How to Write a Definition Essay: Your Writing Manual

November 22, 2018
How to Write a Definition Essay

A definition essay is all about defining the specific term(s). Defining a word means interpreting its meaning. It’s the answer to the question, “What is it?” It seems obvious, but many students experience difficulties when writing a definition essay for the first time in their lives. They do not understand that a definition essay is not about merely copy-pasting the definition of the term from the dictionary. It requires more efforts, and it has to be 100% unique just like any academic essay.


What is a Definition Essay?

A definition essay is the type of academic assignment with the primary goal to define the specific term from all possible perspectives. The teachers are interested in all existing definitions as well as the student’s personal understanding of the word. The goal of such paper is to check how well a student can explain the meaning of words using different sources and examples.

How to Start a Definition Essay to Grab the Attention

Research skills, critical thinking, writing skills, knowledge of the subject, and time management are those abilities necessary to accomplish a definition essay. Students should be aware of the basic academic writing standards as well as citation formats to choose the correct one for his or her work.

Experts recommend starting with the process of planning. Decide how much time you will have to spend on this assignment and how many pages you plan to include. After that, move to studying the prompt, grading rubric, and selecting the terms to define.

How to Write a Good Definition Essay from Scratch

You should consider several rules to write a good definition paper. First of all, you should stick to the requirements and instructions of your tutor. Don’t come up with your best guess or choose another topic unless your teacher does not assign a specific one.

Then, keep in mind that providing a definition is more than copy-pasting the one found in the dictionary. If you wish to use the description from one of the dictionaries or glossaries, paraphrase it to make the text unique. Provide your own understanding of the word based on the existing interpretations.

If a student is allowed to pick the words to define, he or she should select a familiar one. Pick words that influenced your experience and that you understand perfectly. Leave unfamiliar terms to the field experts like our professional essay writers.

It’s possible to identify the word by interpreting one of these or all three:

  • Functions
  • Structure
  • Etymology

Another witty trick is to define the word by mentioning what it does not mean (explain it using antonyms). Comparing the term with other words of the same language group and highlighting the differences is one more effective approach to crafting a definition paper.

Definition Essay Outline

It is hard to imagine the writing process without a detailed plan of work. An outline of the definition paper follows the generally accepted five-paragraph essay structure. This section is your action plan. Without it, a student risks getting stuck in the middle of the writing process having no idea which direction to go.

In the introduction, you present the term(s) you will explain to your audience. In the body of your work, you should include points to support the thesis statement resented in the introduction. A thesis statement would be your central argument. Finally, in the last paragraph, you should focus on summarizing things.

As for the length of an outline, it may depend on the number of terms you define and their complexity. The more profound research will lead to more than five paragraphs.

Read more: 50 Definition Essay Topic Ideas

Definition Essay Structure

The outline of your paper reflects and dictates its structure. Experts recommend reviewing examples before composing an outline as well as the essay itself. A good example of a structure would be:

  • Introduction

Include an eye-catching hook, brief overview of the word, and a thesis statement.

  • Body paragraph one

A student should include the origins and historical overview of the word.

  • Body paragraph two

Here you can mind the official definitions from different credible sources.

  • Body paragraph three

Interpretation of the word based on personal experience (add examples).

  • Conclusion

Combine a summary of the topic sentences with the explanation of the term’s role in your life.

Definition Essay Introduction

Once you’re done with the plan of your work, move to the first line which is an attention-grabber. That could be a quote, joke, anecdote, rhetorical question, fact, statistics, metaphor, etc. The main idea is to involve a relevant hook so that it’s related to the rest of the document.

After introducing the hook sentence, the paper should offer either the origins of the word or definition from the dictionary (do not forget to rewrite it!)

Definition Essay Body

Each body paragraph must begin with the claim or so-called topic sentence that reflects one of the main arguments to support the thesis. This opening sentence should contain a brief overview of the section. In each paragraph, a student should come up with one more definition of the selected word, historical development, and personal experience using examples.

The best way to structure a body paragraph would be to explain the word’s usage, interpret its structure, provide analysis, and clarify the word that can be misunderstood.

A writer should offer credible and supported pieces of evidence or in-text citations from the sources you collected during the research stage.

