Definition Essay Topics

Definition essays are surprisingly tricky to write. On the surface, they seem straightforward - choose a word and explain it.
Kelly Spancer
8
min read
Dec 28, 2020

But writing an effective definition essay requires exploring the nuances of a word and explaining it from several different perspectives. Confused? Don’t worry, this article will tell you everything you need to know about how to write a high scoring definition essay. 

What is a Definition Essay?

A definition essay is a common writing assignment in schools and universities. Put simply, It asks a student to choose a word and define it in-depth. The common dictionary definition is the first thing to state (in your own words), then the lesser-known meanings of the concept, followed by personal anecdotes and opinions further explaining the word. 

These assignments usually have word limits of up to 500 words. There are two main difficulties, either finding a definition essay topic to write 500 words about or fitting a lengthy and complex definition into the word limit. 

Some words are concrete concepts like clothes, telescope, or computer which may seem simple to write about but are ill-suited topics for a definition essay, while others are abstract like morality, envy, or justice which are much better because they allow for a more nuanced essay.  

Writing a successful definition essay means exploring a word more deeply than just stating its definition. The goal is to show a deep understanding of the chosen word or concept. Choosing the right word is crucial to writing a successful definition essay.

The overall structure of a definition paper is the same as any essay. Just remember that each body paragraph should explain the term in a different way.

How to Choose a Definition Essay Topic

Choosing the right topic can make or break your essay. What is a good topic for a definition essay? Concrete concepts may seem easy to write about, but they often defeat the purpose of the assignment by not letting the writer show their critical thinking and writing skills. 

An abstract concept with disputed meanings or definition essay topics with multiple meanings will give you enough to write about, but choose something specific rather than broad. Paranoia is a better definition essay topic choice than just the concept of fear in general. Remember, you have to find a concept that you know enough to write about, but also one that you can fully explain in about 500 words or so.

Avoid choosing a noun about a place, person, or thing since they are concrete concepts and might not give you enough to write about. An abstract noun, referring to an idea and adjectives are better choices for a definition essay topic. For example, gaming rather than console.

Choose a word that you already have some information about or feel passionate about. The better you know the concept, the easier it will be to write.

Answering some questions will help you understand and decide on a word.

What is the Origin of the Word?

What are the roots of the word? What do the roots mean? How did the modern meaning of the word come to be? Understanding the roots of a word can give you insight into what the word truly means and be excellent research for your essay.

What is the Context of the Word?

Does the word mean the same thing in different contexts? It’s quite possible that the word means different things in different places, or that there are multiple meanings to the word that you aren’t aware of.

What are the Previous Versions of the Word?

The meanings of words tend to change over time. Sometimes it’s subtle and sometimes it’s drastic. Tracking the previous meaning of the word will give you insight into the evolution of its meaning. 

What is the Common Modern Usage of the Word?

The way the word is used today should be the main explanation. By doing the research you make sure that you aren’t working with an outdated concept of the word.

Just because you now know how to choose a topic for your definition essay doesn’t mean that examples won’t be helpful. Here’s a list of 100 good definition essay topics across several categories.

Definition Essay Topics List by Category

Extended Definition Essay Topics

An extended definition essay has essentially the same purpose as a definition essay except it asks you to analyze the term even more deeply and gives you the opportunity to incorporate additional personal opinion. You can pinpoint the exact meaning of a term and explain why other meanings may be incorrect. Analyze the word by identifying its antonym (opposite). Delve deeper into the history and roots of the word to back your interpretations etc. The topic of an extended definition needs to be chosen carefully because there needs to be enough complexity to work with. Have a look at these definition essay topic ideas.

The difference between a “Novel” and other pieces of long-form writing.
Why poverty means different things in different countries
Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder?
My experiments with truth 
Does faith actually require a leap?
The different forms of love
Is there really something as an “Ideal” form of something?
Why a home is more than a house
A stirring inside: Music
When are humans not acting?

Good Definition Argument Essay Topics

There are always going to be people on multiple sides of an issue. An argument definition essay gives you the chance to convince the reader of your perspective on a controversial or ill-defined concept. It lets you state what you feel and what side you’re on. Take a look at these topics for an argument definition essay.

Conspiracy theories are just as valid as mainstream theories
Deep dish versus New York: What makes a pizza a pizza?
Is emotional infidelity as bad as cheating?
Science fiction is the best literary genre
Sports are the ideal hobby
Is corporate social responsibility done for the wrong reasons?
The death penalty: Justice or arrogance?
Does secular mean all-inclusive or completely non-inclusive?
The difference between a freedom fighter and a rebel is which side wins
Patient care: A doctor who’s nice or a doctor who’s effective?

Definition Essay Topics for College

Definition essays assigned in college are expected to be masterfully written with nuance and subtle understanding of the concept being explored. The following are 10 examples of definition essay topics for college.

