Panic (noun) 1. sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior
“A wave of panic washed over him as he realized he didn’t have a topic for his definition essay.”
If this definition applies to you right now, and you’re panicking because you have a paper due tomorrow (okay, so you’ve procrastinated just a little bit on this paper), take a deep breath. This post lists 20 definition essay topics to help you get started.
The Definition Essay Defined
The definition essay is deceptively simple. All you need to do is define a term or concept.
But a definition essay is more than a simple dictionary definition. A definition essay extends the definition by providing examples to help readers understand the term or concept being defined.
Let me say that again: a definition essay uses an extended example.
A definition essay is typically based on a single word or concept, so don’t chose an object like a dog or a potato. You don’t need an entire essay to define these types of objects. You can define them in a few sentences.
Instead, choose an abstract term that leaves room for interpretation.
For example, if you define happiness, readers can argue your definition because everyone defines happiness differently. Happiness to you might be a day sunbathing at the beach. Happiness to your roommate might be a day fishing on the river.
One last tip about choosing the right topic: choose a term or concept that you’re familiar with.
Don’t choose a word like quixotism from a word list just because it sounds cool and just might relate to Don Quixote. If all you have is a dictionary (or Wikipedia) definition to go on, you’ll struggle to write a definition essay about the term.
Now that you’re armed with a better understanding of a definition essay, you can move on to deciding on your definition essay topics.
20 Definition Essay Topics That Go Beyond the Obvious
Here is a list of 20 definition essays topics to help you write the perfect paper. Some of the items are linked to example essays to give you even more inspiration.
Think about being a senior with only months left before graduation. Think about not wanting to go to class, about wanting to skip all things resembling homework, and daydreams of what your future holds. What makes a senior fall victim to senioritis? Is it even real, or do people simply feel as though they should act this way before graduation?
2. The perfect shopping experience
Does the perfect shopping experience mean an afternoon trying on countless pairs of shoes? Does it mean finding a great bargain? Maybe the perfect shopping experience is being first in line for the new iPhone. Or maybe you hate to shop, so a perfect shopping experience means a few clicks, and packages arrive at your door in three days.
Would you say a college graduate is successful if he makes $50,000 per year? Does success mean that he needs to make $100,000 or more? Do you think money has nothing to do with success?
What if someone has failed many times? Can he or she still be successful? Can failure actually be a success story in disguise?
As you try to define laziness, keep in mind that this definition can vary greatly from one generation to the next. Do your grandparents have a completely different view of what it means to be lazy?
Maybe it’s your parents or your boss who has a different definition of lazy. I’m guessing that on at least one occasion in your life one of your parents uttered the phrase, “Don’t be so lazy!”
If someone is lazy, do they lack ambition? Maybe what some perceive as lazy isn’t even laziness at all. Perhaps they just have different priorities and didn’t bother to clean their room not because they’re lazy, but because they just don’t care about a spotless environment.
5. The American Dream
The definition of the American Dream has shifted over time. The current American Dream isn’t always a spouse of the opposite gender, a home, 2.5 kids, and a white picket fence. While this definition certainly may be true for many, chances are others (like singles and childless couples) have a completely different definition of the American Dream. How does an American immigrant define the American Dream compared to a natural born citizen?
Anyone who has been in a relationship has a definition of cheating. Ever catch your significant other flirting with some old flame on Facebook? Is that cheating? (Most likely, the person doing the flirting will say “no.”)
Cheating doesn’t have to only refer to relationships. You might define cheating as it relates to academics. Does having your roommate “help” you write your paper mean you’re cheating?
Billy Rowlinson (flickr.com)
The definition of marriage changes by generation and by culture.
Today, the term marriage doesn’t necessarily mean only one man and one woman. Some might define marriage as inclusive of same-sex couples, and still others might define marriage as allowing for polygamist relationships. How do you define marriage?
Does a family have to be a mother, father, and child? Can a childless couple be a family? What role does extended family play in people’s lives?
In some cases, non-relatives, such as friends, stepparents, and mentors are considered family.
If a blood line isn’t necessarily the only criteria for being family, what characteristics or actions define a person as family?
Remember that guy who cut in front of you at the convenience store? Or how about that lady who bumped into you and didn’t even say “excuse me”? It’s pretty easy to think of examples of rude behavior in our society, so decide what you feel is rude and get to work defining it!
What makes a house a home? To some, home is always the place where you grew up. To others, home is where they’re living at the time.
But what makes a home so special? People usually feel calm, relaxed, and happy at home. Why is your own home more than just a place to live?
11. A good wife/girlfriend or husband/boyfriend
The definition of these terms are as varied as individuals. Ever meet your friend’s new significant other and wonder, “What does she see in him?” or “Why in the world would he want to date her?”
Your friend might feel he’s the perfect boyfriend because he always texts to see how she’s doing. You might think he’s too nosey or even too controlling.