Definition Essay Conclusion

It is the shortest part of your writing. Come up with a few sentences to summarize the text. Think over whether this word is used in everyday life or only in some instances. Share whether it means something special to you. Also, add whether you learned anything new about the word during the research. Your final line should create a sense of purpose or appeal to the reader in any other way. You may finish with a rhetorical question, for instance, but never introduce new information in conclusion.

Definition Essay Tips from

Now you know how to write a definition paper step-by-step. We would like to share some bonus tips from our expert writers.

  • Choose multi-dimensional terms

Your paper should not be too short and distinct, so choosing nouns like “a table” or “a plate” to define makes no sense.

  • Always start with research

Even if you’re sure that you know everything about the term and can describe it in detail, you should still dedicate some time to in-depth research to find new meanings or discover more about the origins.

  • Think about a list of examples

You should provide various episodes from your life to illustrate the term. It’s better to recall personal experience than someone else’s.

  • Proofread and edit the final draft

Never submit your paper without reading it at least twice. Get rid of grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes. Avoid plagiarism by checking the text with anti-plagiarism programms.

  • Format the essay properly

Take care of the required format (MLA, APA, etc.) If you do not know the recommended citation format, ask your teacher or search on the web which one you should use to cite papers for a specific class or school.

  • Get some help from experts

Definition Essay Example

Power in a Functionalist Perspective

When people think of power, they usually perceive it as something negative since it is related to selfishness, tyranny, dictatorship, suppression, and control. Historically, many inferior countries had been colonized and controlled by superior nations through fear. Power then was determined through the scope of possessions owned, positions achieved, and people controlled. This notion resorted to different wars — from human conflict to territorial siege.

Since power is often associated with leadership, then only the powerful are privileged to be announced as leaders. This further preferred the intelligent, rich, and strong as powerful who can run a society. Meanwhile, people in the below average line are referred to as the weaklings thus they do not have the capability to lead other people. With this, the essay aims to clarify the range of power and highlight a functionalist view of power rather than the traditional one.

Power can be perceived in two correlative areas: personal and social. Personal power refers to a person’s ability to attain self-reliance in order to get involved in favorable circumstances. Personal power comes either in the form of passion or self-fulfillment. Together with love, power enables people to achieve “psychological growth throughout life” (Rosenfels, 1966). On the other side, social power is the ability to motivate other people to work hand-in-hand in achieving a specific goal. French and Raven (1956 as cited in Dowding, 2011) enlisted six foundations of power: informational power, reward power, referent power, expert power, coercive power, and legitimate power. Given the parameters, it can be deduced that personal power results to self-maturity while social power leads to societal growth.

Collectively, power can be described as the ability of a person to influence, either one’s self or others, in order to reach a certain level of accomplishment that is beneficial. In parallel to this, the more a person influences, the more accomplishments are done, and the higher level of prosperity is achieved. Katner (1977) points out that power should be emphasized on “autonomy” rather than “domination.” For instance, a leader who uses power to control and sheerly command the subordinates only achieves personal satisfaction thus increasing superiority among people. Meanwhile, a leader who uses power to guide and be with the subordinates during the course of action shapes effective workers thus reaching better results.

The traditional concept of power centers on the influencing agents per se, what makes them powerful, and how can they attain more power. This concept leads to the popular connotation of seeking power as a coercive action, whether physical or emotional, aiming to gain more power to control more people. However, Overbeck, Correll, and Park (2005 as cited in Guinote & Vescio, 2010) pointed that a functionalist view of power means looking at an interrelated influence between the “leader” and the “group.” Likewise, being vested the power in a group means more of an obligation than an opportunity. It further denotes that being powerful means not being able to rule over people towards one’s will but to drive people towards common good. Lastly, power is not the ability to achieve one’s goal through ‘exhausting’ different resources. It is the skill to ‘manage’ the resources, including people in order to obtain a positive contribution and become one in the society.


Dowding, K. (Ed.). (2011). Encyclopedia of power. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE

Publications, Inc.

Guinote, A., & Vescio, T. (Eds.). (2010). The Social psychology of power. New York,

NY: Guilford Press.

Kanter, R. M. (1977). Men and women of corporation. New York, NY: BasicBooks.

Rosenfels, P. (1966). Love and power: The psychology of interpersonal creativity. New

York, NY: Libra Publishers, Inc.

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