatable term. The word “love” is an excellent example of such a term — as it is seemingly impossible to explain this concept very briefly. This gives us room to write a definition essay about it, which would give it an accurate representation.

Types of Definitions Commonly Used in Essays

So, you have found an exciting term with a complex background worth delving into? Before you decide to make it the subject for your definition essay, consider what you can do with it.

Here are some ways to approach your definition essay:

  • Analysis: Break the subject up into parts and define each element individually.
  • Classification: What classes does the issue belong to?
  • Comparison: Unusual things may be determined by showing how similar or different they are from usual things.
  • Details: What are the characteristics and other distinguishing features that describe the idea of the paper?
  • Negation: Explain what it isn’t, to narrow down what it is.
  • Origins and Causes: What is the origin of the theme? What is the background information? What is the history of the idea?
  • Results, Effects, and Uses: Describe the after-effects and uses of the subject.

Interesting Topics

Now that you have an understanding of what a definition essay is, it is time to choose your topic. It is important to consider an interesting topic that grabs your reader’s attention. Your intention is to make the topic catchy, so that the reader does not think of it as mundane, and will keep reading. We have some topics for you to consider, which are grouped by general categories. Feel free to pick any of them and twist it around if you need to.

Definition Essay on Love

Love is the most wonderful feeling there is. Talking about love, especially defining it, can be a very challenging task, so brace yourself and take a look at these topics we suggest. Despite the complexity of the matter, a definition essay on love is the most popular subject when it comes to defining terms in academic papers.

  • Compare Love and Hate. Which one is the stronger emotion?
  • A universal definition of love: does it exist?
  • The connection between love and other emotions
  • Parental love
  • The correlation between love and passion

Happiness Definition Essay

At some point, everyone in their lives feels happy. Whether it is just a short moment or a continuous feeling, it is known as a strong emotion that makes life worth living. A happiness definition essay is a good option to consider because it is familiar and relatable.

  • Defining happiness based on personal experience
  • The non-importance of money
  • What are the origins of the term “Parlay”?
  • How can happiness be achieved?
  • What is the opposite of happiness and why?

Family Definition Essay

In a family definition essay, you can either define some family values, its members, or other related things. It is a very versatile topic because it is relatable to any reader out there. Make it sound personal and include the family traditions and values you hold most dear, in order to achieve the expected result.

  • Perfect family traditions in American society
  • The 21st-century family and its values today
  • Pre-arranged and child marriages
  • Early parenting: pros and cons
  • Families with a single child
  • The impact of family on education & career choice
  • The role of television in family communication

Freedom Definition Essay

Freedom has many disguises: freedom of choice, freedom of speech, and free will. In an essay about freedom you are given an opportunity not only to define it, but also argue about having too much or too little of it, or to discuss freedom in various settings and societies. A freedom definition essay is a popular assignment in US schools. You may combine history and culture to succeed with this one.

  • Being free & being truly happy
  • Prisoners vision of freedom
  • Explaining the word “freedom” through slavery
  • The movement for freedom
  • The role of the American Civil War in formulating the term “freedom”
  • Reasons why people should not obtain full freedom

Easy Definition Essay Topics

When you are in doubt which topic to choose—because they all seem too complicated—refer to our list of easy topics. They allow you to talk about things you are very familiar with as a college student; writing them will be a piece of cake.

  • The features of a hero based on Pride and Prejudice characters
  • Describing success using the example from the “Queen” story
  • What makes someone a Villain and why?
  • Campus vs. home conditions
  • The role of a university degree in a modern person’s life
  • Characterize an Antihero
  • Analyze the definition of Beauty.
  • What makes someone a Hero?

Extended Definition Essay Topics

In the extended definition essay topics, you should discuss words with broad meanings only. Avoid terms with a single interpretation. These topics allow you to have a very elaborate argument with a broad spectrum of ideas.

  • Measures of punishments parents take to keep a healthy family
  • Differences and similarities among self-assurance, self-development, & self-management
  • Traits that make a person generous
  • Things that prove the FBI violates the rights of US citizens
  • The meaning and usage of the term “frenemy”
  • Several factors that identify a person as selfish
  • Methods to cope with laziness and the implications of it
  • Detecting protagonists’ traits based on Marvel movies
  • What are the defining attributes of Royalty?