Is college the best path to upward social mobility?
Does maturity mean different things at different stages of life?
A personal account of personal independence 
The misery of loneliness
How to define success
Bullying doesn’t end in high school, it evolves
Homesick for the very first time
The joy of self-determination 
The importance of time management
Changing concepts of the self 

Funny Definition Essay Topics

A definition essay can be a fantastic opportunity to showcase your wit! You can choose to play with an amusing concept, or explore an idea from an interesting viewpoint. Get inspired by the following topics.

Puppy love: How a dog feels about its master
Why dork is a worse insult than you think
Wrench: A useful tool? Or to take something away?
Lit: Not about candles anymore
I speak sarcasm
Facebook: Social media for old-timers
I think my dads going through a midlife crisis
Jokes for children and why they aren't funny anymore
Why a Lorry is not a truck
French fries weren’t invented in France

Controversial Definition Essay Topics

Writing about things you’re passionate about is a good decision when writing a definition essay. These controversial topics should ignite your passion, just make sure that you don’t get too carried away!

Vaccines have changed the course of humanity
War, what is it good for?
What is the purpose of incarceration?
Is happiness overrated?
Why being sad doesn’t mean being depressed
Gaming doesn’t rot your brain
Is it still addiction without a physical dependency?
Romantic love is a modern concept
Globalist is actually a compliment
Why nationalism is bad

Abstract Definition Essay Topics

Abstract topics for definition essay can be simple or incredibly complex. They give you the freedom to give your own interpretation (backed by supporting arguments) on words that have a fluid meaning. 

Honor is valued differently by people 
What does freedom mean for a refugee?
Schadenfreude: Pleasure at the misfortune of others
Compassion is the most valuable human trait 
I’m the best at being humble
The speed of thought
Boredom: A state of mind 
Why friendship means more than family 
Humour is the best medicine
Spotting a charismatic person

Easy Definition Essay Topics

It’s completely fine If you don’t want to explore a complicated concept or you just want something easy to write about. Give the words dictionary definition, explain the perception of the word, and then add your personal thoughts. Feel free to use some of these good topics for a definition essay.

What makes a house a home?
Why vacations are important
Laughter is the best medicine
What family means to me?
What is democracy?
Popularity and why it’s important
My connection with worship
What exactly is science?
Why is a beach the perfect place to be?
Dancing is freedom

Definition Essay Topics on Love, Poetry, and Music

A topic that you feel emotional about is always a good choice, and nothing inspires passion more than love, poetry, and music. 

Love: Pleasure through pain
Why plutonic love is the purest form of love
The fascinating ways love is expressed in different cultures
Poetry: Words that pull at the heart
Why poetry has always been admired
Do rap lyrics count as poetry?
Music: A language that every human speaks
Explaining different tastes in music
Music as the first form of human communication
The connection between dance and music

Definition Essay Topics on History, Politics, and Governance

Writing a definition essay about things you’re interested in or studying cut down on a lot of research time and can be more enjoyable. Or maybe your teacher assigned the general topic, in any case, here are some examples!

If history is written by the winners, do we really truly know what happened?
Are we doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past?
What is personal history?
The perception of politics in different places in the world
The origin of politics in early human civilizations
Politics: One for all or all for one?
Was the feudal system a form of social governance?
The changing role of governance in the 2020s
Governance: Serving the people or feeding one’s ego
The difference between politics and governance 

Definition Essay Topics on Economics, Business, IT, and Commerce

If you’re aspiring to join the business world or want an MBA, you’ll have to know the definitions and complexities of many terms. A lot of concepts in economics, business, IT, and commerce are abstract and ill-defined, which makes them perfect for a definition essay. Have a look at some of these topic examples. 

Is scarcity an artificial construct?
What does economic freedom really mean?
Economics in the middle ages
Business ethics in a globalized world
Is there a connection between busyness and business?
What makes a person a businessman?
The origins of the word “programming’
What information technology meant in the 1980s
Is free-market trade good for the world?
How monetary supply affects day to day life
This list of definition essay topics examples should set you on the right track! 

Things to Keep in Mind

The structure of a definition essay is the same as any other essay. The challenge is in describing a word or concept in a compelling way while showing in-depth understanding. Choosing the right definition essay topics are the most important element of writing a successful definition essay. Here’s a summary of how to make sure you’ve chosen an appropriate topic

  • An abstract concept is better than a concrete concept
  • Make the term specific rather than broad
  • The word should have multiple meanings
  • A word with disputed meaning is a good choice
  • Choose a word that has a different meaning based on the context
  • Select a topic that you already understand well
  • Choose a term that you feel passionately about
  • Identify the origins of the word
  • Look into previous versions of the word
  • Track the history of the word

A definition essay can be a pleasure to write if you choose the right topic. The opportunity to delve into the depths of a concept and showcase your writing skills makes this an enjoyable writing assignment. Sometimes restrictions placed by your teacher can make it a chore though. If you need definition essay example topics, or any help coming up with a topic Studyfy is a one-stop platform for all your academic needs.