All About Definition Essay Writing

Definition essay writing guide

A definition essay is arguably one of the easiest essays that students are taught. However, it can also be the hardest, especially to amateurs or novice writers. The main reason for this is the simple fact that one is asked to write a two/three or four page essay paper on only a single word or phrase. Writing a definition essay calls for a good mastery of language as well as an effective style of expression that captures and yet delivers exactly what the author is seeking to have passed. There are instances when writers lack content or are given a word that is limited in content. Writing about a single word or phrase could be dangerous and students need to be adequately prepared if they are to exhaustively elaborate on the term under review. It is thus advisable to select a word that has plenty to write about to avoid the issue of stuttering or lacking things to write about. This article helps novice and amateur writers to understand how they can comfortably work on their essay, deliver high quality work, and understand what a definition essay is.

definitiom essay prompt

Definition essay topics

Regardless of the essay, topic selection is crucial and determines whether a writer will end up with a good quality or a bad quality essay. Here, writers need to exercise caution and research on their words as well as topics that are given as parts of the assignment. Research is always advisable and to be a good writer, one must first of all learn the art of research. With research comes content, quality, as well as confidence in delivery. Conversely, without research, writers end up with less researched articles that is entirely or largely plagiarized. When writing a definition essay, originality is also something that needs to be considered as well and this separates the good writers from the novice as well as the pretenders. The topics for definition essays differ and the selection process separates the people who know how to write a definition essay from the ones that do not.

It is always advisable to select extended definition essay topics simply because there is a stereotypical belief that finding content will not be a problem. However, good writers will always be comfortable with any topic because they understand that their delivery is solely dependent on their research. Words that have extended definitions are the ones that are regarded as good definition essay topics. The above is because one will not be short of content and from the many definition of these words, one can always find enough information to use to write their essay. It is thus crucial to state that writing a definition essay begins with the selection of a topic.

Familiarity with the selected word is also important and gifts one with a chance to tackle something that is not new to them. The conventional definition provided by the dictionary is important but one needs to select a word that they have encountered and have some prior knowledge on. This gifts them with a starting point and thus a base from whence one can build their essay. A deeper understanding of a term is of the essence and it is essential that one selects something which will give them enough content to write their essay. Selecting a word one has never heard of could give one a lot of research work and less content and thus familiarity with a word is essential.

Below is a list of words that can be used as topics for a good definition essay:

  • Sexism
  • Racism
  • Corruption
  • Integrity
  • Democracy
  • Nepotism
  • Ambition
  • Sensitivity
  • Loyalty
  • Feminism
  • Leadership
  • Courage
  • Responsibility
  • Self-respect
  • Persistence
  • Intelligence
  • Friendship
  • Liberalism
  • Capitalism
  • Socialism
  • Conservatism
  • Naturalism
  • Obesity
  • Wisdom
  • Optimism
  • Respect
  • Kindness
  • Heroism
  • Love
  • Sadness

Definition essay structure

The structure of all essays is the same regardless of the type, that is, they all use the introduction, body, and conclusion. However, as it is said, the devil is always in the details and thus the difference often comes in when designing these sections. A definition essay outline is the first thing that one needs to create before generating content for their essay. If, for example, a student has been asked to write a definition essay on leadership, the essay’s outline would look like the example below.

Definition essay outine example on “Leadership” topic:


  • Conventional or Dictionary definition of leadership.
  • Author’s objective view of the definition.
  • The thesis definition.


  • Qualities of a good and effective leader.
  • Importance of having a leader within a group.
  • The negative/incorrect stereotypes of leadership.
  • Things to avoid if formally or informally elected a leader.


  • Restating the thesis definition.
  • Summary of the essay’s points.


