How to Write a Definition Essay: Definition, Structure, Tips

Not all students know how to write a definition essay. This type of task is pretty rare as for the most part, professors prefer more complex papers, like argumentative or descriptive ones. But when they finally assign it, students start panicking because they don’t understand what it means and how they should go about writing it. It’s a drawback, but if you’re here, then there is no reason to worry because we’ve got you covered. 

First, let’s make sense of definition essay. It’s a type of writing where one explains the meaning of a subject, describe it, and illustrate words with examples as well as evidence, enlightening their audience. It teaches you how not to simply define a term or an event, but how to expand on it, looking into it from much deeper perspectives. Do you want to know how to write something like this? It’s not an issue, let us find out together!

What Is a Definition Essay: Its Structure & Elements

When it comes to definitional essay, the first thing students should be aware of is its structure. Don’t skip this section just because you assume it is going to be the same as in all other papers: sure, you’ll still need to write an introduction, body, and conclusion, but they feature more elements than you likely expect. See the picture of an appropriate definition essay below.

1) Introduction. This part should take around 10% of word count, so try sticking to this limit. An introduction shouldn’t be overly large or short — remember that your goal is to tease an audience here, not reveal everything. Definition papers should start with the following features.

  • Present definition. Introduce the term you’ve chosen to write about. You should define it right here, going for a more standard and universal version. For example, it could be a definition from a dictionary — you could even use a direct quote for it. Let readers know what this work is going to center on.
  • Create context. Why did you choose this definition and what factors surround it? Briefly discuss its background. As one of examples, reveal from which part of the world it comes from when it appeared, and/or what kind of people used it. In most cases, this element won’t take more than two or three sentences.
  • Offer your perspective in thesis. Students don’t necessarily have to present an argument here, but thesis is still required. What is the main purpose of an essay? Maybe you’re exploring this definition in general, offering extensive info about its background, history of its evolution, etc. Or perhaps you are more interested in disclosing all semantic meanings of a word: this could make for a great topic. Other students like exploring how a definition is treated in different countries; whatever option you prefer, express it in a thesis statement at the end of introduction.

2) Body. This is the biggest and juiciest part of an essay. It should have at least several paragraphs and comprise 80% of overall word count. Each part of one’s thesis should be analyzed here bit by bit. For instance, if a person is writing about how concept of “home” is perceived in different countries, they should dedicate one paragraph to the US, one to Russia, one to Japan, etc. Each paragraph must have a clear central idea that’s framed by opening and closing sentences. Combine your words with research and make your discussion complete.

3) Conclusion. How to conclude a definition essay? That’s easy: just make a short summary of your paper. Don’t add any new facts about your definition — restate the major points along with thesis. Re-write it in some other way, preserving its essence but not repeating it word by word. Readers should leave your essay with a vivid idea of what you meant in mind, so make sure you end everything on a positive note.

All Components For Crafting Effective Definition

How to write a definition successfully? There is a set of features you could choose from: they all could be included in a typical essay of this kind. We focused on four specific ones: check them out and incorporate any of these options into your writing.

  • Linguistic characteristics. The sphere of linguistics is complex but deeply engaging. You could trace down evolution of a specific word by pointing out its semantics and exploring its etymology. When could the first mention of it be found? What did it mean initially and what does it mean now? Analyze each part of the word linguistically: what components does it have and what role do they perform?
  • Comparative analysis. Compare the same word across cultures or languages. In which ways is the meaning different? What motivates this difference and what are patterns here? It could be fun to analyze something like this, so why don’t you try it? You could learn more about other countries in the process.
  • Negation. How do you write a definition essay from the angle of negation? It is easy: explain what the word means by describing what it doesn’t mean. Some English words are misunderstood. Others have gained new meanings, with the initial one being too distorted to apply. Writing a paper like this could be challenging, no doubts here, but it is exciting and new, so some writers could appreciate it.
  • Classification. What are the defining characteristics of a word? In which groups does it fall into, where is its place as per word categories? Use dictionaries for determining the class of your word, and then share these facts with audience.

Writing a Definition Essay in 5 Steps

We outlined 5 useful steps that take part in the writing of a good definition essay. Follow them if you want to earn a high grade — they are pretty much universal. They are also easy to follow, so you won’t face any problems with figuring them out.

  1. Choose a term. Students must genuinely want to research the term if they plan on impressing their audience. Picking any term is a bad idea: make sure you have at least some interest. We are surrounded by words every minute of our life, no matter what we are doing, so there should be at least something you would enjoy exploring.
  2. Conduct research. After making a choice, start by looking through encyclopedias or dictionaries. How do they define your term? This is an important part of definition essays — you’ll need to share this info one way or another. Then find other sources that would be a good fit for your work. If you’re applying historical perspective, find related articles. If you’re investigating the term as various countries understand it, look for cross-cultural sources.
  3. Study origins. Dedicate at least one paragraph for the background of a term. It’s an essential part of definition papers.
  4. Create a definitive outline. List the things you’re going to be writing about. Include all paragraphs into it, expressing their points in at least one sentence. This will help you stay on track as you’re writing.
  5. Polish everything thoroughly.  Read through an essay again: are there enough examples? Is essay clear enough? Edit problematic parts, watch out for grammar mistakes and pay close attention to structure. When essay is done, submit your work without worries!

Common Mistakes Students Make When Writing

Learning tips is great, but how about going through mistakes students often make? If you know what they are, it’ll be easier for you to prevent your own. Look below and keep them in mind.

  • Choosing definition that is too broad & too narrow. Terms should not be overly broad or narrow. For instance, some student picked the word “animals.” It’s too extensive and covers too many species at once. It’d take ages for someone to explain it, so picking it isn’t a good idea. Similarly, selecting some strictly specialized term won’t get you far, and you’ll find yourself stuck in the first stages.  
  • Not developing definition essay outline. Outlines are vital. Students need it for having a clear sense of writing direction – it’s extremely helpful in every regard.  
  • Not including enough examples. Definitions need examples for being effective. Some people forget about the relevance of illustrations, so they end creating weak and unconvincing essays.
  • Not underlining a term enough. Keep repeating the chosen term in every paragraph. Do it at least once each time — your readers shouldn’t forget what definition you are exploring.

Some Advice on Choosing Topics

How to write a good definition essay? By picking an interesting topic. Like we said before, it is essential, so work hard on selecting something truly inspiring. If you are out of ideas, it’s not a big problem: just visit our website — you’ll find a solution there. We have different categories with topics for students, and definition papers are among them. Read through them and feel free to pick any option.

Use Samples For Increasing Chances at Success

Learning how to write essays about definitions is better when you can see them with your own eyes. Look at essays written by talented professionals within the academic sphere. They were all evaluated by professors before we published them here, and they are all unique. Our site has essay samples on different topics as well as for various education levels. Find some definition essays and use them as inspiration for your upcoming work.

Become a Better Writer With Us

If you were wondering how to start a definition essay, what it entails, and what parts it should have, we hope that you found all the answers. Enjoy what you’re doing, look for personally motivating topics, and writing will become easier. But at the same time, you should not forget about yourself as a person, not just a student. If there are any problems you are experiencing, ask for help. We are here 24/7, always prepared for answering your questions and accepting the academic burden you might be carrying. Tell us what essay you want us to write, explain how soon you need it, and you’ll receive it just by the deadline. You are not alone in your troubles, and we guarantee that you won’t regret turning to us!

Elizabeth Baldridge

Elizabeth provides educational materials, conducts research, explores and solves student challenges. Her posts are always helpful, innovative, and contain interesting insights.

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