How to Write a Definition Essay: Outline, Topics, Examples

What is a definition essay?

A definition essay is a variation of the descriptive essay. Both types are very close to each other, but definition paper is a kind of detailed compared to a simple description. It provides a dictionary entry, definition of a concept and its illustration.

Given that the content of the definition essay is often associated with scientific concepts and terms, we can say that it is a transitional form from essays to scientific work. It should also be noted that in American sources of essays, term papers and dissertations are often considered as different stages of the same type of texts.

An example of the definition essay in which the author defines the linguistic concept, as a euphemism from English vocabulary, is a great topic from definition essay examples.

How to start a definition essay?

The purpose of the introduction in definition essay is to inform the intended reader in the form of a thesis about the planned content of the text and draw his attention to the chosen topic. The thesis is a proposal in the introduction, containing a statement about the chosen referee (the subject of discussion) and the aspect of its consideration.

This proposal serves the author of definition essay as a kind of starting point for the development of his ideas and gives the reader an idea of ​​what is contained in the text.

One sentence is considered to be the optimal form for formulating the thesis since it is supposed to consider only one subject in only one aspect.

Since the introduction should also interest the reader, there are a number of techniques: an unexpected start, a funny incident, a provocative question, etc., leading the reader to the chosen topic. At the same time, in definition essay writing one should avoid monotonous bringing to the topic, introducing a large number of new concepts and definitions and an abundance of rhetorical questions that can confuse the reader or bring him boredom. The definition essay should also take into account the readership, its level, and interests.

Very often, the introduction is preceded by an annotation, which summarizes the main content of the essay.

An example of this part of a definition essay may be as follows: “In different social environments, the notion of what is “decent” and what is “indecent”, and, accordingly, of what can be called directly, and what should receive euphemistic designations, is not the same.

Euphemisms (from the Greek. “Good” and “I say”) – stylistically neutral words or phrases consumed instead of synonymous words or phrases that appear to the speaker indecent, rude or tactless. For example, golden ager instead of an old man; to dodge instead of to lie.”

Body paragraphs

As for the main part, it should be noted that it consists of separate over-phrasal unities, between which there must be a connection.

Here is how it should be seen: “The euphemization process is closely intertwined with the nomination process — one of the three fundamental processes that form a person’s speech activity (the other two are prediction and evaluation). 

Objects for ethical, cultural, psychological and any other reasons not called, or called with difficulty, need a euphemistic designation; the renewal of nominations is dictated by the need to veil over and over again or soften the essence of what is considered indecent and uncomfortable in cultural society, etc. 

This is because, unlike ordinary vocabulary, euphemisms are extremely sensitive to public assessments of certain phenomena, both “decent” and “indecent”. Hence the historical variability of the status of a euphemism: what appears to be a successful euphemistic denomination to one generation in the following generations can be regarded as undoubted and unacceptable rudeness requiring a euphemistic replacement. 

This is due to the fact that over time, euphemisms themselves acquire the characteristics of words that they are designed to soften or ennoble, and therefore, they constantly require a new replacement. 

The following facts are well known: the English word insane (literally “unhealthy”) was used at one time as a euphemism for the word mad, and subsequently, having entered into use with this special meaning, it lost its euphemistic character. 

Initially, the words cemetery (literally “the place where they sleep”) and lavatory (literally “the place to wash”) arose as euphemisms, which then turned into direct names for these objects (cemetery, toilet). 

In modern American English, the concepts restroom (for example, in theaters and restaurants), a bathroom in a private house, and even comfort station in parks are used to denote the latter. 

Euphemisms also replace taboo words: mentioning the name of God in vain is considered a sin, so instead of “God”, the English say “Goodness! Goodness gracious! ”, living in the taiga -“ owner ”instead of“ bear ”, doctors and simply superstitious people -“ lethal outcome ”instead of“ death ”,“ neoplasm ”instead of“ tumor ”or“ cancer ”.


The conclusion is the element of the text that remains in memory; it gives the impression of the whole text. 

Therefore, special requirements are imposed on it. There is also a list of technical methods for completing the text, the choice of which should take into account, first of all, the intention of the author and the reading address. 

Sometimes the author may not intentionally make a formal conclusion if he has managed to present his arguments so convincingly that the reader will be forced to come to the necessary conclusions independently, and will be firmly convinced of them. 

