How to Write a Definition Essay 

What are Definition Essays?

Definition essays are a genre of writing wherein the writer explains the meaning of some term. There are certain terms that have very definite and very concrete meanings e.g. such words as “flower,” “tree,” and “grass.” However, there are other terms that are more abstract and more dependent on a given person’s viewpoint e.g. such words as “love,” “honor,” “trust,” and so on.

Three Key Steps to Creating a Nice Definition Essay

  1. Let your readers know what word or term you will be defining.
  2. Present your readers with basic and clear information.
  3. Use anecdotes, facts, and/or examples that your readers are likely to understand.

Deciding on a Definition for Your Essay

An essential step for anyone who has to write a definition essay is choosing a term to define. It is important you fully understand this term if you are to explain its meaning to others. While you may check the definition in a dictionary, you should not simply copy these words. You need to provide a brief explanation of the term in words of your own choosing. Your chosen term will also need limiting before you can begin writing your definition of it. One could, for instance, write an endless amount about the word “love.” However, as a way of limiting this word or narrowing it down, you could write either about the experience of first love, the characteristics of platonic-type love, or you could focus on romantic love.

Creating a Thesis Statement for a Definition Essay

Usually, the thesis statement in a definition essay will identify the term to be defined in the essay by providing a fairly short and basic description of it.  

Example: the term plus a basic description as in the following “to be assertive is to stand up for one’s rights.”

Tips on Writing a Good Definition

Start creating your definition. There are a number of ways by which a term can be defined. The options below are just a few possible ways:

  • A term can be defined by its function i.e. by explaining what some particular thing is or how it works.
  • A term can be defined by its structure i.e. by explaining how a given thing is assembled or organized.
  • A term can be defined by analyzing it i.e. by comparing an item to other items of its type and then illustrating how the items differ. The differences are those traits that distinguish the term and set it apart. You could, for instance, compare how a German Shepherd dog differs to other types of dogs such as collies, huskies, or sports dogs.

Example: A German shepherd is a breed of dog of German origin renowned for its strength and aptitude for different types of work.

A term can be defined by its opposite meaning i.e. by defining what it does not actually mean. This method can be a good way of clarifying the definition of a term so that readers can understand it better.

A term can be defined with the use of anecdotes, facts, and examples. Use these props to fully define and explain a term. Ask these questions of yourself: “Which facts or examples would help readers realize this term.” “Would a short story assist in getting the point of this term?” Try to avoid examples that do not explain or support your definition.

Keep this in mind: Definition essays are written pieces that explain the meaning of a term. When working on this type of essay, tell your readers what term you are to define and provide a basic and coherent explanation. Use anecdotes, facts, and examples that your readers are likely to understand.