How to Write a Definition Essay: Outline, Samples, and Typical Errors

As the name suggests, a definition essay is an essay that explains in detail a certain term or concept. However, instead of being limited to a simple dictionary definition, which normally takes a few phrases, such an essay contains an extended definition that includes additional details, such as examples, descriptions, an analysis of this term and other related ones, etc. Importantly, such essays present your personal opinion about corresponding concepts.

Knowing how to write a definition essay requires a good understanding of the required elements, outline, structure, logic as described below. These essays are important since they require integration of a few interpretations on the same concepts, making clear distinctions and generalizations, providing personal interpretations, etc.


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General Structure of a Definition Essay

Like with other essay types, definition essay format follows the following this basic structure:

  • Introduction - lists standard explanations and raises important rhetorical questions attempting to interpret them, it may list interesting facts related to the background of these terms (but not only), anecdotes, funny cases, personal experience, etc. Altogether, this helps in hooking attention and providing necessary background that would allow diving deeper into the matter.
  • Thesis Statement – this is not a distinct section but rather, a key element of the introduction. For this particular essay kind, it should state a generalized and comprehensive personal definition. It should be formulated as an arguable claim that closely summarizes the paper’s essence.
  • Main body. All paragraphs should be related to this thesis through topic sentences – normally, this is the first sentence in a paragraph. Subsequent sentences constituting the paragraph explain them, support with arguments, provide evidence and examples, etc. Paragraphs should end up with concluding sentences, which synthesize the content presented within these paragraphs, or with transitioning sentences that help introduce subsequent paragraphs for smoother content flow.
  • Conclusion – this is where thesis is restated considering all ideas, arguments, and evidence that has been provided. Apart from synthesizing information, conclusions may suggest related topics for exploration.

Outline and Its Constitution

 When assembling an essay outline, it is useful to consider what type of paragraphs and how many of each should be included and in what order. In terms of meaning, such types of essays have the following sections or paragraphs:

  1. Denotation – this part provides direct concept explanations, for instance, dictionary or formal interpretations integrated from multiple sources. This section is normally shorter and could be limited to one paragraph. If you are wondering how to start a definition essay, opening your essay by listing formal dictionary explanations would be perfectly acceptable and even fairly standard.
  2. Connotation – in this part, one describes related ideas or term implications, including from a personal perspective or judgement. A good method for identifying connotations is looking up the word in a thesaurus. The connotation part is typically more voluminous, being spread across multiple paragraphs.

Judged by their specific function, paragraphs can either:

  • Describe – provide description of the words in detail; describe perspectives, standard or peculiar interpretations, worldviews, etc.
  • Analyze – these paragraphs could dissect complex words or expressions into individual parts and analyze each of these separately, as well as in combination. This could be done, for instance, with terms “self-sufficiency”, (“self” + “sufficiency”) or “gratefulness” (“grate” + ”fulness”). Obviously, such “linguistic” analysis does not apply to simple words like “hate”, “respect”, etc. However, each word may be analyzed for multiple meanings, for instance globalization may be viewed as globalization of culture, of knowledge, commerce, lifestyle, life-quality expectations, etc.
  • Exemplify – providing an eloquent and detailed example to accompany complex interpretations or argument increases understanding of it by readers, hence this is mandatory for good writing. Including good analogies has similar effects.
  • Compare and contrast. These paragraphs help differentiate discussed words or concepts by strictly defining their boundaries and by highlighting similarities and differences between compared terms.
  • Negate. One way of defining concepts is to tell what they are not – this is especially useful for closely related concepts.
  • Provide background with regard to history and origin. While this is not practical for common words, it makes sense for neologisms, professional terms and some other words whose origin is easily tracked (for instance, “democracy”).

Consider definition essay outline and structural requirements along with what types of paragraphs would constitute your essays and what they would be exactly about and you’ll end up with definitive and solid outline.