Defining a good partner means you’ll have to decide what qualities a person must have in order to be right for you.
This is one of those grey-area terms (at least to many people). Does honesty mean telling the truth no matter what? If you hate your friend’s new haircut, do you tell her? If your friend’s girlfriend is cheating on him, do you say something? If you have knowledge of something and lie by omission, can you still be considered honest?
Do you respect your parents, your teachers, your significant other, and/or your friends? If you said “yes,” how can you prove it? What does it mean to show respect to someone? What type of actions demonstrate respect, and what makes someone deserving of respect?
Fashion is another one of those terms that varies with time. Remember that outfit you wore a few years ago for your school picture? I bet you wouldn’t be caught dead in that outfit today, right? Ever look at a picture of your mom or dad when they were teens and wonder who could ever think those haircuts were in style?
Of course, all of those things were fashionable at the time. Consider why fashion changes, who decides fashions, how fashion influences us, and how fashion makes us feel about ourselves.
Did you grow up sharing a room with your brother or sister and wish you had even a little bit of privacy? Have you yelled at someone for snooping through your phone or your computer? If so, these might be good places to start your discussion on privacy.
If you’re thinking of privacy on a larger scale, your discussion could include internet privacy or whether or not the government is trying to invade our privacy through monitoring of phone calls and emails.
Is beauty only skin deep? Sure outward appearance is the easy choice to describe someone’s beauty, but what about inner beauty? What does it mean to possess inner beauty?
Of course beauty doesn’t always apply to people. Beauty can apply to nature or even an inanimate object (like a car, a guitar, or even a new pair of shoes).
We’ve all heard those stories on TV about a guy who rescued someone. The neighborhood calls him a hero, but he declines the title, saying he just did what any other person would do. Military veterans are generally considered heroes, also, yet many feel they’re undeserving of the honor, too.
What characteristics do these type of people have in common? Bravery, honor, and selflessness are good places to start.
Which characteristics are inherently male or inherently female? Can you define someone as masculine or feminine simply based on appearances? Does a haircut or personal style make someone masculine or feminine?
Can masculinity or femininity be partially determined by voice and body language. Maybe you need to look beyond appearances and examine a person’s actions and character. Or, perhaps, you can’t define masculinity or femininity without examining all of these attributes.
Poverty is a relative term. If someone is uber rich, the middle class seems poor. To the middle class, minimum-wage workers are likely poor.
But what does it mean to live in poverty? Sure the government sets poverty thresholds, but is poverty simply measured by income?
Insomnia Cured Here (Flickr.com) Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, “The Wizard of Oz”, 1939
In The Wizard of Oz, the Cowardly Lion asks the Wizard for courage. Why does he feel courage is so important? What does it mean to be courageous?
Society often says that soldiers, those suffering illness, and those facing adversity are courageous. Think about what characteristics these people possess and how they demonstrate courage.
Turning a Definition into a Definition Essay
As you know, just because you have a definition essay topic and a few examples doesn’t mean you have an essay.
So where do you start?
Sometimes it’s easiest to start at the beginning and write the introduction first.
Your introduction should grab readers’ attention, so you might pick one of these example hooks to begin your paper. A clever, funny, or interesting story or example from your own experience is a tried and true strategy to get your readers interested.
Have lots of ideas for your introduction but are still stumped on where to go from there? Try outlining. Read How to Write a 5-Paragraph Essay Outline for more help.
Kibin editors are, by definition, amazing people who have savvy editing skills and will provide insightful tips and comments about your writing. Why not have an editor review your final paper?
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Writing essays is an integral part of your school and college life and you can do nothing about it. The only thing you actually can do is try to make this process as simple as possible. You might think that becoming a better writer is something impossible because you either born with your natural writing talent or just can’t write good, there is no other way. But you are wrong. Writing is like cooking. Nobody expects you to cook a perfect cake if you do not know the recipe and did not practice before. It is a skill you have to develop, just like writing. In this post, we will learn how to write a good definition essay and make it as easy as it can get.
What is a Definition Essay?
A definition essay is a piece of writing where you have to write your own definition of a word. The definition must be well researched and supported by evidence. Also, it might be an explanation of what a certain term means. Some of them have literal, definite meanings like table, pencil, or chair. Some of them are abstract, like love, success, truth and depends on a person’s point of view.
You can write Definition Essay for a class or just try writing it to improve your English skills, make it something like a language challenge.
How to write a Definition Essay? Step by Step Guide
Choosing a concept or idea is the main point in writing your essay. Choose a word that describes the concept or idea, for example, "Love", "Hero", "Truth", "Hate", etc. Make sure you completely understand the term you choose. Read a dictionary, but do not copy the definition from there, explain it in your own words. If your concepts are fairly open, then you can find your own definition based on experience, and then find sources to support your definitions.
- Stay away from specific things and objects.
