The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
Contributors: Jack Baker, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2013-03-11 10:04:15
What is an expository essay?
The expository essay is a genre of essay that requires the student to investigate an idea, evaluate evidence, expound on the idea, and set forth an argument concerning that idea in a clear and concise manner. This can be accomplished through comparison and contrast, definition, example, the analysis of cause and effect, etc.
Please note: This genre is commonly assigned as a tool for classroom evaluation and is often found in various exam formats.
The structure of the expository essay is held together by the following.
- A clear, concise, and defined thesis statement that occurs in the first paragraph of the essay.
It is essential that this thesis statement be appropriately narrowed to follow the guidelines set forth in the assignment. If the student does not master this portion of the essay, it will be quite difficult to compose an effective or persuasive essay.
- Clear and logical transitions between the introduction, body, and conclusion.
Transitions are the mortar that holds the foundation of the essay together. Without logical progression of thought, the reader is unable to follow the essay’s argument, and the structure will collapse.
- Body paragraphs that include evidential support.
Each paragraph should be limited to the exposition of one general idea. This will allow for clarity and direction throughout the essay. What is more, such conciseness creates an ease of readability for one’s audience. It is important to note that each paragraph in the body of the essay must have some logical connection to the thesis statement in the opening paragraph.
- Evidential support (whether factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal).
Often times, students are required to write expository essays with little or no preparation; therefore, such essays do not typically allow for a great deal of statistical or factual evidence.
Though creativity and artfulness are not always associated with essay writing, it is an art form nonetheless. Try not to get stuck on the formulaic nature of expository writing at the expense of writing something interesting. Remember, though you may not be crafting the next great novel, you are attempting to leave a lasting impression on the people evaluating your essay.
- A conclusion that does not simply restate the thesis, but readdresses it in light of the evidence provided.
It is at this point of the essay that students will inevitably begin to struggle. This is the portion of the essay that will leave the most immediate impression on the mind of the reader. Therefore, it must be effective and logical. Do not introduce any new information into the conclusion; rather, synthesize and come to a conclusion concerning the information presented in the body of the essay.
A complete argument
Perhaps it is helpful to think of an essay in terms of a conversation or debate with a classmate. If I were to discuss the cause of the Great Depression and its current effect on those who lived through the tumultuous time, there would be a beginning, middle, and end to the conversation. In fact, if I were to end the exposition in the middle of my second point, questions would arise concerning the current effects on those who lived through the Depression. Therefore, the expository essay must be complete, and logically so, leaving no doubt as to its intent or argument.
The five-paragraph Essay
A common method for writing an expository essay is the five-paragraph approach. This is, however, by no means the only formula for writing such essays. If it sounds straightforward, that is because it is; in fact, the method consists of:
- an introductory paragraph
- three evidentiary body paragraphs
- a conclusion
Tips on Writing an Expository Essay
The purpose of the expository essay is to explain a topic in a logical and straightforward manner. Without bells and whistles, expository essays present a fair and balanced analysis of a subject based on facts—with no references to the writer’s opinions or emotions.
A typical expository writing prompt will use the words “explain” or “define,” such as in, “Write an essay explaining how the computer has changed the lives of students.” Notice there is no instruction to form an opinion or argument on whether or not computers have changed students’ lives. The prompt asks the writer to “explain,” plain and simple. However, that doesn’t mean expository essay writing is easy.
The Five-Step Writing Process for Expository Essays
Expository writing is a life skill. More than any other type of writing, expository writing is a daily requirement of most careers. Understanding and following the proven steps of the writing process helps all writers, including students, master the expository essay.
Expository Essay Structure
Usually, the expository essay is composed of five paragraphs. The introductory paragraph contains the thesis or main idea. The next three paragraphs, or body of the essay, provide details in support of the thesis. The concluding paragraph restates the main idea and ties together the major points of essay.
