How to Write an Expository Essay

Conveying Information With Expository Writing

Encyclopedia Brittanica on a bookshelf
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Expository writing is used to convey information. It is the language of learning and understanding the world around us. If you've ever read an encyclopedia entry, a how-to article on a website, or a chapter in a textbook, then you've encountered a few examples of expository writing. 

Types of Expository Writing

In composition studies, expository writing (also called exposition) is one of the four traditional modes of discourse.

It may include elements of narrationdescription, and argumentation. Unlike creative or persuasive writing, expository writing's primary purpose is to deliver information about an issue, subject, method, or idea. Exposition may take one of several forms:

  • Descriptive/definitive: In this style of writing, topics are defined by characteristics, traits, and examples. An encyclopedia entry is a kind of descriptive essay. 
  • Process/sequential: This essay outlines a series of steps needed in order to complete a task or produce something. A recipe at the end of an article in a food magazine is one example.
  • Comparative/contrast: This kind of exposition is used to demonstrate how two or more subjects are the same and different. An article that explains the difference between owning and renting a home and the benefits and drawbacks of each is one such an example.
  • Cause/effect: This kind of essay describes how one step leads to another. An example is a personal blog chronicling a workout regimen and documenting the results over time.
  • Problem/solution: This form of exposition offers a remedy to a problem or issue. Think of a how-to article, for instance.

Structuring an Expository Essay

An expository essay has three basic parts: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. Each is crucial to writing an effective and persuasive argument.

The introduction: The first paragraph is where you'll lay the foundation for your essay and give the reader an overview of your thesis. Use your opening sentence to get the reader's attention, then follow up with a few sentences that give your reader some context for the issue you're about to discuss.

The body: At a minimum, you want to include three to five paragraphs in the body of your expository essay. The body could be considerably longer, depending on your topic and audience. Each paragraph begins with a topic sentence where you state your case or objective. The topic is followed by several sentences that offer evidence and analysis to support your argument. Finally, a concluding sentence offers a transition to the following paragraph.

The conclusion: Finally, the expository essay should contain a concluding paragraph. This section should give the reader a concise overview of your thesis. The intent is not merely to summarize your argument but to use it as a means of proposing further action, offering a solution, or posing new questions to explore. 

Tips for Expository Writing

As you write, keep some of these tips for creating an effective expository essay:

Be clear and concise: Readers have a limited attention span.

Make your case succinctly in language that the average reader can understand. 

Stick to the facts: While an exposition should be persuasive, it should not be based on opinion. Support your case with reputable sources that can be documented and verified.

Consider voice and tone: How you address the reader depends on the kind of essay you're writing. An essay written in the first person is fine for a personal travel essay but is inappropriate if you're a business reporter describing a patent lawsuit. Think about your audience before you begin writing.