How to write a definition essay - Writing tips

Definition essay writing is the most common type of essay which you have to be aware while studying in college or university. It describes a specific concept and gives information about its structure, main parts and illustrates with examples. That's why students don't know how to write definition essays well enough, especially if they are beginners in writing academic essays. Let's try to figure out what things should be covered by your paper, how many paragraphs should it have and what form of words should be used for avoiding plagiarism issues.

Essay writing may not be as straightforward as writing an introduction, body, and conclusion. The assigned essays help learners to broaden their knowledge or show their prowess in a given area. The structures, styles, and strengths of your points determine the success in writing an essay. Different types of essays adopt distinct formats and content, making some essays more complex than others.

What is a definition essay?

To define is to give meaning to a word, topic or concept. Therefore, a definition essay can be defined as a piece of academic writing that gives meaning to discrete concepts or ideas.

One may write an essay about what success is, what family or happiness is and so forth. At a glance, the topic may seem easy but can you use concrete ideas to write a sufficiently long essay? Therefore, before embarking on writing a definition essay, one has to adequately prepare.

Consequently, you will have a flow of information instead of starting to fish for ideas in the middle of your essay. A definition essay is detailed since it not only highlights the meaning but also informs the reader and even cites examples.

A definition essay is short essay in which the writer provides a detailed description of an object or concept. Such writings are used in various educational spheres, for instance, in arts, humanities disciplines and social sciences.

The main goal of this type of papers is to analyze how people understand abstract notions. For example, if you want to write a good definition essay on friendship, your task will be to find out what makes this feeling special and how it influences our lives.

The structure of such compositions is simple since they include only three parts: introduction with thesis statement, body part with several paragraphs and conclusion. You should also remember that these essays use simple sentences without any complicated words or phrases so that everyone would grasp the idea clearly.

Steps on how to write an effective definition essay

Reaching the desired number of words does not necessarily mean that you have written a perfect essay. How, then, does one ensure that the definition essay submitted meets its purpose?

Step 1: Choose the right word

A definition essay requires that you use your perception to make points out of a given topic. Choose abstract words as opposed to concrete ones since there is an opportunity to explore the complexity of the latter. For instance, it is more thrilling to write about hope than to write about a child. As for the child, you will mostly use commonly known knowledge. In writing a definition essay about hope, there are a lot of directions you can take. Therefore, choose a word that eliminates the boredom of existing knowledge. The thrill of a definition essay is the ability of different people to differ in opinions regarding the same word. Hence, choose a word from which a variety of essays can be written, depending on the writer’s opinion.

As much as you want to pick something complex, ensure it is a word you are knowledgeable about. The dictionary may give you the definition but it is up to you to write the rest of the content. Therefore, choose a word you are comfortable writing about and even use illustrations. Do you understand the history of the word you intend to write about? The history will give you rich content from where to draw your ideas.

Step 2: Identify the most ideal element of your definition essay

To define a word you can use different methods such as analysis, classification, comparison, details or illustrations. If your word requires analysis, split it into different parts and analyze each part in a separate paragraph. Additional definitions come in handy while defining the separate parts. The analysis tactic is applicable for words with multiple parts as opposed to a single part word. Classification entails putting words into their respective grammatical parts of speech and then writing about each part.

Comparison is another way of writing your definition. It involves using comparing strange words to familiar ones. This way, your audience can relate your essay to something they can easily understand. You can also use traditional characteristics to explain your word in a way that people can relate to it. For instance, traditionally, the night is associated with evil and unpleasant activities. Such a word will create a picture of what point the writer is driving home. Additionally, illustrations help you to define a word easily. You can give a short story about someone who instilled hope in you. Another way of defining a word is by using negation. By adopting this trick, you use opposite words to explain what your terminology does not mean.

You can also provide a piece of background information that will help relate the origin of the word to its current meaning. Therefore, a writer has different ways of making their definition, depending on the words or ideas at hand. Choosing the most appropriate approach makes it easy for the writer to exhaust the different points he or she intends to highlight.

Step 3: Follow the definition essay structure

Like any other essay, a definition essay has three parts; introduction, paragraph body, and conclusion. However, each essay has to be more specific when it comes to the content in each of those three parts. We shall have an overview of how to write each part to produce a powerful definition essay.


Remember that a definition essay aims at giving meaning to a word or idea. Consequently, before you can dig deeper into your topic, you should explain what the word means. You can use the definition available in the dictionary; choose the one that suits what you want to write about. Your introduction should be eye-catching for the reader to continue with the rest of your work. You can use an anecdote, joke, statistic or open-minded question. If you begin your essay on a high note, the reader will anticipate reading what is next. Therefore, you should work on getting the introduction right. Other than defining the word, you also need to end your paragraph with a thesis statement. This is the statement on which the rest of your arguments will be based. The thesis statement should be brief yet a highlight of what your word entails.

