How to write an expository essay

expository essay writing

How to write an expository essay

What is expository writing?

Expository essay writing is used to convey factual information (as opposed to creative writing, such as fiction). It is the language to learn and understand the world around us. If you’ve ever read an encyclopedia entry, an instructional article on a website, or a chapter in a textbook, then you’ve found examples of expository writing.

Expository writing is everywhere in everyday life, not just in academic settings, as it is present whenever there is information to convey. It can take the form of an academic paper, an article for a newspaper, a report for a company, or even a non-fiction book. Explain, inform and describe.

Types of expository essay writing

In composition studies, expository writing is one of the four traditional common types of essays in academics. It can include elements of narration, description, and argument. Unlike creative or persuasive writing, which can appeal to emotions and use anecdotes, the main purpose of expository writing is to provide information on a topic, theme, method, or idea using facts.

Exposure can take one of several forms:

  • Descriptive / definition:  In this writing style, topics are defined by characteristics, traits, and examples. An encyclopedia entry is a kind of descriptive essay.
  • Process / Sequential:  This essay describes a series of steps required to complete a task or produce something. A recipe at the end of an article in a food magazine is an example.
  • Comparative / Contrast:  This type of exposure is used to demonstrate how two or more subjects are the same and different. An article that explains the difference between owning and renting a home and the benefits and drawbacks of each is an example.
  • Cause / Effect:  This type of test describes how a step leads to a result. An example is a personal blog that recounts a training regimen and documents the results over time.
  • Problem / Solution: This type of essay presents a problem and possible solutions, supported by data and facts, not just opinions.
  • Classification: A classification essay breaks a broad topic down into categories or groupings.

Tips for expository essay writing

As you write, consider some of these tips to create an effective expository essay:

Start where you know the information best. You don’t have to write your introduction first. In fact, it might be easier to wait until the end for that. If you don’t like the look of a blank page, scroll over the bars in your outline for the main body paragraphs and write the topic sentences for each one. Then start entering your information according to the topic of each paragraph.

Be clear and concise. Readers have a limited attention span. State your case succinctly in language the average reader can understand.

Stick to the facts. Although a presentation can be persuasive, it should not be based solely on opinion. Support your case with reliable facts, data, and sources that can be documented and verified.

Consider the voice and tone. How you address the reader depends on the type of essay you are writing. An essay written in the first person is fine for a personal travel essay, but not appropriate if you are a business reporter describing a patent lawsuit. Think about your audience before you start writing.

Planning your essay

  1. Brainstorming: Write down ideas on a blank sheet of paper. Connect them with arrows and lines, or just make lists. Rigor does not matter at this stage. Bad ideas don’t matter at this stage. Just write ideas and the engine in your head will lead you to a good one.
    When you have that idea, repeat the brainstorming exercise with the ideas you want to pursue on that topic and what information you might include. From this list, you will begin to see a path emerge for your research or narrative to follow.
  2. Write Your Thesis – When your ideas are merged into one sentence where you can summarize the topic you’re writing about, you’re ready to write your thesis sentence. Write in one sentence the main idea that you will explore in your article.
  3. Examine your thesis: Is it clear? Does it contain opinion? If so, check it out. For this type of essay, you stick to the facts and the evidence. This is not an editorial. Is the scope of the thesis manageable? You don’t want your topic to be too narrow or too wide in the amount of space you have for your article. If it is not a manageable topic, refine it. Don’t be discouraged if you have to go back and modify it if your research finds that your initial idea was misplaced. It’s all part of the process of focusing the material.
  4. Outline – It may seem inconsequential, but doing even a quick outline can save you time organizing your areas of interest and narrowing them down. When viewing your topics in an organized list, you may be able to dismiss the off-topic threads before researching them, or while researching them and discover that they just don’t work.
  5. Research – Find your data and sources to support the areas you want to pursue to support your thesis statement. Look for sources written by experts, including organizations, and watch out for biases. Possible sources include statistics, definitions, charts and graphs, and expert quotes and anecdotes. Compile descriptive details and comparisons to make your topic clear to your reader, where appropriate.

The structure of an expository essay

An expository essay has three basic parts: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. Each is crucial to writing a clear article or an effective argument.

The Introduction: The first paragraph is where you will lay the foundation for your essay and give the reader an overview of your thesis. Use your opening sentence to get the reader’s attention, and then follow up with a few sentences that give the reader some context for the information you are about to cover.

The Body: At a minimum, include three to five paragraphs in the body of your expository essay. The body could be considerably longer, depending on the subject and the audience. Each paragraph begins with a topic sentence stating your case or goal. Each topic sentence supports your general thesis statement. Each paragraph then includes several sentences that expand on the information and/or support the topic sentence. Finally, a closing sentence provides a transition to the next paragraph of the essay.

The Bottom Line:  The final section of your expository essay should provide the reader with a concise description of your thesis. The intention is not simply to summarize your argument, but to use it as a means to propose additional actions, offer a solution, or pose new questions to explore. However, do not cover new material related to your thesis. This is where you end everything.

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