How To Write a Definition Essay in 5 Easy Steps

How To Write a Definition Essay in 5 Easy Steps

By StudentShareRelease Year: 2017

What is a definition essay?

A definition essay is a paper about one word that has a complex meaning. Your task is to choose a notion and do a research about its sense. The word must be disputable, so you could find enough material to write about. It also shouldn’t be too vague and uncertain, since you don’t want to get confused with the interpretations. You should refer to the authoritative sources and present your own point.

How to write a definition essay

The first obvious step is to come up with the topic.  And here you must find a balance between being practical and creative.  Let’s see what kind of word you need. 

  • It can be an abstract concept or a concrete phenomenon. Examples: free will, feminism, theocracy, marriage, revolution, impeachment.
  • It can be neither a place nor a thing. Remember that you need to write a definitive, not a descriptive narrative. Students often mix up the tasks and start to describe a phenomenon rather than give it a definition. So their work cannot be count as relevant. Examples: Central Park, a building, the Pacific Ocean, an iPod, a wedding dress.
  • The term must be possible to define. For instance, such terms as a god, spirit, nature, experience, soul have a way too broad meaning. You will not be able to expound their sense on several pages (and in several years).
  • The term must be debatable. It can have different interpretations and your task is to give a full picture of them.
  • Chose a term you are familiar with. You will need to do a research anyway, but you’d better have a preliminary idea of it. If you are not a specialist in physics don’t try to write about Higgs boson.


Your second step is a research. Google the term you’ve chosen and look up its definition in dictionaries and encyclopedias.

  • You can extend your analysis by appealing to the etymology and history of the term. To stay relevant, you must distinguish a phenomenon and a term for it. For example, the phenomenon of matriarchy traces back to the prehistoric time, but the term was coined only in 19th century. You focus on the term.
  • If you choose a proper notion for your paper, it must have various interpretations. You must outline the main positions and show how they conflict. Here you need to work with sources and critical literature. Be scrupulous while working with the sources, don’t idle to double-check the references and facts.
  • Your work is an academic paper, so you should stay in the frames of a proper writing style. Don’t write things you are not sure about, be accurate in citations and rely on the authoritative sources.


Your third step is writing an outline

  • Systematize all the information you have found. At this stage, you already know the full range of your notion interpretations, so spell it out.
  • List the positions and points you want to elucidate, try to put them in a logical order. To do so you need to single out the main characteristics of the notion. Then show the contradictory points of view on them. One by one introduce the positions; involve the quotes and illustrative examples.
  • Reconsider your sources and materials, define which positions and views you want to underline. Represent them in contrast. If there are outdated or misleading interpretations, tell about them. Emphasize what is mistakenly associated with the term you scrutinize.


Next step is writing!

The hardest part of writing is to start. Well, we have good news – if you have done all the preceding steps, you have already done the half of the work.  

The algorithm for writing is not new to you. 

  1. In the outset of your essay introduce the notion you want to discuss. Shortly explain the reasons why you think it is important to investigate. Give the readers a context of your topic; tell them why it is not only relevant but interesting to you. Prepare them for the further reading, implying that the term is complex and requires deep analysis. 
  2. In the core part of your essay, develop the thoughts you already stated in your outline. Try to compose a consistent narrative that logically unfolds the points you want to present. 
  3. Make your own point. Summarize the ideas you’ve investigated and offer the extraction of the most reasonable arguments. Considering all your research results, draw a completed and weighed definition of the notion.
  4. Sum it all up. Describe how the analysis has affected your primer understanding of the topic.


Final touch is proofreading

5 Best Proofreading Techniques

Look not only for misspelling or grammar mistakes but for inconsistency and vagueness of your statements. Give it to a friend or mom, let them express their opinion.

Our usual advice for all the essay types writing: look up to the reviewed examples. 

Reading of the definition essay examples will help you to get a sense of a proper format and style for your own work.

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