How to Write a Definition Essay - Examples, Outline, Topics

Types of EssaysDefinition Essay
Alex Ponomarenko
Jul 8, 2019

There are many essay types that teachers ask their students to write, from simple descriptive types to complex analytical documents. These written assignments will require students to do research and write long paragraphs explaining a topic. A definition essay is one of the easier documents to write. It simply aims to define a specific word or term in a more profound way than a common dictionary. 

Students and other individuals who find themselves writing a definition essay will find this article helpful. They will learn how to write a definition essay and learn some helpful writing tips. The article will also provide definition essay examples that individuals can use to analyze the paper’s definition, structure, and outline.

What Is a Definition Essay?

A definition essay or definition paper is a document that gives a thorough explanation of a specific word, term, or concept. The paper will include the standard meaning of a word in conjunction with the author’s understanding. It should provide a complete definition of the word that the writer chooses. This means that writers should carefully pick the topic of the document. For example, such simple terms as “car,” “tree,” or “sky” are poor topics for writing a definition paper. 

Instead, writers should choose complex and abstract words that can have different meanings to different individuals. Terms like “freedom,” “cultural appropriation,” and “villainy” are some interesting words that students can use to write a lengthy definition essay. As a general rule, individuals should avoid choosing topics that are nouns. There are already definitive meanings for these words, which make a paper around them boring and stale.

The purpose of a definition essay is to provide an in-depth explanation and discussion about a particular term. Some terms have multiple meanings and writing a paper around them can help others identify the correct way of using the word. People wrongly use the word “global warming” when they are talking about climate change. A definition paper around “global warming” can help others learn its true meaning and how to use it in the right context.

How to Write a Definition Essay Outline

Similar to other academic writing, this document follows a standard outline for its paper structure. It will typically have an introduction, thesis statement, body, and conclusion. The introduction will provide a brief background about the topic and will also include the thesis statement. The thesis statement in a definition essay is simply the writer’s definition of the word. The paragraph body will explain all the points the writer has to share. This is the longest part that comprises the essay structure. Lastly, the conclusion will summarize the whole document. It should restate the thesis statement and close the paper.

Besides the major essay structure, an outline can include the ideas that the writer is already thinking about. Individuals should write down the ideas in one or two sentences. They can provide one sentence for each paragraph. For example, they can write a sentence for the introduction then another three sentences for the body paragraphs. This will help make the writing process easier and create a more logical flow of ideas. An outline is necessary to build a strong structure and create a well-written definition essay.

Steps to Writing a Good Definition Essay

The outline will help individuals create a visual guide when writing the document. This is an important first step in any writing task. A definition essay has to be informative and interesting to read. This means individuals should make the proper preparations before starting the definition essay. It would be helpful if individuals create tactics or strategies to help them prepare for the writing process. Read the steps below to learn how to write a good definition essay.

1. Choose the right word to define

As stated above, individuals should avoid using nouns as topics for a definition essay. They should use abstract words that can have multiple meanings. This will give them more things to discuss and ideas to explore in the definition paper. Use conceptual terms like “artificial intelligence” or “beauty” instead of concrete nouns like “dog” or “hairspray.”

Individuals should also consider words that they know or concepts that they are familiar with. The definition essay will require the writer to define the topic in their own words. If an individual uses a word that they do not know anything about, it will make the writing process longer and difficult. Choosing a word that one is unfamiliar with may also result in a misinformed paper. The individual’s initial understanding may be incorrect, which will produce a poorly-written paper.

2. Research the topic

After an individual has chosen a topic for the definition essay, the next step is doing research. Even if the individual is knowledgeable about the topic, they should still research to validate their claims and gather additional information. Individuals should also research the different meanings of the word. They should find out if people are misusing the word or there are interesting variations of the term. Another important fact to research is the word’s etymology or the origin of the word. Individuals can use online dictionaries or traditional dictionaries to research word meanings and etymology for the definition paper.