If a number of conclusions are made in the work, scattered throughout the text, then, in conclusion, you can bring them together and make a generalization based on them. 

If the text of definition essay is devoted to the consideration of a problem the solution of which is urgent, in conclusion, you can indicate the negative consequences of inaction and indicate ways to solve the problem. 

In this part of the essay, the verbatim repetition of the thesis put forward in the work, general reasoning, and the introduction of new ideas loosely related to the main theme of the text should be avoided.

Here is a great example for definition essay:“Euphemisms are one of the varieties of stylistic means of language. They allow speakers to vary their speech depending on the conditions of communication, if necessary, hide or veil their intentions, as well as avoid the communicative conflicts that may occur with specific nominations of certain objects, actions, and properties.”

Definition essay topics

Here we gathered the most popular and interesting definition essay topics for college, by choosing which you can fully reflect all your intentions for the essay written and express your attitude to the described issue.

Good definition essay topics:

  • What is the truth?
  • Is there a universal nature of man?
  • Do you agree with Halperin that a person has no instincts?
  • Do you agree with sociobiologists that compliance with moral standards is genetically determined?
  • What factors made people stand out from the animal world?
  • Was labor a decisive factor in the formation of Homo sapiens?
  • Is altruism the result of natural selection?
  • Is psychoanalysis a scientific theory?
  • Can a person control his unconscious processes?
  • Do you agree with Sartre that a person sets values ​​for himself?
  • Do you agree with Sartre that a person is absolutely free?
  • Does life make sense?
  • Do you agree with B. Williams that immortality is meaningless?
  • The contradictions of moral consciousness.
  • Is morality practical?
  • The ratio of duty and good in morality.
  • Love for one’s neighbor as an ethical ideal.
  • Absolute and relative in morality.
  • Moral ideal and realities of life.
  • On the other side of good and evil.
  • Is there moral freedom?
  • Mystical and religious experience.
  • The future of religion. 
  • Criteria for a work of art.
  • The possibility of the origin of the universe in eternity
  • The human mind, in the words of R. Tagore, is like a lamp: “The brighter the light, the thicker the shadow of doubt.” What level of cognition are we talking about, and what form of this level?
  • Is there an absolute way to justify knowledge?
  • In I. Turgenev’s novel “Rudin” there is a replica of one of the heroes (Pigasov), addressed to a woman: “Yes, I think, Daria Mikhailovna, that it would be easier for you to live without truth than without your cook Stepan!” And what is the truth to you? 
  • What is the classical concept of truth in the philosophy of the twentieth century?
  • What role do philosophical ideas play in the formation of new knowledge.
  • East and West: differences in the traditional understanding of man, his relationship with nature and society.
  • Individuality and collectivism: the eternal dilemma
  • What is the path to the destruction of nature?
  • Is man the measure of all things?
  • Why is it so hard for a person to know himself? 
  • What dangers lie in the way of self-knowledge?
  • What is approaching freedom?
  • What is the impact of living conditions at the place of study on individual freedom (environmental approach in pedagogy)?
  • The death penalty and freedom
  • What is freedom?
  • What is an easy life?
  • Is coercion justified if it is carried out on behalf of society?
  • Is freedom a conscious need?
  • To what extent are we responsible for ourselves and others?
  • What is execution?
  • What is pardoned execution?
  • Global problems generated by the contradictions of social development.
  • Global problems associated with the confrontation of society and nature.
  • What is love?
  • What is faith?

Definition essay Tips

After reading your definition essay, the reader should get a clear, vivid image of the defined subject. A logical sequence of the described characteristics helps to achieve this.

For example, when defining a place, such a sequence may be based on:

  • spatial arrangement (from left to right, from top to bottom, from the center to the periphery and vice versa),
  • on the organization of details in order of importance (from the most striking
  • and noticeable to less important or vice versa),
  • in chronological order (for example, from the front door to the corridor,

then the entrance to the room and the view from its window);

When defining a person:

  • based on the organization of details according to the degree of importance (from the most startling and noticeable to less important or vice versa),
  • from physical characteristics to character traits
  • in chronological order (for example, from the history of an acquaintance or from old events to later ones);

When defining an item:

  • based on the organization of details according to the degree of importance (from the most striking and noticeable to less important or vice versa),
  • go from a general view to a description of private parts, their purpose, and features
  • based on the spatial arrangement (from left to right, from top to bottom, from the center to the periphery and vice versa)

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