Definition Essay Outline Examples

How to write a definition essay outline: following the manual


One of the most misunderstood essay projects is the definition essay. While the essay itself is actually quite enjoyable to write, most students fear this essay because they know so little about it. Once they learn how to write it and they learn about the word they are defining, they quickly realize that their fear was due to misunderstanding. Interestingly, when students are finished writing their first definition essay, they are ready to write another one.

The outline of the definition essay is similar to the outline of any other essay. The biggest difference in the definition essay versus the other types of essays is that the definition essay discusses a word or concept and what it means through denotation and connotation. This is what your essay outline should resemble:


  1. Introductory Section

    • Hook/Attention Getter: Begin with one of the many different techniques, like a short anecdote, an extended definition, or a collection of open-ended questions.
    • Bridge between the hook and the thesis: Include a few sentences that help the reader understand what your essay will define.
    • Thesis: This should include the word you are going to define and how you plan to define it.

  2. Body Paragraphs

    • First point about the word.
      • - Define the word in a topic sentence that refers back to the thesis.
      • - Show examples of the word being used this way.
      • - Provide an analysis of the word being used.
    • Second point about the word.
      • - Define the word in a topic sentence that refers back to the thesis.
      • - Show examples of the word being used this way.
      • - Provide an analysis of the word being used.
    • Third point about the word
      • - Define the word in a topic sentence that refers back to the thesis.
      • - Show examples of the word being used this way.
      • - Provide an analysis of the word being used.

      (Continue this section in as many paragraphs as you need or as required by your instructor. In most cases, you should include at least three examples in each paragraph and each example should be analyzed.)


  3. Conclusion

    • Restate the thesis in new words.
    • Restate the main points of the essay with references from all of the body paragraphs.
    • Connect back to the hook/attention getter to close the essay.

What is a Definition Essay?

A definition essay is writing that explains what a term means. Some terms have definite, concrete meanings, such as glass, book, or tree. Terms such as honesty, honor, or love are abstract and depend more on a person's point of view.

Three Steps to Effective Definition

  1. Tell readers what term is being defined.
  2. Present clear and basic information.
  3. Use facts, examples, or anecdotes that readers will understand.

Choosing a Definition

Choosing a definition is a key step in writing a definition essay. You need to understand the term before you can define it for others. Read the dictionary, but don't just copy the definition. Explain the term briefly in your own words. Also, it's important to limit your term before you start defining it. For example, you could write forever on the term "love." To limit it, you would write about either "romantic love," "platonic love," or "first love."

Thesis Statement of a Definition Essay

The thesis statement usually identifies the term being defined and provides a brief, basic definition.

(term) (basic definition)

Ex: Assertiveness is standing up for your rights.

How To Write an Effective Definition

  1. Create a definition. There are several ways to define a term. Here are a few options.
    • Define by function. Explain what something does or how something works.
    • Define by structure. Tell how something is organized or put together.
    • Define by analysis. Compare the term to other members of its class and then illustrate the differences. These differences are special characteristics that make the term stand out. For example, compare a Siberian husky to other dogs, such as lap dogs, mutts, or sporting dogs.

      (term) (precise definition)

      Ex: A Siberian husky is a dog reputed for its ability to tolerate cold, its distinctive features, and its keen strength and stamina.

    • Define by what the term does not mean. This distinction can sometimes clarify a definition and help a reader to better understand it.
  2. Use understandable facts, examples, or anecdotes. Select facts, examples, or anecdotes to fully explain your definition. Ask yourself, "Which examples will best help readers understand the term? What examples would most appeal to my readers? Will a brief story reveal the term's meaning?" Do not use any examples that will not support the definition.

Remember: A definition essay is writing that explains what a term means. When writing a definition essay, remember to tell readers what term is being defined, to present a clear and basic definition, and to use facts, examples, or anecdotes that readers will understand

Here are the examples of popular definition essay topics:

  • Kindness
  • Sense of Humor
  • Love
  • ...

Whatever essay topic you choose, you should be interested in the subject and familiar with it. It would be great if you had your personal experience in the matter you are going to define.

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