If you've ever seen Star Wars, you must remember the iconic scrolling script at the beginning of every episode sharing everything you need to know about the main characters and the overall state of things. That's a perfect example of expository writing. So if you're assigned an expository paper, you don't need to get nervous. We're here to share helpful insights and guide you through completing this assignment.
What is an expository essay?
An expository essay is a common academic writing assignment designed to assess your ability to present information objectively and comprehensively. The term comes from the verb "expose", which has many meanings, but in this case, it translates into uncovering and presenting data. A news report is a typical example of the expository style, as professional journalists explain what happened and provide different takes on the situation without introducing their personal opinion on the matter.
Why should you master expository writing?
Now that you know the answer to the question "What is an expository essay?", let's take a closer look at what makes it different from other writing styles and why you should care about it.
What is the purpose of expository writing?
Educating the reader is the main goal of expository writing. It's designed to share detailed, objective information on a specific subject. For example, you can be required to explain the specifics of your lab experiment in class. As you present the preparation, methods, and results of the investigation, you're crafting an expository piece.
Remembering the educational nature of this assignment is the key to receiving a high grade. It's important to remember that readers may not have the background knowledge of the topic, so your explanation should be simple, straightforward, and detailed, without side rants, flowery descriptions, or personal opinions.
Where can you encounter expository writing?
Expository essays are common in-class assignments, as they test your knowledge of the topic and do not require in-depth research. For the same reasons, exams and tests also incorporate expository writing tasks, though the word count is usually more limited, challenging your ability to be succinct. However, expository essays can also be part of your high school and college homework assignments. In this case, you're usually required to research, cite your sources, and expand on the topic at length.
Moreover, developing an expository style will help you after graduation, as you'll likely need to write and present weekly, monthly, or quarterly reports. And those are prime examples of expository writing.
Expository essay vs. Argumentative essay: what's the difference?
Although expository writing belongs among the four writing styles (others being narrative, descriptive, and persuasive), it has certain similarities with all of them. For example, if you include more details in your report, it will become descriptive, and if you focus on the event's storyline, you'll have narration on your hands. And if you become subjective and try to convince the reader to take your side, your exposition will become an argumentative essay.
Here's a quick reminder of what differentiates expository and argumentative writing styles:
What are common expository essay types?
There's more to expository assignments than the definition and what sets them apart from other homework tasks. Depending on your class and topic, you may encounter these common types of expository essay:
- Definition—provides a detailed explanation of an event, issue, or idea. For example, you can define inflation.
- Classification—divides multiple subjects into specific categories according to shared parameters. For example, you can classify books you've read into genre categories.
- Process—provides step-by-step instructions on completing a process to achieve a specific goal. Recipes are one example of process essays, though you can also provide instructions for performing an experiment or introducing a treatment to a patient.
- Compare and contrast—highlights the similarities and differences between two or more subjects. For instance, you could compare the story arcs of the villain and the hero in your favorite movie.
- Cause and effect—connects the reasons and repercussions of specific actions. For example, you can discuss how consumerism leads to environmental problems.
- Problem and solution—describes a way to resolve a certain issue, similar to process or cause-and-effect essays. Referring to an earlier example, addressing consumerism can be one of the solutions to environmental problems.
Essay prompts rarely use these exact terms or even the word "expository", so it may not be obvious that you're writing an expository essay. To make sense of the task, look for action verbs. If you see phrases like, "explain", "define", "compare", or "specify", your professor is likely to expect an expository piece.
How to choose an expository essay topic?
If you have to write an expository essay in class, you'll probably receive a prompt to follow. However, professors can be more lenient with homework assignments topics, letting you choose for yourself. In this case, we suggest you pick an issue you're excited about and know well enough to avoid drawn-out research. You can use class reading for inspiration or check your social media or newsfeed to find the hottest, most relevant topics.
With some creativity, you can transform any headline into an expository topic for any class. For example, you can define economic crisis, categorize different economic problems, or compare the current situation with the financial crisis of 2007-2008.
Here are more ideas you can adapt for your expository paper:
- Explain the historical relationship between China and Taiwan
- Define the modern interpretation of the American Dream
- Discuss the relationship between Christianity and same-sex marriage
- Compare a book to its movie, theater, or video game adaptation
- Explain the step-by-step process of creating a startup
- Find a solution to the smartphone addiction problem
- Consider the causes of school shootings in the US
- Contrast the standards of living in developed and developing countries
- Discuss the rise of the hookup culture
- Define cancel culture and provide examples of its implementation
How to craft an expository essay outline?