Definition Essay Ideas for Business

Majoring in Business? Here is a wide range of essays that will be easy and interesting for you to write about. Even if it is not the case, economics, business, and e-commerce have plenty of interesting terms to explain. Some of the best ideas include:

  • Causes & effects of an economic recession
  • The development of e-commerce
  • The role of statistics in business
  • How to define an appropriate salary
  • Things that social packages include
  • Production and producers
  • Business management & marketing
  • How to explain the meaning of a start-up
  • Types of marketing advertising

Definition Essay Ideas for Science & IT

Here are some bonus definition topics related to information technology & science. They might be useful if you like to discuss innovations and forecasts for the future.

  • The programming language of tomorrow
  • The World Wide Web / Internet
  • Operating systems (Mac, Windows, etc.)
  • Different types of telecommunication
  • Pros and cons of e-learning
  • Computer data & information
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Automated home systems

These are just some common examples of definition essay topics, questions that are commonly asked on tests, and coursework assignments. The goal here is to pick the best essay topic, that as a student, you feel most comfortable explaining and portraying.

For more topic ideas check our article 100 Definition Essay Topics to Impress

Pre-Writing Steps

1. Choosing a Proper Term
When choosing a topic, it is necessary to choose a word that is not simple, and does not have a solid precise definition. A word with a concrete meaning will not give you much room to write about. When your word has an abstract meaning, it is possible to write a lot about it. The terms that should not be used for a definition essay are nouns referring to a person or a place. It is easy to define and describe them, but these topics do not have a lot of potential.


✅Term “Writing”

  • Gives you more wiggle room
  • There are different ways to describe it

⛔️Term “Pencil”

  • The term is too concrete
  • Has no deeper meaning to delve into

2. The Word Should Be Multi-Dimensional

This means that you need to choose a word that has different meanings for different people. For example, the word “love” has different feelings and associations for everyone. A definition essay can be a very subjective endeavour, as it allows a writer to showcase their own interpretation on the matter. Although, you should stay away from the meaning that everyone else has of your subject, as it might only be confirming the feelings and knowledge of other people—presenting no new arguments.


✅Terms “Hello” or “Telephone”

  • It i possible to expand description of these terms.
  • Much better to pick a more complex term for the start.
  • Words with double meanings are especially interesting to explore.

⛔️Term “Desk”

  • Has no dimensionality to it
  • Can mean only couple of things
  • Has no deeper meaning

3. Choose a Word That You Know Well
Writing an essay on a word you simply picked up from a dictionary is extremely difficult. You need to have personal experience related to it, or good knowledge of the word you are defining. It is always better to choose a word that you are familiar with. This gives you leverage to be able to elaborate on the matter and show your credibility as an author.

✅Term “Intimacy”

  • Write about a term that has an association with your life.
  • You may sound like you know what you are talking about.

⛔️Term “Thermodynamics”

  • You probably picked up the word in your Physics class
  • The reader will not be able to relate to it
  • Most likely, you will sound too scientific and potentially boring

4. Use the Word’s Background History
The origin, or etymology, of a word has some historical reason for being what it is. Make sure you familiarize your readers with that, as it has a very significant role in the word’s current usage. Explore the history of the term using dictionaries, and online resources, to elaborate on the general definition. Publish your findings in your definition paper.

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Definition Essay Outline

Every essay should be written in the classic Intro-Body-Conclusion format. According to the definition essay structure, the introduction should address the central question with a thesis statement.

Your outline is a draft for your actual paper, so it has to be planned out extremely carefully. You need to include your main points and highlights as a building blocks for your paper. Your outline will aid you in creating a well-organized essay, and will ensure its high quality.

Depending on the term, however, the body of a definition essay outline may vary in length and should include all of the points made by the writer. The conclusion should summarize all the main ideas, and suggest possible future associations with the word.


In a definition essay, the introduction has two goals. You must give a standard, or the most common, explanation of the term. You can do so by searching for it in a dictionary, or simply on the web. If a word has multiple meanings, it is wise to choose the one that suits your ideas the most and go on from that. As with any other essay, you need to have an “attention grabber” to make sure that your reader is interested and eager to proceed reading your essay. It can be a famous quote, a joke, statistics, information, or simply a fun fact about your term.