Body paragraphs

The body of your definition essay should be divided into three paragraphs. However, thy can be more depending on the nature of your assignment. In the first paragraph of your definition essay body, you can give the history and origin of the word. Here, you need to be more detailed for one to understand the choice of your word. In the second paragraph of the body, give the dictionary meaning of the word and how it is used. As you can see, this is the reason you need a word with multiple meanings. It enables you to define the term and still be left with the ability to comfortably make your definition. This takes us to the third paragraph of your essay’s body that entails personal definition. Form all the definitions available in the dictionary, there is one that suits what you intend to discuss. Give your meaning backed up by a relevant story or illustration.

Thorough research helps you to be rich in content to write in your paragraphs. In your definitions, be as expansive as possible and use examples to explain your points further. Being vague shows that you do not understand your word properly. Therefore, ensure that you use precise illustrations that blend perfectly with your chosen word. If the word is expansive, you can further split the parts into various paragraphs to ensure that you leave no stone unturned.


In the conclusion paragraph, you are not to introduce new concepts or ideas regarding the word you were defining. Make a summary of the points you have discussed and also redefine your thesis statement. Therefore, your conclusion is not expected to be long since it is only a summary. In this paragraph, you can identify how the word in question has impacted you. For instance, if you were discussing hope, how has that changed your behavior? You can mention how being hopeful or instilling hope in others has affected your overall character. Writing this part should not be difficult since you chose this specific word for a reason. You most likely, have an encounter that drove you towards the topic you are writing.

Post writing tips

We have evaluated the crucial steps before and while writing an effective definition essay. We now need to look at what else is required after you have written your essay. Ensure that you have properly referenced the work as per your professor’s instructions. Despite requiring personal opinions, one also requires to use the most credible sources and cite them correctly. Also, do not forget to proofread and edit your essay. Spelling, punctuation and typing errors can cost you regardless of how rich your content is. You can further seek proofreading help from a friend or a professional company. Someone else is more likely to spot your mistakes.

Definition essay requirements

Since definition essays are easy to read, you can use simple sentences without any complicated words. However, the structure of this type of paper is still worth your attention since it has several requirements regarding its parts and paragraphs. The following directions will help you make a great composition:

Introduction with thesis statement. A thesis statement should be included in the opening paragraph which presents what aspect of topic will be discussed in your writing. It is essential that thesis statement was debatable so that students could support their positions during discussions. That's why thesis statements often begin with words like "it can be argued that" or "it could be assumed that". For example, one of the sample introductions on friendship could look like this:

It can be argued that friendship has a great influence on everyone's lives.

Body part. The essay should consist of three paragraphs each of which presents another side (pro, con and neutral) of debatable statement mentioned in the introduction. As an example, if you are writing about whether good friendship is important for success in life or not, your task will be to find pro argument, contra argument and third point of view. This way students could analyze all possible positions concerning the issue "friendship".

Concluding paragraph. The final part should answer the question raised in the beginning since it forms thesis statement once more but this time with detailed information provided by students themselves. For example:

Friendship is very valuable because being close to someone helps us learn how to solve various difficulties.

Such essays should contain only relevant information free of plagiarism so that the instructor could be sure that you didn't copy other people's ideas without giving them credit. If you are not sure about whether your paper is plagiarism free or not, you can use anti-plagiarism software (e.g., turnitin) to check it before submission. The whole point of writing definition essays is to show that students know how to write academic papers properly by providing clear explanations and avoiding complicated phrases which makes these kinds of compositions easier for understanding.

How many paragraphs should a definition essay have?

The answer on this question depends on what type of paper students want to write since there are several types of definition essays depending on the topic. For example, there are definition argumentative essays, definition compare and contrast essays or definition cause and effect essay.

If students want to develop their knowledge about various formats of definition papers, it is advisable for them to start with reading some abstracts on this subject to understand the main idea behind each type. Most likely professors will tell students what type of paper they need to work on before starting its writing which leaves no room for guessing purposes.

What do I need to know to start writing my essay?

First, you have to understand that this kind of essay requires analysis not only of an object or phenomenon but logical thinking process for its description and explanation of main concepts and terms. Before you start writing, read some definition essays on the same subject you're going to describe and pay attention to their structure and style of writing. As a rule, such papers consist of 3-4 paragraphs:

Introduction: Introduction part includes general information about the studied concept or phenomenon. It should be short (not more than one paragraph) but informative enough for readers to get clear idea about what they will read further. That's why this paragraph shouldn't be descriptive but analytical.

Main Paper: The main section of your essay must contain detailed description in 2-3 paragraphs, each including several characteristics with explanations in simple language without unnecessary details. Make sure that complex terms are explained in footnotes or italics before the first use in the text.

Conclusion: The final part of your paper must include conclusion where you can state if there are alternative explanations for this phenomenon or concept, compare different opinion about it and point out the purpose of your research. It's advised to end with a brief summary for readers but not more than 2 sentences.

How many paragraphs should a definition essay have?

Here are some tips on how many parts should be included in definition essay:

If you write an academic assignment without any particular structure for your essay, there will be no table of contents at the beginning and information won't be grouped together so it will be difficult to understand what exactly should readers know about this idea or phenomenon. That's why you should first check structure requirements if they indicate number of paragraphs needed for every section of your paper. If there are no such requirements, the best solution is to use five paragraphs in total: introduction, three main parts with examples and conclusion.

