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.
What Is an Expository Essay?
An expository essay explores various angles of a specific topic to provide information in an objective manner to the reader. For example, if the subject is universal healthcare, the paper would provide information on what universal healthcare is, how it works, which countries use it and how it differs from privatized healthcare. All of these issues would be expressed in a neutral tone, without trying to convince the reader of either one side or the other.
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Expository vs Argumentative
Many students confuse these types of essays. An argumentative essay has a different goal than the expository one which is to convince the reader of their chosen position. In the same example of universal healthcare, the writer would choose either to convince the reader that universal healthcare is the better healthcare system or that privatized healthcare is better. In short, the main difference between the expository and argumentative types is that one is objective while the other is subjective.
Steps on Writing an Expository Essay
Before you start, you may need some tips on how to cope with your work successfully. Here are some steps to follow.
Step 1: Choose a Topic
Your teacher may have already assigned you the topic, but in case they didn’t and it’s all up to you, you’ll need a system to help you choose the best topic for your paper. It would be great if you already know something about the issue. Writing a paper on something that’s a complete mystery to you could be challenging and make it difficult for you to do research, let alone explain the topic to the reader.
Example: If you have a coin collection and know a lot about collecting rare coins, it could be easier for you to find credible resources and identify themes that are common to this subject than if you chose to write about an issue you know nothing about, say rebuilding a BMW motor.
Making a list of topics that you’re interested in can help you choose your topic.
- Coin collecting
- Social media
After you’ve made your list, narrow it down to the one that would be the easiest for you to write about and find research on. Be aware that this may not necessarily be the one that’s most interesting to you. You might be a robotics buff, but it might be difficult to explain robotics in layman’s terms for the average reader. When choosing consider:
- Your level of interest and previous knowledge on the subject
- The ease of finding credible sources on the topic
- Your ability to explain the issues to the reader
Step 2: Do Your Research
Now that you’ve decided what topic you’re writing about, it’s time to do your research. Even if you already know a lot about this topic, don’t skip this step. You will need to cite some sources and by researching, you might even learn more about this topic and discover things you didn’t know before.
When researching, start broadly by reading a variety of articles on the topic to see which themes are most commonly researched and discussed on it. Then start to narrow your research to include only credible subjects (respected publications, websites written by experts in the field). As you research, take notes on all of the possible topics you might want to cover in your work.
Step 3: Choose your examples
Your research may have provided you with a dozen or more areas to cover on your chosen topic, but you’re not going to be able to write about all of them in a standard 500-word essay. The best way to choose your examples is to do a mix of the most common issues discussed about the topic along with some of the more rarely discussed areas of this topic.
Example: if you’re writing about crypto-currencies, you could write about Bitcoin and its evolution but you could also cover some of the newer cryptocurrencies that are on the rise and gaining popularity in the wake of Bitcoin or some cryptocurrencies that might be surprising such as Christcoin, the cryptocurrency that gives you credit for reading the Bible. In this sense, the article will give a more complete picture of the topic and give the reader some information that they may not already be aware of.
Step 4: Write an Outline
Once you’ve chosen your examples, you’re now ready to write your outline. A sample of an outline would look like this:
- Introduction. Where you introduce your topic in an interesting way by telling a compelling story, citing a shocking statistic or a quote that eloquently sums up the main theme of your paper. The introduction will also include your thesis statement.
- Example paragraph 1. Where you give your first example of your thesis.
- Example paragraph 2. Your second example of your thesis.
- Example paragraph 3. Your third example of your thesis.
- Conclusion. Wow the reader with a knock-out conclusion that drives home the significance of your topic and, if relevant, suggests further research or discussions that should be conducted.
Step 5: Craft Your Thesis Statement
Students used to writing argumentative papers may be tempted to take a strong position on their topic or argue a point about it in the thesis statement. That’s not necessary for an expository essay. Instead, the thesis statement for it is more about letting the reader know what you’re going to write about and why they should care. If your topic concerns social media, for example, a good thesis statement could look the following.
Example: The use of social media has had a significant impact on how we communicate both with friends and family as well as with institutions and businesses.
This thesis statement lets the reader know that you’re going to talk about how social media has changed the way we communicate with various groups of people without arguing a specific point about it.
Step 6: Write Your First Draft
With your outline and thesis in place, it’s time to put your preparation and research into practice and write your first draft. As you write each paragraph, it may be helpful for you to refer to your thesis statement to make sure you’re staying on track and not veering off onto tangents. Make sure to use transition words. They are helpful to the reader and help reinforce when you are stating a supporting fact (furthermore, in addition, moreover) or an opposing idea (however, but, instead, on the other hand).
Step 7: Edit
When your first draft is finished, take a breather and put your work aside for at least a few hours before taking a look at it again. Some helpful editing tips:
- Get an A-level student to read over it
- Read it out loud - this helps you to identify awkward phrasing, grammar issues and other problem areas
- Put it through an editing app or service that checks for a variety of grammar and spelling issues and also rates the essay’s readability and grade level
As you write your expository essay: keep in mind the differences between an expository and argumentative essay, remember that great research goes a long way; add a variety of examples of your topic, including some that might not be so common; craft a solid thesis statement and make sure to give yourself time to edit.
Good luck and happy writing!