Next, move to your thesis statement—while keeping the initial meaning of the word in mind. It is important to stick to this strategy to not confuse the reader, and have a logical coherent flow to your paper.

Thesis Statement

Your thesis statement is a part of the introduction. For a definition paper, the thesis is your version of what the term means. This can be a mix of the standard explanation, your personal experiences, and your interpretation style. Keep it short; do not try to describe too much in this section. This is where you transition into the body of the paper.

Body Paragraphs

Usually, there are three body paragraphs in a definition essay. We suggest you organize them the following way:

An example of a good body paragraph structure:

  • Body Paragraph 1: History and Origin
  • Body Paragraph 2: Full dictionary explanation and use.
  • Body Paragraph 3: Personal definition created from experience.

Break down the term into its core parts in the body of your essay. Analyze the term from different angles and provide a relevant explanation. More than three paragraphs may be necessary, depending on the nature of your assignment.

Although, feel free to alter this format anyway that suits your word better, as, depending on the complexity of your word, you can add more paragraphs, or switch the order around.

Keep in mind, that as a writer of a definition essay, you need to jot down all the expansive definitions available to you to give the reader the full array of your term’s beauty and depth. It is your job to do extensive research and fully understand it. You need to support your claims with examples, as well as give your opinion and share the experiences you might have had.


Keep the conclusion simple. The main goal here is to summarize the main points of your argument. Rephrase your thesis, as well as the main parts of the explanation, and sum up everything you said in the body of your definition paper.

The last thing that should be mentioned in your definition paper outline is how this term has impacted you. If you were, for example, writing about the concept of love, you can say that being in love, and expressing that love to another person, made you more compassionate. It changed your character in a positive way and showed you new side of yourself. Usually, before even writing an essay, there is a reason a specific word is picked, and part of the reason has to do with personal experience—in this case, falling in love.

How to Write a Definition Essay: Video Guide

Now, take a break from all the reading and thinking, kick back and watch our awesome video. It will give you useful tips for picking your topic and for writing an excellent definition essay. You might want to take notes to make sure you get everything you can out of it.


Post-Writing Tips

Now, we would like to give you some tips on what to do after you are done with your paper.

  • References. Choose the most appropriate references and make sure you cite them in the format your professor asks for. Failure to comply with these rules could put you at risk of being suspected of plagiarism, and lower your grade overall.
  • Proofread and Edit. Remember to proofread your finished essay to make sure there are no typing errors. Double-checking spelling and grammar can drastically improve your grade and prevent it from dropping in the first place. Once you proofread the paper, you can make any changes that might improve your essay. Don’t forget to read your paper out loud—your ears can catch errors your eyes might not.
  • Sources. Remember that sources define the quality of your essay. Never choose inappropriate sources, or sources that do not appear to be academic. This makes you look unprofessional.
  • Research. Once you have selected credible and academic sources, make sure that their research was done properly. Do not rely solely on one dictionary, but choose many to show your words from different perspectives. Combining few good dictionaries will give a full picture of the word and cover a full range of semantic meanings.
  • Quoting. It is quite tempting to copy your definition word-by-word and cite it. Although, you should refrain from this, as it can bore the reader from the very beginning. It also shows your inability to paraphrase and express concepts with your own words; it might lower your grade.

Definition Essay Examples

Here are some samples of definition paragraph examples for college. Pay attention to the structure of these papers. Any of these definition essay examples can also be used as a definition essay template, if you wish to have the same structure and format for your paper.

Definition Essay Example: What Is Success?

Different people have different definitions of success. In order to critically define the real meaning of success – perhaps the first and most significant recognition which any person can make – is that no single defined formula exists which outlines the way to personal success.

Definition Essay Example: Who Is a Hero?

The term hero has been in social use for the longest time in history. The main characters of most fairy tales, such as Disney productions, revolve around the title. People use the term hero as a compliment in different contexts.

Need Some Definition Essay Guidance?

Sometimes it can be hard to find a term we know well that also has a multi-dimensional definition. This is a common problem for college students and one that is commonly solved by our essay writing service. Push the button below to get your definition essay in no time. We process all “write my essay” requests fast.

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