How to Write a Definition Essay: Ultimate Guide with Topics and Examples

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How to Write a Definition Essay: Ultimate Guide with Topics and Examples
Table of Contents
  1. How to Write a Definition Essay: Ultimate Guide with Topics and Examples
  2. What Is a Definition Essay and Its Purpose?
  3. Difference between Definition and Definition Essay
  4. How to Write a Definition Essay Outline
  5. Steps for Writing an Informative Definition Essay
  6. How to Start a Definition Essay
  7. Thesis Statement for a Definition Essay
  8. Main Body Paragraphs
  9. Definition Essay Conclusion Tips
  10. Definition Essay Topics for College
  11. Love
  12. Family
  13. Freedom
  14. Happiness
  15. Common Topics
  16. Interesting Topics
  17. Argument of Definition Topics
  18. Extended Definition Topics
  19. Definition Essay Examples
  20. Bottom Line
  21. FAQ
  22. 1. What is a definition essay format?
  23. 2. What is a good word to write a definition essay on?
  24. 3. How many paragraphs should a definition essay have?
  25. 4. What are the common mistakes when writing a definition essay?

Essay writing can be a challenge for students because some academic papers require special skills, knowledge, and in-depth research. Some tasks are not complicated. And a definition essay is such an assignment.

Its main aim is to define the term by giving an explanation that is wider than a regular dictionary entry. If you ask yourself, Why write essay when you can just check the meaning in the dictionary? Or looking for answers to questions like: 

  • How to create a definition essay outline?
  • What are the steps for writing a definition essay?
  • What are good definition essay topics?
  • Where to get essay examples?

You will find them in this article. You will learn how to write a definition essay, pick the best topic, structure your paper, and see excellent definition essay samples for better understanding. These simple but useful tips from our essay writing service will help you complete this task fast and effectively. So, read on.

What Is a Definition Essay and Its Purpose?

The term “definition essay”, also referred to as an extended definition essay, explains its meaning by itself. It’s an essay type, the purpose of which is to give a complete definition of the particular word, term, notion, concept, or phenomenon.

It also helps to solve the issue of controversy in case one notion has several meanings, explains connotations and usage in different contexts, as well as provides examples.

The quality of a definition paper depends on your writing skills and understanding of a topic. People don’t like reading about obvious things. Such terms as an apple, sky, book are not the best topics for your definition essays.

Choose abstract terms, such as love, freedom, happiness, etc. You should expand the readers’ knowledge, give them new information they can’t find in a regular dictionary. 

There exist several approaches to defining a term. Most commonly, they can be used together. However, in some cases, only one particular approach can be used. You can choose the one that is more suitable for the word you’ve chosen. These approaches are as follows:

  1. Denotation is providing a dictionary definition of a term.
  2. Connotation is the meaning beyond dictionary definition. It can express the person's attitude and the meanings the word has acquired with time.
  3. Comparison or analogy is an approach when you compare two similar notions.
  4. Enumeration means listing all the meanings of the word.
  5. Negation explains the notion by contradiction by explaining what it is not.

Difference between Definition and Definition Essay

Although they might seem similar, definition paragraph and definition essays are different assignments. Definition only explains the meaning of a notion, concept, term, phenomenon, etc. An essay also helps to solve the issue of controversy in case there exist several diverse meanings of the same notion.

It informs the reader about the possible interpretations and approaches to the term. It also describes its peculiarities and possible contexts within which the term or notion can occur. Thus, the main difference between definition and definition essay is that an essay provides a full context of usage of the notion. A definition only gives a basic dictionary explanation.

Now you know the answer to a popular question “what is a definition essay?” Therefore, it is time to learn how to create an outline, find the best topic, and write definition essays.

How to Write a Definition Essay Outline

Any piece of academic writing has its specific components. You should know it to meet the paper criteria and create a proper essay. Definition essay structure includes the regular parts of any other academic writing:

  • Introduction.
  • Thesis statement.
  • Body paragraphs (its number depends on the term you are going to explain and the complexity of the chosen subject).
  • Conclusion.