Here are expository essay tips for each part of the essay structure and writing process:
1. Prewriting for the Expository Essay
In the prewriting phase of writing an expository essay, students should take time to brainstorm about the topic and main idea. Next, do research and take notes. Create an outline showing the information to be presented in each paragraph, organized in a logical sequence.
2. Drafting the Expository Essay
When creating the initial draft of an expository essay, consider the following suggestions:
- The most important sentence in the introductory paragraph is the topic sentence, which states the thesis or main idea of the essay. The thesis should be clearly stated without giving an opinion or taking a position. A good thesis is well defined, with a manageable scope that can be adequately addressed within a five-paragraph essay.
- Each of the three body paragraphs should cover a separate point that develops the essay’s thesis. The sentences of each paragraph should offer facts and examples in support of the paragraph’s topic.
- The concluding paragraph should reinforce the thesis and the main supporting ideas. Do not introduce new material in the conclusion.
- Since an expository essay discusses an event, situation, or the views of others, and not a personal experience, students should write in the third person (“he,” “she,” or “it”), and avoid “I” or “you” sentences.
3. Revising the Expository Essay
In the revision phase, students review, modify, and reorganize their work with the goal of making it the best it can be. Keep these considerations in mind:
- Does the essay give an unbiased analysis that unfolds logically, using relevant facts and examples?
- Has the information been clearly and effectively communicated to the reader?
- Watch out for “paragraph sprawl,” which occurs when the writer loses focus and veers from the topic by introducing unnecessary details.
- Is the sentence structure varied? Is the word choice precise?
- Do the transitions between sentences and paragraphs help the reader’s understanding?
- Does the concluding paragraph communicate the value and meaning of the thesis and key supporting ideas?
If the essay is still missing the mark, take another look at the topic sentence. A solid thesis statement leads to a solid essay. Once the thesis works, the rest of the essay falls into place more easily.
4. Editing the Expository Essay
Next, proofread and correct errors in grammar and mechanics, and edit to improve style and clarity. While an expository essay should be clear and concise, it can also be lively and engaging. Having a friend read the essay helps writers edit with a fresh perspective.
5. Publishing the Expository Essay
Sharing an expository essay with a teacher, parent, or other reader can be both exciting and intimidating. Remember, there isn’t a writer on earth who isn’t sensitive about his or her own work. The important thing is to learn from the experience and use the feedback to make the next essay better.
Essay writing is a huge part of a education today. Most students must learn to write various kinds of essays during their academic careers, including different types of expository essay writing:
- Definition essays explain the meaning of a word, term, or concept. The topic can be a concrete subject such as an animal or tree, or it can be an abstract term, such as freedom or love. This type of essay should discuss the word’s denotation (literal or dictionary definition), as well as its connotation or the associations that a word usually brings to mind.
- Classification essays break down a broad subject or idea into categories and groups. The writer organizes the essay by starting with the most general category and then defines and gives examples of each specific classification.
- Compare and contrast essays describe the similarities and differences between two or more people, places, or things. Comparison tells how things are alike and contrast shows how they are different.
- Cause and effect essays explain how things affect each other and depend on each other. The writer identifies a clear relationship between two subjects, focusing on why things happen (causes) and/or what happens as a result (effects).
- “How to” essays, sometimes called process essays, explain a procedure, step-by-step process, or how to do something with the goal of instructing the reader.
Time4Writing Teaches Expository Essay Writing
Time4Writing essay writing courses offer a highly effective way to learn how to write the types of essays required for school, standardized tests, and college applications. A unique online writing program for elementary, middle school, and high school students, Time4Writing breaks down the writing process into manageable chunks, easily digested by young writers. Students steadily build writing skills and confidence, guided by one-on-one instruction with a dedicated, certified teacher. Our middle school Welcome to the Essay and Advanced Essay courses teach students the fundamentals of writing essays, including the expository essay. The high school Exciting Essay Writing course focuses in depth on the essay writing process with preparation for college as the goal. The courses also cover how to interpret essay writing prompts in testing situations. Read what parents are saying about their children’s writing progress in Time4Writing courses.