Exposition is explanatory communication, whether in speech or writing. So an expository essay is an organized piece of prose which explains a specific topic or set of ideas to a defined audience. Expository essays include those written for exams or for standardized tests like the SAT. They may also be assignments composed outside of class.
Expository essays provide information and analysis. An expository essay may or may not have an overt central argument, though it does set forth points of view on the topic. It differs from the persuasive research paper in the level of research and argument it employs. While an expository essay should be focused on a particular topic and illustrate its points with specific examples, it doesn’t usually have the depth of research or argument that you need in a major research assignment. With an exam or a standardized test, for instance, the examples you use to support your points will be based on the knowledge already inside your head.
What Are the Elements of an Expository Essay?
An expository essay does have certain baseline requirements that are standard in nearly every essay type:
- A clear thesis or controlling idea that establishes and sustains your focus.
- An opening paragraph that introduces the thesis.
- Body paragraphs that use specific evidence to illustrate your informative or analytic points.
- Smooth transitions that connect the ideas of adjoining paragraphs in specific, interesting ways.
- A conclusion that emphasizes your central idea without being repetitive.
How Do You Write an Expository Essay?
One common formula for the expository essay is the 5-Paragraph Essay. If you don’t have much experience with essay writing, this is a good method to start with, since it’s basic and straightforward. The 5-Paragraph Essay incorporates the elements listed above in the following basic structure:
- Introductory paragraph with a clear, concise thesis.
- Three body paragraphs that offer evidence and analysis connecting that evidence to the thesis.
- A concluding paragraph that sums up the paper by reevaluating the thesis in light of the evidence discussed in the essay’s body.
While the 5-paragraph structure gives you a helpful formula to work with, it’s only one among many valid options, and its suitability will depend on other factors like the length and complexity of your essay. If you’re writing a paper that’s more than 3 or 4 pages long, it should be more than 5 paragraphs. In most cases, the structure of a longer essay will be similar to that of the 5-paragraph essay, with an introduction, a conclusion and body paragraphs performing the same basic functions—only the number of body paragraphs will increase. The length of the paragraphs may also increase slightly in proportion to the length of the essay.
Composing an Expository Essay: A Process Guide
- Begin by reading the assignment carefully to make sure you understand it. Then find a topic that fits the assignment. It’s important that you narrow your topic so that it’s directly relevant to the assignment. But make sure your topic is not so narrow that it lacks significance.
- Start a brief outline by writing a tentative thesis statement that addresses the assignment prompt. Try to come up with an interesting, original perspective on your topic, and word the thesis so that it reflects that originality.
- Think of specific examples you can use to illustrate your major points about your topic. These examples may come from your learning or from personal experience. Each example should have some clear connection to your central idea.
- Your essay should devote one body paragraph to each of your major examples. So continue your outline by writing a topic sentence about each major example for each of your body paragraphs. Since the topic sentence will be part of each paragraph transition, it should make a clear, logical connection between your thesis and the evidence that paragraph will discuss.
- Complete your outline by thinking of an interesting, meaningful way to end the essay. Remember that the conclusion should sum up your central points without merely repeating what you’ve said earlier. You might suggest the larger implications of what the essay has discussed and analyzed. One way to do this is to offer a concise review of what you’ve covered combined with a forecast or recommendations for the future.
- If this is an assignment that you’re completing at home rather than in a timed exam, you might want to experiment with writing the body paragraphs before you write your introduction. The details of analysis in the body of the paper often help you to determine more precisely how to word your thesis and the way you introduce it in your opening paragraph.
- Your essay should perform several of the following tasks that overlap and merge smoothly with each other:
- Define your key terms or ideas.
- Describe specific evidential examples.
- Investigate the common thread among your examples.
- Compare and contrast your examples and their relation to your thesis.
- Analyze cause-and-effect relationships among your examples.
- Connect your examples explicitly to your central idea and to each other.
- Polish your essay through revision to make it artful, original, and interesting. Avoid clichéd language or the most obvious examples. You want your reader to learn something new and compelling, whether it’s an unusual fact or a novel perspective on your topic.
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.