As is the case with any other creative assignment, this task can’t be written without an outline. It is a plan of your paper highlighting all the main points. Some teachers might require an essay outline before students start writing an essay. They do this to make sure students understand the essay structure and organize their ideas logically. 

To create an outline, place your thesis at the top to understand the perspective of your paper. After this, write down one-sentence main idea for each paragraph, i.e. one sentence for intro, each body paragraph, and conclusion. Develop all your ideas logically and express them clearly.

Steps for Writing an Informative Definition Essay

Drafting an outline is only one step of definition writing. Wonder how to write your essay fast and without buzz? Follow these simple recommendations.

  1. Choose the term. Make sure the word you choose is neither too broad nor too narrow.
  2. Conduct research. Before you start writing, make sure there is enough information on the topic, and take notes during research. Find all the possible meanings and peculiarities of usage. You can find them in dictionaries and encyclopedias.
  3. Formulate a thesis statement. In this case, it will be the definition of your term.
  4. Draft an outline. Organize your ideas logically in an essay outline.
  5. Write your paper. Develop ideas from an outline in your introduction, main body, and conclusion.
  6. Double-check your essay. Proofread the paper to ensure it is devoid of any type of mistakes and plagiarism.

Now that you know the structure of a definition essay and have a writing plan, let’s discuss each part of a definition essay in detail.

How to Start a Definition Essay

Keep in mind that before you embark on writing an informative and interesting introduction, you should make yourself familiar with a few rules. An introduction must include several essential elements.

The first one is an essay hook. Its purpose is to catch readers’ attention and make them interested in reading the essay to the end. You can mention something catchy and intriguing instead of the basic definition from a dictionary (it depends on the effect you want to achieve). A hook for essay can be:

  • Curious fact or statistics
  • A relevant quote
  • A real-life example
  • A joke
  • A rhetorical question

Proceed by introducing your topic. And finish the introductory paragraph with a thesis statement. This section should be brief but informative.

Thesis Statement for a Definition Essay

Thesis should express the main idea of your essay. Considering different types of essays, a definition of the notion you are writing about would serve this purpose. In any case, a thesis statement should be clear, specific, concise, and debatable.

Sometimes you are required to write a definition of a concrete notion. In this case, you will find all the necessary information in dictionaries. It is more interesting when you are writing about some abstract notions, such as love or home, and have to create your own definition.

Main Body Paragraphs

Most commonly, the main body should consist of at least three paragraphs. There might be many more paragraphs. It depends on the complexity of the chosen subject and the requirements of your English tutor for this assignment.

The fundamental goal of a student who deals with definition essays is to define the term, explain different meanings and usages, as well as give examples. Another essential point is understanding the notion under investigation. You have to provide enough information to uncover all the crucial facts about the word, explain its meaning, origin, etymology, etc.

Definition essays must be based on facts and provide the audience with a personal vision of the author. So, look through the sources, write a bibliography page and make sure that you have a deep understanding of the theme before you immerse yourself in definition essay writing. 

To succeed with a definition essay body paragraph, you should follow some rules:

  • Make sure you properly understand the chosen word
  • Explain one idea per paragraph
  • If the word you’ve defined has more than one meaning, explain all of them.
  • Use examples, provide various points of view to support the core information.
  • Proofread your essay to eliminate all the mistakes and improve the grade. 
  • Properly cite all the borrowed ideas and create a reference list. 
  • Always run your essays through plagiarism checkers to ensure it’s plagiarism-free. 

Definition Essay Conclusion Tips

Conclusion is an indispensable part of an essay, which makes it complete. The primary aim of this part is to give readers a complete definition of the chosen term. Restate your thesis statement, summarize the main points of your paper, and provide a general conclusion.

If you explained an abstract term or created your own definition, you may share how it influences your life or perception of some things. Real-life examples always work well.

Definition Essay Topics for College

How to write an extended definition essay without an excellent topic that grabs the readers’ attention? It may be a troublesome task; you have to pick or think up a great topic for your definition paper. In this case, have a look at these useful tips.

