The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
Contributors: Jack Baker, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2013-03-11 10:04:15
What is an expository essay?
The expository essay is a genre of essay that requires the student to investigate an idea, evaluate evidence, expound on the idea, and set forth an argument concerning that idea in a clear and concise manner. This can be accomplished through comparison and contrast, definition, example, the analysis of cause and effect, etc.
Please note: This genre is commonly assigned as a tool for classroom evaluation and is often found in various exam formats.
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.
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.
A complete argument
Perhaps it is helpful to think of an essay in terms of a conversation or debate with a classmate. If I were to discuss the cause of the Great Depression and its current effect on those who lived through the tumultuous time, there would be a beginning, middle, and end to the conversation. In fact, if I were to end the exposition in the middle of my second point, questions would arise concerning the current effects on those who lived through the Depression. Therefore, the expository essay must be complete, and logically so, leaving no doubt as to its intent or argument.
The five-paragraph Essay
A common method for writing an expository essay is the five-paragraph approach. This is, however, by no means the only formula for writing such essays. If it sounds straightforward, that is because it is; in fact, the method consists of:
- an introductory paragraph
- three evidentiary body paragraphs
- a conclusion
Does Expository Writing Have You Confused?
Maybe you find yourself on this page because your instructor asked you to write an expository essay, and you aren't exactly sure what's expected of you—if so, you've certainly found the right place. Expository writing, or exposition, is a type of discourse used to describe, explain, define, inform, or clarify. It literally means "to expose." Exposition can be found in writing or oral discourse, but for the sake of this article, we'll stick with expository writing.
You are likely familiar with expository writing already, even if the name sounds unfamiliar. Common examples include newspaper articles, how-to manuals, and assembly instructions. Expository writing is also the most frequent type of academic writing!
Present the facts, and only the facts
If you are asked to write an expository essay, then you are essentially being asked to present the facts; there is no place for bias or opinion in expository writing. In a way, this makes writing simple—it is a matter of gathering and presenting the facts about a certain topic.
Something important to keep in mind when writing exposition is that you should not assume your readers have any knowledge of the topic; don't gloss over basic or important details, even if you think they're common knowledge.
When writing expository essays, it is best to use third person narration, although second person is acceptable in some instances, such as for instructions—or articles on expository writing.
Characteristics of expository writing
There are a few characteristics of expository writing you should remember when crafting an expository essay. The first is to keep a tight focus on the main topic, avoiding lengthy tangents, wordiness, or unrelated asides that aren’t necessary for understanding your topic.
In the same vein, be sure to pick a topic that is narrow, but not so narrow that you have a hard time writing anything about it (for example, writing about ice cream would be too broad, but writing about ice cream sold at your local grocery store between 5:00 and 5:15 pm last Saturday would be too narrow).
You must also be sure to support your topic, providing plenty of facts, details, examples, and explanations, and you must do so in an organized and logical manner. Details that can support your expository writing include:
- Descriptive details
- Charts and graphs
Formatting an expository essay
The typical format for an expository essay in school is the traditional five-paragraph essay. This includes an introduction and a conclusion, with three paragraphs for the body of the paper. Most often, these three paragraphs are limited to one subtopic each.
This is the basic essay format, but expository writing does not need to be limited to five paragraphs. No matter how long your essay is, be sure your introduction includes your thesis statement and that the paper is based on facts rather than opinions. And, as with all good essay writing, make sure to connect your paragraphs with transitions.
Methods for writing an expository essay
There are a few different methods for writing an expository essay. These include:
- Compare and contrast
- Cause and effect
- Problem and solution
- Extended definition
Generally, you will want to pick one method for each piece of expository writing. However, you may find that you can combine a few methods. The important thing is to stay focused on your topic and stick to the facts.
Now that you have a clearer understanding of expository writing, you're ready to write your essay. One final tip: be sure to give yourself plenty of time for the writing process. After you've completed your first draft, let your paper sit for a few days—this lets you return to it with fresh eyes. If you'd like a second opinion, our essay editors are always available to help.
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