How to Write an Expository Essay

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How to write an expository essay? Expository writing is a type of writing that is used to explain, describe, give information, or inform.  The text is organized around one topic and developed according to a pattern or combination of patterns.  The writer of an expository text cannot assume that the reader or listener has prior knowledge or prior understanding of the topic that is being discussed.  Since clarity requires strong organization, one of the most important mechanisms to improve skills in exposition is to improve the organization of the text.

How to Write an Expository EssayThe 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 8-Step Writing Process for Expository Essays

  1. Select a topic. Be sure the topic is narrow enough to make it manageable within the space of an essay.
  2. Write a thesis sentence. Be sure the thesis statement(or sentence) expresses a controlling idea that is neither too broad nor too specific to be developed effectively.
  3. Select a method of development. Check through all the methods before you finally settle on the one which will best serve your thesis:
    1. The author describes a topic by listing characteristics, features, and examples. It provides details about how something looks, feels, tastes, smells, makes one feel, or sounds.
    2. Sequence or Process. The author lists items or events in numerical or chronological order. This kind of expository writing is intended to convey the writer’s knowledge about a topic. While different patterns may be employed to create the essay, every essay contains the same features:  the introduction, the thesis, the body paragraphs, and the conclusion.
    3. The author explains how two or more things are alike and/or how they are different. A comparison essay usually discusses the similarities between two things, while the contrast essay discusses the differences.
    4. Cause and Effect. The author focuses on the relationship between two or more events or experiences. The essay could discuss both causes and effects, or it could simply address one or the other. A cause essay usually discusses the reasons why something happened. An effect essay discusses what happens after a specific event or circumstance.
    5. Problem / Solution. The author states a problem and lists one or more solutions for the problem. A variation of this pattern is the question- and-answer format in which the author poses a question and then answers it.
  4. Organize the essay. Begin by listing the major divisions which the body paragraphs in your essay will discuss; then fill in the primary supports that each body paragraph of the essay will contain.
  5. Write topic sentences for the body paragraphs of the essay. For each body paragraph, furnish a topic sentence that directly relates to the thesis sentence.
  6. Write the body paragraphs of the essay. Each body paragraph should develop the primary support covered in that paragraph’s topic sentence.
  7. Furnish a paragraph of introduction. An introductory paragraph should state the thesis of the essay, introduce the divisions in the body paragraphs of the essay, and gain the interest of the reader.
  8. Write a paragraph of conclusion:
  • Restate the thesis and divisions of the essay
  • Bring the essay to an appropriate and effective close
  • Avoid digressing into new issues

Expository Essay Structure

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.
  • A bit of creativity. 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.

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.

References and Further Readings:

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