3. Create the thesis statement

Once an individual has done their research about the topic, they can then create a thesis statement for their definition essay. The thesis is the problem that the paper is trying to discuss or solve. For a definition essay, the thesis is the writer’s definition of the topic word. It should be a brief one-sentence statement. Individuals should avoid using phrases like “X word is where…” or “Y word is when…” The statement should be straightforward and provide a concrete meaning. It should also be unique and not repeat the official definition of the term. Consider looking at thesis examples from other definition papers to get an idea of how to construct the statement.

4. Structure the outline

Once the definition paper has a thesis statement, individuals can then proceed with creating the document’s outline. Make sure that the paper has an introduction, body, and conclusion. Individuals should organize their ideas by following the “how to write a definition essay outline” section in this article.

5. Write the essay

Once the individuals have created an outline, they can then proceed with writing the definition essay. Use the outline as a guide when writing the different parts of the document. A definition essay is a form of academic writing, so individuals should make sure to use formal words and avoid using passive voices. Create separate paragraphs for each point or idea. For example, individuals can write separate paragraphs discussing the different meanings of a word in terms of geographics. They can create one paragraph explaining “what is beauty for Africans” and another paragraph discussing “what is beauty for Europeans.”

6. Cite sources

Individuals will be doing research and using information from websites, books, and news articles. Similar to most essays and academic papers, individuals should include a reference list at the end of the document. This will help back up some of the writer’s claims in the document. Citing sources is also a good way to avoid plagiarism. There are many referencing formats that individuals can follow. There is the APA, MLA, Turabian, and Harvard style. Individuals can choose a format they are comfortable with. Students should ask their teachers if there is a required format for them to use.

7. Proofread the document

As in any other writing, proofreading is an important part of writing a definition essay. Writers should make sure that their paper is free from grammatical and typographical mistakes. For a student, a paper with no writing errors can earn them a high grade. This will also help increase the credibility of a paper. If there are multiple writing mistakes in a definition essay, readers may question the credibility of the paper and the author. It may also compel the reader to stop reading and set the paper down.

How to Start a Definition Essay

Before writing the introduction and starting the definition essay, it is important to understand the purpose of the introduction. This section of the paper should grab the reader’s attention and provide a general overview of the document’s content. Individuals can think back to the research process and try to remember which aspect of the topic can provide interesting information that will entice the reader. The document can  start with a quote from a famous person, a statistic, a joke, a question, or someone’s experience related to the topic. Consider using these types of information in the definition essay introductory paragraph.

Definition Essay Thesis Statement 

The introduction will also include the definition essay thesis statement. As stated above, the thesis statement for this type of document is the writer’s definition of the term. It should be brief, just a one-sentence statement that provides the reader an overview of the essay while also giving a unique definition to the term. If an individual is still having a hard time constructing the statement, they should look at thesis examples from other definition essays online. This will not only help in writing the statement but also the thesis examples will give the writer an idea if their topic is suitable for this type of document. Here are a couple of thesis examples to help you get started:

  • Freedom is one’s mental, moral, and social ability to think and do whatever one wants without the fear of persecution.

  • An anti-hero is a self-interest-fueled protagonist that focuses on a particular goal and does everything in their power to achieve it.

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Definition Essay Examples

To better understand how to write the document, individuals should look at examples like this definition essay on “What is Success?” and “What is Culture?” The first sample explains the word “success” with a simple essay structure. The second sample discusses how different individuals define the term. Below is another definition essay example that provides a definition to the term “antihero” and gives example figures to better explain the meaning of the word.

What Is an Anti-Hero?

The term anti-hero has become popular in this day and age. Superheroes like “Superman” and “Spiderman” have grown stale and boring. They have the qualities of a righteous hero saving the day similar to the other superheroes. However, anti-heroes like the “Punisher” and “John Wick” have captured the attention of viewers. Kurt Sutter, the creator of “Sons of Anarchy” (2008), stated:

“I've made a career writing about fictitious anti-heroes. To create these worlds, I've spent a lot of time with active members on both sides of the law. And if I had to pick the most interesting of the two, the choice is obvious — we all love the guys in black.”