Try not to choose such objects like “pillow”, “shelf”, “cup”, because it can make the writing even harder. First of all, you simply just can’t write a lot about specific subjects and also, your essay will seem superficial and not shrewd enough.
- Choose a word that you know.
Pick a word that you are familiar with and understand on a basic level. This way it will be much easier to write. For instance, you can choose a word “honor” because you know what that means, you have something to say about it, you know how it feels and you can apply it to your life.
- Try to pick a word that has more than one meaning.
It would be better if you choose a word that has plural meanings, especially if this word would mean different things to different people. In this case you will have more to write about, you will have an opportunity to include your own personal understanding as well as interpretations of other people.
For instance, you can pick a word “love” because you know that there are a lot of different meanings to this word, each person understands and experiences it in his own unique way.
- Find the word in the dictionary.
Every word has its official meaning which you can find in the dictionary. Familiarize yourself with it. Take a closer look at the structure of the definition.
- Study the origin of the word.
Research the word in encyclopedias, find out where it came from, study any theories and ideas about this word. Also, if you pick a word from law field, for example, then research this word in certain law encyclopedias.
You can find a lot of information about words nowadays, all you need is an Internet connection. There are many scholarly or academic articles, blog posts, essays and articles. Moreover, there are many videos made by smart people who have already deeply researched many words and now sharing their knowledge.
- Ask your friends and family about the word.
It is important to get your own perspective on the word and to do that you can talk to your friends and family and ask them something like “what this word means to your”, “what is the first thing you think about when you hear this word” or “what do you feel when you hear this word” and so on. Record all the answers and then use them as your sources.
- Come up with your own definition.
Write down your own definition of the word using the data from your research and experiences.
Definition Essay Outline
The essay outline should briefly summarize the content of your essay and organize it in an easy-to-understand and coherent manner. Writing a short draft is very effective, and some teachers even require students to submit drafts to make sure that they have written the essay themselves. Definition essay outline as usually consists of the traditional intro - body paragraphs - conclusion format.
There is a basic sample of how to do this:
In the introduction, you have to let your readers know what this paper is going to be about. In the definition essay, the main goal of introduction is to give your readers two definitions - “standard” one and thesis one. Standard definition is the one you will find in the dictionary. The thesis definition will be a bit different from the dictionary one, so it is important to give your readers a starting point in regards to the term, to make everything clear.
The thesis statement in the definition essay is a combination of what this term actually means with your own personal understanding. Do not write too much in this section, though, save some for the body paragraphs. Also, do not use such phrases like “is where” and “is when” when describing the word. In general, try to stay away from passive phrases involving the word “is”.
This is the largest part of your essay. Here you have to define core parts of the term and put them into organized sections. Use the data from your research, such as the history of the word and its variations and break it down into parts.
As usual, in concluding section you have to sum up the main points of your argument but in different words. Also, make your ending interesting and deep, show how this term impacts your life and finish with giving your reader a sense of purpose.
- Briefly tell about the term you are going to talk about
- Thesis statement
- Body Paragraph 1: History and Origin of the Word.
- Body Paragraph 2: Complete dictionary explanation and use of the Word.
- Body Paragraph 3: Personal definition created from your experience.
- Restate the thesis statement in different words
- Summarize the main key pieces of evidence
- Final closing sentence
Definition Essay Topics
Good Definition Essay Topics
- What is Love?
- What is Wisdom?
- Define What Makes a “Good” Friend?
- Define Success
- Define “Beauty”
- Talk about Solitude
- What Smart Means to You?
- What does it mean to be a Good Person?
- What makes a Good Leadership?
- What Makes a Great Friend?
- What Scholar Means to You?
- What is Loneliness?
Definition Essay Examples
Sometimes people just cannot start writing their essay without looking at a complete example of somebody else, seeing the structure and how it is written. Yes, sometimes students need some extra inspiration to start their own work and that is fine. Thankfully, nowadays you can easily find many sample papers, moreover, here is one for you right now.
I hope this article was useful for you and now your essay writing skills are better than they were. So, I am coming to you with the last piece of advice. Here are my top 4 useful resources, which will help you to make your essay writing game even stronger.
- Essay Topic Generator . The topic is the smallest part of your essay, but this is the first thing people see and it is important. But picking an interesting and catchy topic for your essay might be a real struggle. I feel your pain and I am here to save you. Use this site and create the coolest topics ever.
- Essay Examples . As I have already said, essay examples are good “friends” of pretty much every student. Take a look, get inspired and go write your own great essay. Remember, that these are just for looking and not taking. I know it might be tempting, but be sure that your teacher will find out the truth.
- Essay Checker . One of the most important steps in writing an essay is checking it for grammar mistakes, structure, overall completeness. If you are not sure you can do it by yourself - this site is just for you.
Essay Editing Service . If you checked your essay, but still have doubts, use this site and forget about sleepless nights. These guys know their job, they will make your essay look polished and in its best form