  • Give preference to abstract notions rather than general words that are clear and don’t have any hidden meaning.
  • If the term is too broad, discuss only some of its usages or collocations.
  • Give examples for better understanding.
  • Your essay must be based on facts (a list of references must be added).
  • Don’t pick terms that are too debatable because you like the word. Your goal is to inform, not to persuade.
  • Make sure you have enough information on the term
  • Give preference to the topics to write about that are familiar to you.
  • Read sample definition essays for inspiration.


If you want to write something about love, you can choose an idea from the list below.

  1. The meaning of love for various people.
  2. Shakespeare wrote a lot of love sonnets. How does this writer define love in his sonnets?
  3. What is true love: key facts about this definition?
  4. What explanation does Tim O’Brien give for the term love?
  5. Human’s freedom and love: what does it mean for us?
  6. Counseling and love: similar aspects of these terms.
  7. How do people explain love?
  8. Love in our everyday life, how do people show their love to others?
  9. The philosophical meaning of the term love.
  10. What is your favorite book about love?


Choose an idea from the list of excellent topics for a family definition to create the top-notch academic paper.

  1. The ideal family through American history.
  2. How did society change the meaning of the term family in the past years?
  3. Why is it difficult to give a single explanation for the term family?
  4. How family and responsibility are connected? Can we compare both terms?
  5. The importance of family in the modern world.
  6. What types of families are normal in our society?
  7. What are family values and how to develop them?
  8. How to spend the summer with your family?
  9. What is the institution of marriage? What factors can determine it?
  10. Who is a single parent? What problems does a single parent face in modern society?


A proper topic is a huge step to writing an excellent definition essay. Have a look at our topics for a freedom definition essay and choose the best sample for yourself:

  1. Historical evolution of the term “freedom”.
  2. What does the term “freedom” mean for various cultures? Find a corresponding article, analyze it and provide the answer.
  3. Independence definition: why should you understand the meaning of this word?
  4. How does Eric Foner define the freedom in his Story of American Freedom?
  5. How does school define the term “freedom”?
  6. Is it possible to give a comprehensive explanation of freedom?
  7. How do people lose freedom; what does this mean for them?
  8. How does the gas valve steel our freedom? Define the key strategies for development of the country.
  9. Why is freedom of speech crucial for modern society?
  10. What is religious freedom? Trace its evolution and base your writing on different articles.


If you can’t decide on the best definition essay topic, try one of these exciting ideas:

  1. Why are the terms of money and happiness connected for some people?
  2. Person’s happiness and the factors that determine this feeling.
  3. What is pseudo happiness; why do some people mix up true and pseudo happiness?
  4. What is a happy life, what factors define this term for people?
  5. The term “happiness” has a lot of definitions. Provide the audience with the best of them.
  6. What writer does prefer covering the topic of happiness?
  7. Happiness in our everyday life: how can you feel it?
  8. Philosophical meaning of the term happiness.
  9. Happiness and well-being, are these terms correlated?

Common Topics

If you don’t have specific requirements for the topic, you may pick one of the common topics for your definition essay.

  1. Money and success. What do these terms have in common?
  2. What is graffiti? Define its variations and main styles. Why do some people call it art?
  3. The primary definition of friendship. Why do some people have internal interconnection?
  4. What is online dating?
  5. What is rudeness: examples of the rude behavior people face every day.
  6. How do some people define the term home?
  7. Who is an unsuccessful person? Do they really exist or this is just our autosuggestion?
  8. How to become a good person: the key traits of good people.
  9. How does science influence our life?
  10. What is a successful career for the majority of people?

Browse good argumentative essay topics we prepared for our users. You can choose something interesting for your essay writing.

Interesting Topics

Choose one of these definition essay topics for college and complete this writing task without extra efforts.