This sums up why people began to love these types of protagonists. An anti-hero is a self-interest-fueled protagonist that focuses on a particular goal and does everything in their power to achieve it.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an antihero as a protagonist who is lacking the qualities that make someone a hero. This may include values like empathy, integrity, and humility. Antiheroes have been present in human literature since ancient Greece and since then, almost every culture has used the idea of antiheroes (Britannica, 2016). From the word itself, one can infer that an antihero is the opposite of a hero. Which simply means a protagonist without the qualities of a hero. In contrast, an anti-villain is an antagonist with the qualities of a hero, however, the nature of their objective is often evil.

Individuals can associate the term antihero with heroes, villains, and anti villains. An antihero can become a villain if a narrative changed its point of view. This is one of the differences between an antihero and a hero. A hero will always be the person doing righteous acts while an antihero is a character that is doing bad things for a justifiable mean. Even if a narrative changes its point of view, a hero will always be the hero and a villain will always be a villain.

Today, there have been a lot of books, films, and tv shows that use antiheroes as their protagonists. Some of the most famous movie antiheroes are “Walter White” from the TV series “Breaking Bad” and “Captain Jack Sparrow” from “Pirates of the Caribbean.” These are protagonists that indulge in activities that society would deem illegal. Walter White was a chemistry teacher that turned into a life of crime to save money and support his wife and child. Captain Jack Sparrow is an infamous pirate who often finds himself saving people and the world.

“Walter White” from the “Breaking Bad” TV series is a teacher who became one of the most feared individuals in the drug business. He is one example of an antihero that can become an antagonist if the narrative changes its point of view (MasterClass, 2021). He became an antihero when he started cooking methamphetamine and selling them. At first, he had a righteous motive. He was dying of cancer and would like to save money to support his family when he eventually dies. However, as the series went on, Walter White became more villainous and even committed multiple cases of murder.

“Captain Jack Sparrow” is another self-interest-driven antihero. However, unlike “Walter White” whose self-interest included his family’s needs, “Jack Sparrow” thinks only for his self-interest. Most of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies center around his motivation to achieve eternal life. However, his moral compass often leads him to acts of self-sacrifice. In the third movie, he was on the verge of achieving immortality by stabbing the “heart of Davy Jones;” however, he forfeits this opportunity to save his friend’s life. In the fourth movie, he came close to drinking from the “fountain of youth” but instead gave the water to his former lover to save her. “Jack Sparrow” is an example of an antihero that lies, cheat, and steal but a strong moral compass leads him to do righteous acts. 

Another good example of an antihero is the Marvel character, “Punisher.” “Punisher” was a marine who lived a normal life with his wife and kids. However, criminals accidentally killed his wife and kids during a shoot-out. Since then, he became a cold-hearted vigilante who killed criminals without a second thought. Stories from marvel comics and the tv series show him torturing his enemies and even setting them on fire. He justifies this action as a way of protecting others from potential harm. He kills every kind of criminal to ensure that what happened to his family doesn’t happen to anyone else. “Punisher” is an antihero since his motive for his acts of murder is protecting people. 

An antihero is a protagonist that has the qualities of villainous characters. This can be simple acts of cheating, lying, and stealing. It can also include brutal acts of murder and torture. Despite these flaws, antiheroes can act to help others or have righteous motivations behind their ruthless acts. However, there are also cases where an antihero can be villainous that a change in a narrative’s point of view can make them the antagonist.  An anti-hero is a self-interest-fueled protagonist that focuses on a particular goal and does everything in their power to achieve it. This means that antiheroes are neither good nor evil. They are simply characters that are trying to achieve a justifiable mean.

Definition Essay Conclusion Tips

Every essay needs to have a conclusion, and this includes a definition essay. The conclusion is simply a summarization of the whole paper. Individuals should avoid adding new information in the conclusion, instead, it should provide an overview of the main points. They should also restate the thesis statement in this section. They can place it in the beginning, middle, or end part of the conclusion. This is the paper’s closing remarks and individuals should try to leave “food for thought” in the conclusion.

