Expert Advice on Writing Definition Essays

What are Definition Essays?

Definition essays are types of writing that provide explanations about the meaning of various terms. A number of terms have clear, concrete and definite meanings e.g. book, flower, glass. Other terms, however, are of the abstract variety, which means they are less clear and more dependent on an individual’s viewpoint e.g. words like love, honor, and integrity.    

Three Quick Steps to Writing a Good Definition

  • Let your readers know what term you will be defining.
  • Give them a clear, concise and basic explanation of that term.
  • Use anecdotes, examples, or factual information to illustrate the term in a way readers’ can understand.

Selecting a Term to Define

Selecting a suitable term for your definition essay is an essential first step. Then, it is important you understand your chosen term before attempting to define it for your readers. Check a dictionary by all means, but you will need to do more than simply copy the definition provided in a dictionary. You will need to provide a brief explanation of the term using your own choice of words. It is additionally vital to limit your chosen term prior to beginning to try to define it. If one were writing, for instance, about the word “love”, it would be possible to write endlessly about it. Therefore, to apply limits, you could write about “family love” or “young love.”

Developing a Thesis Statement for Your Essay

Usually, a thesis statement mentions the term to be defined along with a short and basic description.  

Example: A promise is a commitment to do something.

How to Go About Writing a Good Definition

  • Start creating your definition. There are many ways of defining most terms. The following are some options:



    • Function-based definition: Explains what a given thing does or how it works.
    • Structural definition: Describes how a given thing is put together, built or assembled.
    • Analytical definition: This method involves comparing your chosen term to others like it and illustrating any differences or special features that distinguish the term. You could, for instance compare husky dogs to other breeds e.g. blood hounds, sheepdogs, etc.
    • Define your chosen term by the opposite of its meaning. This method often clarifies a term for the reader and helps them understand it better.
  • The use of anecdotes, examples and facts to properly explain your chosen term is the next important step. These should be easy to understand. Ask these questions of yourself: “What examples might help my readers better understand this term?” “Which examples would appeal most to readers?” “Would a short story explain the meaning of this term?” Avoid examples that do not support or explain a term’s meaning. 

NB: An essay of the definition variety is one that explains the meaning of a term. When you are writing this type of essay, do not forget to let readers know what term you will be defining, give them clear and concise information, and use easy-to-understand anecdotes, examples and facts.

The following are some popular topic examples for definition essays:

  • Love
  • Humor
  • Kindliness

Regardless of what topic you decide on, it is important it is familiar and interesting to you. Better still if you have some experience in the term you will be defining.

Read Our Free Definition Essay Sample!

Definition Essay about Respect

Respect is a term that has been understood and viewed by many people to mean differently depending on the individual socio-cultural background, values, beliefs and what one considers to be right or wrong. However, from the definitions that have been brought out by different individuals and the dictionary, respect can be defined as an action that denotes a positive regard for somebody or something. For example when respect is viewed in terms of a positive regard for somebody, it can be either because of the position of that person in the society, age or even the value that the person adds to one’s life. Respect for something can be either with regard to a specific ethics that is embraced by a given society. For instance, (Haidt & Jesse 2007: pp 103) identifies respect for tradition and legitimate authority as one of the five fundamental moral values shared by different societies or individuals. However, respect should not be confused with tolerance since tolerance does not imply positive feeling and is compatible with contempt which is the opposite of respect.
Having defined respect, one can take it to imply different values and ways of conduct in one’s day to day life. For instance, one can consider the art or skill listening as being respectful. Paying attention to somebody as he or she speaks shows a positive regard for that person and that you value whatever he or she is trying to put across. This not only makes the person feel honored and respected, but also it boosts his or her self esteem.
The other dimension in which respect can be taken to imply is by preserving dignity. This can be achieved by having self-respect. One can preserve his or her dignity by engaging in actions and behavior that is morally upright. Preserving dignity makes other people to respect a person together with the values and beliefs that he or she holds. Also, respect can be taken as showing some manners, being considerate when dealing with people of different diversities and also learning to keep promises. When one considers other people better than him or herself, it shows honor and value to those individuals. Being time conscious is also an act of respect. Respect of time can be attributed to someone who honors and values the systems that have been put in place (Haidt & Jesse 2007: pp 103). Read more…

You may also be interested in: