Expository writing is a broad genre of fact-based literature meant to inform the reader about something. In general, it can include magazine articles, newspapers, textbooks, encyclopedias, formal or informal essays, or even social media posts.
By building their arguments on hard facts, expository writers can avoid the objections and prejudices that are inherent in other types of writing.
Definition: What is an Expository Essay?
As hinted at above, an expository essay can be a formal paper written for a class, or it can be a more informal explanation of a topic that you’re passionate about and want to share with someone or the general public. Your expository piece could be a descriptive, how-to, general process, cause and effect, or comparison article that you publish online.
In the end, though, the main focus of an expository essay writer should be to explain, illuminate, or expose, as the name implies. The best essays in this genre are highly creative, and they’re diligent about supporting all facts with examples, graphs, statistics, and charts, among other types of evidence. They’re not about taking sides or giving opinions.
How to Write an Expository Essay
Following are the four basic steps to writing an expository essay: generate an idea or thesis, find evidence to support it, expand on the evidence, and present a personal argument to help back up the idea. As you find new pieces of evidence, you may notice that your idea or thesis is evolving or your angle is changing. This is fine, as long as the evidence supports your reframed discussion.
Just keep an open mind, and try to lock down your thesis as early as you can to avoid too much rewriting later.
Essay Structure (Outline)
According to Sedillo (2013), an expository essay takes the structure of any other essay. Most essays are based on a five-paragraph format, which some may call the universal standard of essay writing. This structure includes an introduction, a body consisting of three paragraphs (or more if required), and a conclusion.
Here’s a basic outline of an expository essay using this format:
- first argument or supporting topic
- second argument or supporting topic
- third argument or supporting topic
- additional arguments or supporting topics, if desired and allowed
The introductory paragraph captures the reader’s attention and hints at the supporting facts that the author will use in his arguments. Personal opinions are usually unnecessary in the introduction to an expository essay, and the main task should be to cite relevant articles that introduce the paper’s topic. In fact, beginning the paragraph with a significant occurrence, study, or discovery earns the writer much credibility because it roots the essay in factual research. The introduction should end with a strong and thoughtful thesis statement, which declares the main idea that the writer wishes to explain.
While the introduction builds a foundation for the paper’s main idea, the body paragraphs are the flesh of the writing, where the writer can prove the thesis statement by giving well-ordered facts, examples, figures, charts, and statistics, among other supporting information. In short, the body is where the writer convinces the reader of his message. As mentioned above, the body should consist of at least three paragraphs, and each one should cover a separate argument. If it’s allowed, adding more than three body paragraphs may help convince the reader, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the thesis is correct. In other words, make sure you use enough evidence, but if you can add more, your essay will be even stronger.
In the essay’s conclusion, the writer should summarize and restate all the main points and then drive the main idea home. The concluding paragraph should consist of straightforward and well-organized thoughts that impact the reader. It should answer the questions brought about by the introduction and body sections. The writer may also provide a punchline to the topic, showing his stance. While an expository essay that follows the universal standard would be five paragraphs long, and around two to three pages, the overall length can vary depending on the requirements of the teacher, editor, writer, or whoever has assigned the essay.
Expository Essay Prompts
Students will typically encounter many different types of expository essay prompts throughout their school careers—from primary school to high school to the college/university level. In general, these prompts help students to get started writing an expository essay, and they may be inspirational in nature. They have a more focused purpose, too, requiring students to research and explain a specific topic to meet an educational objective.
For instance, a descriptive essay can be assigned to a student to teach him to describe something such as a place, a person, an experience, an object, or a situation. A cause and effect essay prompt may compel a student to discuss the causes and effects of cheating at school, thus reinforcing the idea that he should avoid cheating.
Here are some more examples of expository essay prompts and what they are trying to achieve:
- Were the Jews the primary targets of the Nazis during the Second World War?
- This would require the writer to evaluate the circumstances surrounding the Holocaust and then decide, using evidence, whether the statement is correct.
- Is animal testing ethical?
- Here, the student should evaluate the pros and cons of animal testing and then present an argument, using evidence, for or against the practice.
- Is cloning against humanity?
- This prompt requires the writer to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of cloning in general and then explain his position, using facts, on the ethics of human cloning.
- Which female leader do you consider your mentor, and why?
- This prompt requires the student to choose a female leader as a mentor and use facts about that mentor to explain his choice, thus educating the reader about the virtues of his chosen female mentor.
- If time travel were possible, which year would you want to go back to, and why?
- This prompt requires the writer to explain which past time he would travel to, citing personal and perhaps historic reasons.
Expository Essay Topics
While the overall content of an expository essay will depend largely on the prompt, the student may have some freedom to choose the specific topic, or at least the angle; he wants to illuminate in the paper. For instance, he could explain the origin of a particular group of individuals in society; in such a case, the author should make the story as interesting as possible. For a process essay, the writer could explain the process of digestion in a cow. A descriptive essay could describe a time when the writer experienced depression, as well as what he believes to be the cause of it.
Lastly, the topic for a problem or solution essay could be how society can reduce or eliminate racism, using facts to expose the history of racism in specific communities.
Ultimately, the essay’s quality and the student’s grade will depend on how much attention he pays to the rubric. The rubric outlines the requirements for an outstanding essay, a good one, a fair one, or a poor one. An outstanding essay would have an attention-grabbing introduction leading to a clear, defensible thesis; it would proceed with strong evidence in the body and end with a conclusion that explains to the reader why the thesis is correct. Such an essay would also have near-perfect spelling and grammar throughout. On the other hand, a poor essay might not have an interesting opening, or it may have an unclear thesis, a lack of convincing evidence in the body, a conclusion that does not drive the point home, or a range of grammar and spelling mistakes. The writer must always read the prompt and rubric carefully before writing, and maybe even ask someone for help proofreading when the paper is done, to make sure the essay meets or exceeds standards.
Here you can look at the Expository Writing Sample.
In short, an expository essay is similar to other types of essays. Its length can vary, depending on the requirements. However, while most essays require some creativity and research, an expository essay requires not only a high degree of creativity to help keep the text interesting but also plenty of iron-clad evidence to avoid bias against the writer. To write an outstanding expository essay, the student must keep the requirements and rubric in mind at all times.
Don't forget to check out this video on expository writing!
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