Like all essays, expository papers comprise three major parts: introduction, body, and conclusion. Their basic setup is no different from other assignments. For instance, a good introduction should start with a hook to get the readers excited to learn more, some background information to prepare the audience, and a thesis statement introducing the topic and providing a mini-outline for the following passages.
Body paragraphs usually start with a topic sentence that summarizes the sole core point specific to each passage. For example, in a cause-and-effect essay, each section can cover one cause or one effect. After introducing the critical idea, you should add relevant details, citing the sources if necessary. Finally, you should wrap up each block with a transition to make the shift to the next point logical and smooth.
The final passage should reiterate the thesis statement and briefly cover all major points without repeating either verbatim. You can complete the paragraph with a parting shot of why the topic is important or who should pay particular attention.
Although there's no universal expository essay outline, you can alter this basic structure to fit your assignment and topic:
Step-by-step expository essay writing guide
As with any other task, dividing a writing assignment into small, manageable chunks helps beat procrastination, fear of the blank page, and writing block. So if you're still wondering how to write an expository essay, we suggest you take it one step at a time:
- Choose a topic. We've covered the easiest ways to find inspiration and formulate the title, but you may be lucky enough to get a topic from your professor.
- Research, if necessary. If you choose an obscure topic that requires additional reading, you'll need to hit the library or Google to find reliable sources to quote and cite. Luckily, this step isn't always necessary, so you may be able to skip it.
- Create an outline. It doesn't need to be formal unless required by the prompt, so even a numbered list of paragraphs with their major points, like the one you saw above, should do.
- Formulate a thesis statement. You will likely need to revise it once the paper is ready, but a preliminary thesis is necessary to better organize your thoughts and focus your writing.
- Write the essay. It's often easier to write an expository essay starting with the body paragraphs before circling back to the introduction. So you can write paragraphs independently in any order, as long as you remember to ensure they fit.
- Edit, proofread, and format. First, reread the paper to delete repetition, add substance, and correct inconsistencies. Next, use professional proofreading software like Grammarly to eliminate mistakes and typos. Finally, format the essay according to the formatting style specified in the assignment requirements.
If you get stuck in the writing stage, we suggest you try the brain dump method. Set a timer for 15 to 30 minutes and type everything that comes to mind, regardless of typos and mistakes. You can return to edit it later. A handful of such sessions should be enough to complete the first draft.
We tried to make this a comprehensive guide on expository writing and answer all your questions. But if you're still unsure whether you can successfully write an expository essay on your own, feel free to contact our experts. They can take over any stage of the writing process, from choosing the topic and outlining to writing and editing. And with an excellent example to follow, we're sure you'll ace your next assignment.
How to write a good expository essay?
Remember that educating the reader is your primary goal. Present all pertinent data objectively without going into fine detail or imposing your opinion. Your expository essay should read like a professional news report.
How long is an expository essay?
Ask your TA or professor about the required length if the prompt does not specify the word count. In-class assignments are usually shorter, between 300 and 500 words, while homework tasks can span 800 words or more.
How to start an expository essay?
Start by presenting the most surprising or intriguing fact about the topic of your paper, but avoid provocative questions and quotes, as they are more suited to narrative and persuasive writing. Or you could jump straight in with a thesis statement and explain the purpose of the assignment.
How many paragraphs in an expository essay?
That depends on your topic and word count. Traditionally, you should have at least five paragraphs, including introduction, conclusion, and three body passages. However, your expository essay may be longer and require eight or ten sections, especially if you're writing a process paper.
How to write a thesis statement for an expository essay?
The thesis statement should present your topic and specify the main points you will make, highlighting the issue's significance. The specific structure of the thesis differs for various types of expository essay. For example, for a cause and effect essay, your thesis should include all causes and effects you discuss. But listing all steps in the process essay in a thesis is redundant, so you can summarize the major stages or highlight the most critical steps.
How to write a conclusion for an expository essay?
Think of a conclusion as an introduction in reverse. First, you should reiterate the thesis statement. Next, list the major points from the body paragraphs and include a parting thought or idea. For instance, you can provide recommendations for further research or suggest the best occasions to serve a recipe.