How to start a definition essay is indeed important and always takes the same approach like other essays. An introduction always seeks to inform readers of the writer’s stance on a particular topic or principle. Readers are not supposed to strive to understand the meaning or the focus of the essay and this fact asks that writers be direct. In a definition essay, the standard definition is always the first thing that readers look for to get an idea of what the writer is talking about. Here, one can include the dictionary definition to get their readers a starting point. Having the dictionary definition is also important because it also differs from the one that the writer will have and this brings about multi-dimensionality.

Using the same example provided for the outline, below is an example of how writer can start their definition essay on leadership:

Leadership is a term that has many definitions. However, few have been able to capture the exact meaning of leadership and thus fall short. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines leadership as “the power or ability to lead other people.” From the above definition, it is clear that the dictionary bases its argument or explanation of the term on the position within an organization. However, leadership is more than having the power to lead or command obedience. Leadership is more than the position that one holds. It is also different and should never be associated with seniority. In his article,Kruse (2013) vividly explains what leadership is and manages to capture all that it entails without involving the aspect of holding a higher position. He defines it as“a process of social influence which maximize the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.”The above is indeed accurate and not just because it disputes the aspect of seniority but because it captures the true essence of leadership.

Thesis writing

Next is the thesis definition. This definition is also called the thesis definition and unlike the dictionary one, this is the writer’s definition and is often made up of experiences and explanation that are specific to an individual. Creating a thesis can be done using the following options and they include:

  • Definition by function

Defining a word by its function means that one is describing how something works or what something does. The focus here is thus on the functionality and not on the structure or other members of the term’s class.

  • Definition by structure

Defining a word by structure means describing the basic organization or arrangement of a word/term/principle or phrase

  • Definition by analysis

Analysis brings about the idea of comparing something to others while clearly illustrating the basic differences between them. The differences between members often brings about the special attributes of the term under study. This helps a writer to generate more content as well as to avoid the stuttering that often affects novice and amateur writers.

Body and conclusion

The body of a definition essay is the same as the bodies of other essays. Each point needs to be independent and have an explanation that is different and that stands out. The writer should use the paragraphs to build on their focus or perspective. In the conclusion of a definition essay, the writer needs to have their stance restated. The above is essential because it will help readers to have a lasting memory of what they read.


Referencing is indeed important and one needs to have a good comprehension of the different referencing styles to do it perfectly. The different types of referencing and formatting include APA, MLA, Chicago/Turabian, and Harvard. These styles need to be approached differently because interchanging or using more than one in a document often reveals one’s lack of understanding.

APA Example

When referencing and formatting using the APA style format, the name, title, and year need to be taken to consideration. For example, if the word being written about is corruption, the following is how one formats in APA.

Example 1

According to the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary, corruption is “impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle” or “inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (as bribery)” (2016).

When using the APA format, the page number is not necessary and can hence be left out.

Example 2

Racism is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce and inherent superiority of a particular race” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2016).

MLA Example

In MLA, apart from the name, year, and title, one needs to make sure that they include the page number of the source. The example below describes how one needs to format in MLA.

Example 3

Racism is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce and inherent superiority of a particular race” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, np).

The np in the brackets is used to indicate that the source used is not paged or it could be an internet source.

Writer can also use the following links to help them understand the referencing styles better:


Tips for effective definition essay

definition essay writing

Definition essay ideas are many but as stated earlier, writer needs to select words and terms that they are familiar with. When writing a prompt definition essay, the best approach is to conduct a quick research first before taking the next step of expressing ideas. The ideas for a definition essay are many and essentially revolve around the topics and conversations that people often have on a daily basis. Student should hence never be troubled when deciding on some of the good words for a definition essay. The art one needs to develop is keenness because it will help to find some words that are appropriate or a definition essay. The following are some of the tips and ideas that students can use to help them be good definition essay writers.

  • Choose the right word.
  • Choose a word that is disputable and that often elicits debates. This is important for content purposes.
  • When selecting a word, familiarity with the word is quite essential.
  • A dictionary definition is indeed of great importance and gifts one a good starting point.
  • Research on the term is also important. This involves analysis, use of examples, and provision of background information.
related articles