  1. What is project management? Create a complete explanation of this term.
  2. Excellent shopping experience for various people: what does this mean?
  3. American Dream explanation: the evolution of this term, historical facts that explain its core characteristics.
  4. The meaning of marriage in different cultures.
  5. What does respect mean for people, how can you show that you respect someone?
  6. How can you see that the person is a hero and what personal characteristics prove that someone is a hero?
  7. What is depression? What facts about this term should you know?
  8. Modern technologies for education. How do they improve students’ knowledge?
  9. Successful career.
  10. Basic components that determine this term for people in various countries.
  11. Time management in modern life. What does it mean for the majority of people?

Argument of Definition Topics

These definition argument essay topics are related to various aspects and explain multiple spheres of our life.

  1. Reformation of the modern school system: the primary elements of such reorganization.
  2. Technology and education: the significant role of the innovations and new styles in the school system.
  3. Emails, chats, cell phones instead of face-to-face communication: is it good for society?
  4. The role of immigration in humans’ history.
  5. World peace: what factors may help to establish it? (Consult: World peace essay.)
  6. What is the cultural heritage? Why is it important for different generations and various countries of the world no matter how developed the country is?
  7. Pollution and health: are these terms correlated?
  8. What is recycling, and how people can improve this process?
  9. The influence of social media on children and adults. Why do some of them face some issues while using these online resources?
  10. What is nanotechnology? How to use it in the future? Base your article on trusted sources.

Extended Definition Topics

If you need to explain several terms or concepts in your definition paper, you may consider extended definition essay topics from our list.

  1. Who is a team player, and how to identify this person among your colleagues?
  2. How to distinguish the moral act? The significant characteristics of this term.
  3. How to save privacy in the modern world when almost every action is controlled by different institutions and governments?
  4. Optimism and pessimism. What is the difference? Why do some people prefer to brighten up some life situations?
  5. What is the leadership? How to become a leader in modern society?
  6. How to be a good parent; what skills should you develop in your children?
  7. Various addictions that people may face. Why does it happen?
  8. Capitalism and communism definition: the core difference between these terms? What services do they provide for society?
  9. What is laziness? Why are some people lazy?
  10. What is a religion? Its influence in different countries.

Definition Essay Examples

If you need to see some examples for better understanding or inspiration, check the sample we have prepared for you.


Bottom Line

The entire goal of our guide was to explain how to write a comprehensive definition essay. You may use our tips to improve your writing and find an idea for your paper. Do not forget to do research before essay writing. Find all the existing meanings of a word, examples of usage, and peculiarities when mentioned in different contexts.

When working on an essay, stay consistent, logical, and keep to the basic essay structure. In case you have some difficulties with this task, you may ask for a professional assistant. Experienced writers are ready to help you tackle that challenge.


1. What is a definition essay format?

In terms of formatting style, you should always follow the requirements provided by your teacher. The most common are MLA, APA, Chicago, and Harvard. Each format has its peculiarities in terms of title page, headings, in-text citations, and reference list. In terms of essay layout, follow the given instructions. However, always keep to the regular essay structure: introduction, main body, conclusion.

2. What is a good word to write a definition essay on?

To create a compelling essay, first of all, you should choose the topic that is interesting for you. Also, think of the audience and the course you are writing for. In general, give preference to abstract notions such as beauty, freedom, friendship, etc. In this case, you will be able to create your own definition and explain what it means to you.

It is always more amusing to read about someone’s ideas. If you choose general or well-known terms, chances are that your essay might be not that interesting. You can find a lot of interesting ideas for your definition essay in the article above.

3. How many paragraphs should a definition essay have?

There is no unique requirement for the definition essay length. It might be both 500 and 5000 words. To clarify that, check the paper instructions given by your teacher. If the word count is not mentioned, do not hesitate to clarify this question with your professor. However, the common minimum definition essay length is five paragraphs (introduction, main body, and conclusion).

4. What are the common mistakes when writing a definition essay?

Choosing an inappropriate word or the one meaning of which you do not understand might be a mistake or rather a problem. If you do not properly understand and can’t explain the meaning of the term, better change it to avoid low grades.

Also, keep to regular essay structure, intro with thesis statement in the end, at least three body paragraphs, and conclusion. Before submission, proofread your essay to eliminate any inconsistencies or mistakes, and do not forget to check it for plagiarism.