Often teachers give marks for organization of ideas by counting points (4 points = 1 paragraph). So if you don't know what form of words should be used while writing definition essay , try to cover all aspects of the idea/phenomenon you're going to describe in 5+5=10 points or 4+6=10 points (if one can be written briefly).

Short definition essays usually consist of only three paragraphs where each part means 2-3 sentences describing this phenomenon with some examples. This kind of essay requires more time for research because you have to get enough information on the subject to cover all important points.

A long definition essay may consist of 4+4=8 paragraphs where each part is made up 3-4 sentences describing this object or phenomenon with examples. This option is ideal for students who have more time for writing academic papers but it requires more efforts for research and proofs about your arguments. Structure of a college definition paper usually looks like this: introduction, main body section (example of one point, example of another point) and conclusion

What form of words should I use?

It's not recommended to use citation at the very beginning because you're not supposed to mention any author in order to avoid problems with plagiarism . However, you can put some references in footnotes if readers need additional information.

Definition essay words

Below is a list of words that have wide definitions and points of view that you can write comfortably;

  • Hopelessness
  • Infidelity
  • Love
  • Marriage
  • Joblessness
  • Honesty
  • Hope
  • Family
  • Wisdom
  • Beauty
  • Loneliness
  • Friendship
  • Good leadership
  • Happiness
  • Positive attitude
  • Heroism

As earlier mentioned, you should choose abstract words as opposed to concrete ones. The complexity of abstract words creates a wide avenue for you to explore. However, your writing is not necessarily limited to the above words. There are tons of terminologies than a writer can venture into, depending on personal experiences. The more disputable a word is, the more exciting it is to use for your definition essay.

11 Tips when writing a definition essay

Here are some general tips on what form of words to use while writing definition essay:

  1. The best way to start your paper is with a catchy sentence that will catch students' attention and help you grab their interest because they should be interested in everything you write about throughout entire paper. For example, you can start with 'Many people often think…', 'Most people say…' or other slogans which imply something new for readers. Of course, it's better to avoid strange words at the beginning but if you want to make an impression, this method may work for you.
  2. When describing specific characteristics of the object/phenomenon, use active voice instead of passive voice . It means that subject usually performs action so it will be more interesting for readers. For example, 'In My Humble Opinion is one of the most popular TV shows in Russia' sounds better than 'In My Humble Opinion show with Vladimir Pozner as a presenter has been on air since 1998'.
  3. While writing definition essay , it's advised to use simple words because you're supposed to give general information that can be understood by everyone who takes time and effort to read your paper. So try avoiding difficult words when possible and focus on thoughts rather than form. However, if you have a limited vocabulary, try using a dictionary or a website which has lists of synonyms.
  4. Avoid overused phrases which are often used in academic papers. For instance: 'The issue under discussion is…'; 'It should be noted that…'; 'In my opinion…' and other common phrases can be found in 10+ definition essay samples . It's OK if you use them once or twice but it's better to avoid at all costs because you want to write something different.
  5. Strive for clearness. When writing definition essay , remember that your purpose is to give information about main idea/object/phenomenon so try explaining everything as simple as possible. Don't complicate the issue because over complications are not welcomed by teachers. You may attribute this rule to English speaking people who like using long words instead of short phrases which mean the same thing.
  6. Give examples: If possible, include some examples for specific points so readers can get more information on the subject. Just take a look at some examples of definition essay to get an idea about its structure which is pretty simple but effective.
  7. If you want to make your paper interesting, it's advised to use citations/quotations from famous people, books or newspapers. Don't use them too often because you're not writing a research paper . However, if you have some good quotations that are related to the issue under discussion, feel free to include them in your work. It may sound strange but quotes can be useful when defining something for readers because they usually come from reliable sources who know what they are talking about so why not listen?
  8. Put yourself in reader's shoes and ask yourself whether everything is clear to you or not. If there is any doubt, it means that you should change the sentence so information about main idea/object/phenomenon will be more understandable for readers. However, don't forget to use common sense because if something doesn't make sense for you as a writer, it probably won't make sense for your readers either.
  9. Keep an eye on structure of your paper and try using different paragraphs . For example, some definition essay examples can contain three or more paragraphs where each paragraph presents one specific characteristic of the main idea/object/phenomenon. Try writing short sentences instead of long ones because they look more attractive on paper (and in minds of some people).
  10. As most other academic papers , definition essays include intro, body and conclusion. Try to make your introduction interesting so readers will take interest in the whole work and not doing something else while reading it. However, don't use questions because they sound rather aggressive and unprofessional for academic papers.
  11. Make sure that every sentence has at least one verb or adjective even if you're writing about abstract qualities of some object/phenomenon. For example: 'This show is popular' sounds better than 'this show'.

This is all you need to know about how to write a definition essay. If you need help writing an essay, you can buy a definition essay and use it as a model paper to your learning exercises.


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