Common Mistakes That Occur While Writing Interpretations 

Below, we list some usual mistakes made when writing definition essays:

  • Choosing topics that are either too narrow or concrete to allow extended definitions, various perspectives or interpretations. Rather than choosing terms like “Cold War”, “TV mass culture” more general and broad definition essay topics should be used, such as “war”, “culture”, “freedom”, “dignity”, “innovation”, etc.
  • Selecting topics that are overly broad or that represent little potential for captivating discussion: “work”, “rain”, “sand”. It is generally advisable to choose controversial topics or concepts whose understanding varies significantly among individuals and might even be associated with conflicting positions.
  • Failing to research term properly. Knowing how to define a word in an essay exhaustively implies working with dictionaries. Ignoring these results in a serious mistake, since these normally list all known word meanings in various contexts – exploring how concepts change depending on context is an important starting point for writing definition essays. Combining several good dictionaries could be especially powerful – this will help cover the entire semantic space of a given word, guiding further interpretations and description of connotations.
  • Quoting overly lengthy formulations exactly as found in dictionaries – this should be avoided since it affects your level of uniqueness and may be treated as plagiarism by many software tools.

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Definition Essay Example for Students

Given that definition essay examples can be much more helpful in familiarizing readers with this type of essay, below we provide such a sample (the thesis is italicized).


Justice is hugely important element for relationships between individuals and virtually for any human group, however small – obviously, this applies to society as a whole. Commonly understood meaning of justice is adherence to fairness and impartiality whenever dealing with other people or when conflicts management, be it in daily life or within the frames of legal system.

The Cambridge online dictionary defines justice as "fairness in the way people are dealt with" or "the condition of being morally correct or fair". As a law term, it is "the system of laws in a country by which people are judged and punished". Moreover, here in the US, it also means a "judge in a law court".

The Merriam-Webster dictionary adds a few other unique definitions, for instance "the maintenance or administration of what is just" for instance, by justly managing conflicting claims, rewarding, and punishing. Other definitions are "conformity to truth, fact, or reason", "the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action" but also conformity to this principle (righteousness).

Thus, apart from being used to designate judges, all formal interpretations of justice, in a way or another, deal with fair treatment, regardless of whether individuals, groups, or state institutions are considered. Hence, this is regarded as the core and fairly universal meaning of the term.

Importantly, many dictionaries mention impartiality as an essential component of this treatment. Impartiality ensures that deliverers of justice put fairness principles above their own interests and above interests of any given actor involved in conflicts that are managed. Apart from this, when thinking about justice or justice deliverers, the following concepts are implied:  integrity, honesty, equity, adherence to truth and law, legitimacy.

Nevertheless, understanding of justice differs greatly across individuals but also across societies and cultural groups, which ultimately reflects in laws. For instance, principle of “an eye for an eye” practiced under Iran’s sharia law may seem totally weird here, in the US or western world, where we are used with standardized punishments proportional to crime gravity, such as incarceration, monetary fines, property sequestration. A renowned example involved an Iranian man who blinded a woman using acid and who was sentenced in 2008 to the same punishment.

Thus, justice is essentially fair, impartial treatment, be it in interpersonal or collective interaction and whether it is reflected in simple actions or in laws. Importantly, this term has to be examined within societal and cultural context, as notions may vary significantly depending on this.

To conclude, definition essay provides a broad overview of word or phrase meaning across different contexts along with implications, examples, explanations, and interpretation. Depending on the concepts approached, producing such essays are fairly challenging, which is a good reason to consider essay writing service provided by Edubirdie.

With us, you have greater liberty in selecting your preferred writer according to performance statistics. You can also continuously assess project progress by requesting outlines, drafts, writing samples and effectively correct or guide writers in real time. We also implemented an unlimited free revisions policy if order instructions are not met but also a money-back guarantee policy if revisions are unsatisfactory. Despite high quality output, we strive to minimize potential risks for clients, so that they feel maximally safe contracting our services. Considering all these, why not give it a try?


How do you write a thesis statement for a definition essay?       

An introduction of a definition essay ends with a thesis that should express personal and generalized definitions or interpretations of the explored concepts. These arguable statements are the focal points of definition essays, which means that papers revolve entirely around these. The thesis needs to be general enough to connect with and cover all paragraph topic sentences.

How do you write a definition term?    

Picking terms for such essays is done by considering how interesting or controversial the topics are, whether they engulf definitions that vary depending on different circumstances or contexts, whether they allow multiple perspectives, views, including conflictual, whether the author is familiar with these terms and provide an interpretation of these, etc.

How do you organize a definition essay?                  

Organizing essays involves considering the traditional structure, according to which there is an introduction, main body, conclusion, but also deciding how many paragraphs should be used for each section and what information should be each paragraph’s function: denotation, connotation, description, analysis, exemplification, comparison, etc.

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