Definition Essay Topics for College

College students may find it difficult to pick a topic for a definition essay. Students should not rush the process of choosing the topic word. If they choose the wrong word and start the essay, they may find themselves running out of things to write in the paper’s body. This will require them to start over and choose a better topic. To help generate ideas of topic words, here are some definition essay topics for college students:


There are three types of freedom: mental, moral, and social. Students can choose a freedom type and explain its meaning in a definition essay. They can also discuss the harm of total freedom and the strictness of having too little freedom.

  • Poverty was a significant issue during the golden age of piracy. People had nothing to eat and nowhere to live. Some of these men and women found freedom through sailing the sea and robbing trade ships. Explain the meaning of freedom for the people in the golden age of piracy.

  • Too much freedom will allow individuals to do anything they want without suffering any consequences. This could lead to a lawless society that promotes freedom but is actually practicing anarchy. Define freedom and the fine line between freedom and anarchy.

  • What is mental freedom and how does it affect a person’s life?

  • What is ethical freedom and how does it influence a person’s values?

  • Write a definition essay discussing the meaning of social freedom and the movements behind it.


Hate is an abstract concept whose meaning can vary from person to person. Its opposite, love, is one of the most popular topics for a definition essay. Students should try to define hate and compare it to love.

  • Since hate is abstract, its meaning can change depending on a person’s experiences and values. Discuss the meaning of hate to different individuals.

  • There are books and movies that portray the emotion of hate in different ways. Choose one work of literature and discuss how it defines hate.

  • Everyone has felt the emotion of hate on some level. Though the meaning of the word can vary from person to person, there should still be a common meaning that everyone recognizes. What is the universal meaning of hate?

  • Hate is a strong emotion that can guide a person to do certain actions. Some individuals may choose to do nothing while some can do despicable acts of crime. How do hate influence people’s action?

  • A child’s perspective is innocent and pure. They see beauty in the world and share the emotion of love. For children who have felt hatred, how do they define it?

Social topics

Social issues are another great source of definition essay topics. There are many social terms and concepts whose meaning can change over time. Students can use real-life examples in their definition paper to better explain the meaning of the words.

  • Choosing a degree is a hard choice for any student. It will set their future career and skills. What is a college degree and how does it affect student life?

  • Poverty has been a social problem since civilization began. People needed to earn money to afford necessities and live a decent life. Explain why there is poverty and how people can help the poor.

  • Immigration has helped some countries develop their culture and economy. Immigrants from different countries bring certain aspects of their own culture. This leads some countries and regions to develop multiculturalism. Define multiculturalism and its influence on a nation.

  • Marriage is a sacred covenant between two parties. As cultures and social norms change, people have developed new ideas about marriage. Explain the meaning of marriage and how different individuals perceive it.

  • There are many acts of terrorism; religious, ideological, ethnonational, and more. Discuss the origin and meaning behind one terrorism type and how people can help to avoid it.

Definition Essay Writing Services for Student

Writing a definition essay can be challenging if a student is unfamiliar with the topic word. This is why individuals should choose topics that they are interested in. However, teachers may give their students an assignment to write a definition essay on a specific term. This will make the writing part harder and the research process longer. Fortunately for students, there are websites like CustomEssayMeister where students can hire professional essay writers to write their written assignments. Our professional writers are experts in different fields and can produce top-quality papers that can guarantee students a high grade.


Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2016, January 13). Antihero. Encyclopedia Britannica.

MasterClass Staff. (2021, April 30). 4 Tips for Writing Antiheroes: How to Create an Unforgettable Antihero.

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Antihero. In dictionary. Retrieved June 21, 2021, from

(n.d.). Top Anti Heroes Quotes.

Written by
Alex Ponomarenko
I am a content manager from California, US. I started as a content writer intern eleven years ago and became a content manager six years after. I joined CustomEssayMeister five years ago and enjoy being a part of the team every day.

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