How to Write a Definition Essay

How to write a definition essay is the cause of much confusion among students. Although the definition essay is a common writing assignment, it is not assigned frequently enough for students to be familiar with it. So, the main question that students have is what is a common essay? More importantly, how to write a definition essay? In this post, we provide a short description of the definition essay and tips on how to write a definition essay.

How to Write a Definition Essay

The definition essay

As the term itself suggests, a definition essay presents a definition of a given word. The definition should go beyond the standard dictionary meaning. The definition should be thorough, supported by research, and integrate the writer’s viewpoint. In other words, a definition essay provides an extended definition of the given word brought about by synthesizing existing definitions and your personal perspective.

Steps to writing a definition essay

Like most other written projects, writing the definition essay follows an essay-writing process. This process has similarities with other written projects. However, there are also unique considerations when crafting a definition essay. The steps to writing this essay include the following:

  1. Choose the word. The first step in writing a definition essay is choosing the word since this will serve as the topic of the paper. When deciding on a word, go for one that is more abstract than concrete. Concrete words offer little room for interpretation, whereas abstract words can take on different meanings and offer lots of room for interpretation. For instance, the word “ship” is concrete because it refers to an object that has a set definition. On the other hand, the word “voyage” represents an abstract concept that can be defined in many different ways. Also, choose a word you are interested in and familiar with. This will make the writing process easier.
  2. Do research. After choosing a word, conduct research about that word. For instance, checking the dictionary definition of the word is a good start. You may then look up the word’s entry in an encyclopedia if it exists. Finally, you may also research the origins and history of the word. Remember not to limit your research to just one or two sources; rather, look up multiple definitions. Doing so will help you compare and contrast how the word is defined by various sources.
  3. Reflect on the word’s meaning. Once you are done looking up the word’s meaning, conduct self-reflection by considering what the word means to you. You may, for example, ask yourself what comes to mind whenever you encounter this word. Write down notes if this will help you organize your thoughts.
  4. Create a thesis statement and an outline. The next step is to construct a thesis statement. The thesis, in this case, should be your personal definition of the word. This will serve as the backbone of your paper. When crafting your thesis, bear in mind that the definition you come up with should still relate to the standard definition of the word while also offering a personal interpretation. Then create the outline that expounds on your thesis.
  5. Write the paper. Once the thesis and the outline are available, proceed to write the paper itself. Note that everything that goes into your paper should be connected to the thesis. Your paper will contain various sections, but each should work towards supporting your thesis.
  6. Revise and proofread. Similar to any other written project, your definition essay should undergo a few rounds of revision and a final proofread. Leave your paper for one or two days before you begin revising. This will help you view your paper with fresh eyes, which in turn will help you spot mistakes and room for improvement better. Finally, proofread the paper before submitting it to ensure that no grammatical and typographical errors are overlooked.

Parts of a definition essay

In this section, we look at the specific parts of the definition essay. Reviewing these parts will help you determine what should be included in your paper.

  • Introduction. The first part is the introduction. In this part, you should present the word you will define, the dictionary definition of the word, and your thesis statement. Including the dictionary definition in the introduction will help your reader identify the context in which you are defining the word.
  • Body. In this part, your discussion will feature a number of sections which will typically include the following:
    • The origins and history of the word. The form of words changes over time, and many of the words used in modern English come from other ancient languages that are sometimes already extinct. For instance, many words come from Latin, which was the language of ancient Rome. Briefly describe where the word came from and how it changed over time.
    • Synthesis of various definitions. You should also provide a synthesis of the various definitions you found while doing research. As stated earlier, there may be more than one definition of a single word, especially if the word represents an abstract concept. There are different approaches to synthesis. You may discuss the major definitions of the word. You may also compare and contrast them. For example, you may note how the word “voyage” refers to physically traveling over a given distance. You may then contrast this with the more figurative meaning that refers to personal transformation. The approach to synthesis will depend on your personal choice. The important part is to go beyond mere recitation of the definitions and provide an illuminating look into the word’s meaning.
    • Your personal definition. Finally, your paper should present your own definition of the word. Whereas the previous sections discussed other definitions, the most important section should focus on what the word means to you. This is where your thesis comes in. For example, your thesis may assert that a voyage is both an external and internal transformation in that it involves traveling that changes your environment and your character. When offering your own definition, remember to support it with evidence such as factual examples or personal experiences. The type of evidence that you will include depends on the nature of your definition. For instance, if your definition is more technical, then concrete facts are more appropriate. By contrast, a more informal definition may use anecdotes as evidence. 
  • Conclusion. End your essay with a conclusion that restates the thesis and summarizes your main points. You may also leave your reader some thoughts to ponder after reading the essay.

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