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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The Thesis Statement
An expository essay should begin with a strong introductory paragraph that contains a thesis statement. The thesis statement should be clear, concise, and well-defined. Remember, the thesis statement is the writer’s main point, argument, or central idea and should be carefully narrowed to explain where the essay is headed. A weak thesis statement will make composing an effective or argumentative essay difficult.The Body of the Essay
The body paragraphs in an expository essay should contain evidence or support to explain the thesis or explore its complexities. This evidence or support should always connect to the thesis statement and should be explained with facts, statistics, logic, or anecdotes. Strong evidence or support is precise and allows the writer to convey something that matters to the thesis. Weaker evidence or support, however, is often general and fails to convey what the writer thinks about the topic. Each body paragraph should only include one piece of evidence or supporting idea to give the reader clarity and direction throughout the essay.
One of the most important tips on expository essay writing is to concentrate on the conclusion. The concluding paragraph is your final opportunity to leave a lasting impression on your reader, but many students experience difficulty creating that impression.
Two things you should avoid in writing your conclusion are simply restating the thesis and presenting new information in it. Instead, you should consider the implications of what you have discussed in the body of the essay. Presenting a brief summary of your main points is fine, but then you should think about answering the question, “so what?" You can answer this question by providing an explanation of the importance of the topic, or asking some questions that arise from it but which you have not addressed. The latter approach will keep your reader thinking about what you presented.
- Develop an argument clearly and logically. Your reader should not have to guess what you are trying to communicate.
- Avoid the use of personal pronouns. Remember, support your thesis with facts, not your opinions.
- Be sure to develop your points sequentially. That is, think about the order of your points and make sure they make sense. Does the order provide the most impact? Readers remember best what is said last.
- Use transitions between the introduction, body, and conclusion. These transitions should be clear, logical, and help guide the reader through the essay’s argument and structure.
- Proofread for spelling, grammatical, and typographical errors.