How to Write an Expository Essay: Topics, Outline
A general definition of an expository essay is a short piece of nonfiction that explains a topic in detail. The purpose of an expository essay is to explain something. It could be anything from how to bake brownies to how the US government works, and what’s required of you is to explain it so that it becomes clear for your reader.
There are different types of expository essays and many definitions of them. Some people say they’re simply essays that describe something with facts instead of opinions (so informational essays). Others say they’re essays that expose or analyze strong emotions like anger or fear (also known as emotional appeals). Still, others define them as essays where you have to present all the arguments on both sides on a certain issue and then show which argument is stronger (this type can also be called an argumentative essay).
So what does all this tell us about expositions? It tells us that we should all accept whatever definition our instructor gives us for an assignment because we probably won’t get much clarity from any other source. And it tells us not to spend too much time worrying about exact definitions—you can read more about the different types of expository writing elsewhere if you want more clarity.
What is an expository essay?
An expository essay is a specific form of academic writing that seeks to investigate a topic, evaluate the evidence, explain the idea, and make your argument. It’s no wonder why this assignment is so overwhelming for students. If you are one of them and lack the time or skills to write it independently, don’t hesitate and get our help!
There is a lot of confusion about the definition of an expository essay. They think it has something to do with exposing something. It’s just an explanation of something. Speaking, it means “to expose.”
What Is Expository Writing?
Expository writing is one of the most common types of writing. In an expository essay, you need to consider an idea, investigate the idea, then explain the idea. Examples of expository works include magazine and newspaper articles, textbooks, autobiographies, and persuasive college essays.
The Different Types of Expository Essays
Before diving into writing, it’s helpful to know the types of expository essays. A student may be assigned different types of essays throughout their academic career. The following list of different types of expository essays will help you choose the right one for your next assignment:
1. Process Essays
A process essay is a type of essay writing that describes the specific or chosen procedure. There are two types of process essays: informational (describes and analyzes a process) and directional (gives instructions on accomplishing a process). The process can be abstract or concrete. Process essays are generally organized according to time: they begin with the first step in the process and proceed in time until the last step in the process. It’s natural, then, that transition words indicate that one step has been completed and a new one will begin. Process essays are often written in the second person (you), but some teachers prefer that you avoid this. If you use “you,” your essay will be in the second person; if you avoid it, your essay will be in the third person.
2. Compare and Contrast Essays
A compare and contrast essay examines two or more topics (objects, people, or ideas, for example), comparing their similarities and differences. You may choose to focus exclusively on comparing, contrasting, or both-or. Your instructor may direct you to do one or both. First, pick useable subjects and list their characteristics. Their characteristics determine whether the subjects are useable. After that, choose a parallel pattern of organization and effective transitions to set your paper above the merely average.
- What is a Compare and Contrast Essay?
- How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay Outline: A Point-By-Point Organization
- Transition Words for Compare & Contrast Essays
3. Cause and Effect Essays
A cause and effect essay describes how one thing influences another. A cause and effect essay aims to establish a causal relationship between an action or event and the results. Cause and effect essays are written in chronological order, but they can also be written in reverse chronological order.
A cause and effect essay explains how one thing influences another. The cause and effect method of covering a topic is very common and is used to write essays at both school and college levels. This form of essay organization allows students to explain how subjects are connected. A cause produces an event or condition; an effect is what results from an event or condition. The cause-and-effect essay aims to determine how various phenomena relate in terms of origins and results. Sometimes the connection between cause and effect is clear, but often very difficult to determine the exact relationship between the two.
4. Classification Essays
In this type of essay, you will group things into categories and provide examples of things that fit into each category. There are two main ways to structure a classification essay: you can first begin with the most important category and introduce the less important ones later, or vice versa.
A useful exercise for creating a classification paragraph or essay is to think of your topic as a pyramid. Organize things into three categories (the top level), then divide each category into ever-smaller parts until you reach the bottom. The base of your pyramid should consist of only one part:
- Classify by a single principle – You must first decide what qualities are relevant for grouping similar items together and which characteristics differentiate items from each other. Then decide how many different groups you can make based on these qualities, working from most general to more specific categories. Provide examples that fit into each category.
- Classifying by several principles means giving equal weight to multiple criteria when classifying items instead of just one factor. For example, it’s not enough to say that movies belong to certain genres (comedy, horror, drama, etc.). It would help if you also considered whether they’re suitable for children or adults and classified them accordingly (G-rated comedies, PG-13 horror films, etc.).
5. Definition Essays
Definition essays explain the meaning of terms or concepts. They’re a kind of expository writing in which the writer shares information about a term, an idea, or a thing without giving their opinion about it. For example, if you are writing an essay about “love,” the thesis and the details must be based upon your ideas of what “love” is. Topics for definition essays are always general. In other words, you can write about “Love,” but you can’t write about “a romantic love between two people with the same first name.”
Here’s another way to look at it: in your thesis statement, tell the reader how you will define your specific topic (what is success? What is emotional intelligence?). Then present three ways to define that topic. Here’s an example:
- Success can be defined as goals attained. 2) It means different things to different people; for some, success might mean achieving fame and wealth; for others, success means overcoming obstacles and reaching one’s potential; and for still others, success might mean finding inner peace by helping those less fortunate than themselves 3) Success is never defined in black & white terms because no two people have identical ambitions.
The Expository Essay Structure
An expository essay outline is organized according to the 5-paragraph essay and consists of an introduction, 3 body paragraphs, and a conclusion. If it seems overwhelming at first, remember to take it to step by step. Let’s break down each section into segments that you can easily tackle one at a time:
Introduction – anything goes here: questions, quotations, interesting facts, etc.;
Topic sentence – introduces the main idea of the paragraph;
Supporting evidence – examples/facts/details which develop the topic sentence in support of your thesis statement;
Conclusion sentence – summarizes or wraps up entire paragraph;
Body paragraphs 2 & 3 are structured in the same manner as Body Paragraph 1;
Conclusion (Summary) – restates your thesis statement and summarizes the main points of your work;
Expository Essay Outline
Introduction Hook: a quote, an impressive fact, a question you will answer in your paper.
Background information (usually one sentence) gives a context for the main idea.
The thesis statement describes the purpose and main idea of the expository essay. This sentence should answer the following questions: What will be discussed? Why is this topic important? How should it be organized? The basic format of an outline includes:
II. Body Paragraphs (three paragraphs)
1. Expository Essay Introduction
Expository essay introduction is the most important part of your writing. It is important to make it catchy and fascinating, so think of the first impression your paper will make on the reader. Think of it as a reader’s first look at your paper.
Let us start with some steps you should follow when writing an introduction to an expository essay:
- Interestingly present the topic;
- Introduce a thesis statement;
- Tell readers what to expect from the whole text.
2. Expository Essay Body Paragraphs
As with any essay, the expository essay needs body paragraphs. The body paragraphs should support the thesis statement and all ideas presented in the introduction paragraph.
Each body paragraph should have a topic sentence. The topic sentence tells the reader what to expect from that paragraph. You can think of it as an umbrella for all the ideas presented in that particular section of your essay. All future sentences should support that idea or answer questions about it. Any new ideas would go in a brand new body paragraph.
3. Expository Essay Conclusion
Conclusions should be the last part of the essay that you write. They summarize your main points, restate your thesis in a new way, offer final thoughts and provide a take-home message for readers. Conclusions should reiterate each section of your essay but with new words and expressions.
Here are some tips on how to conclude an expository paper:
- Summarize the main points of your essay without introducing new information.
- Wrap up your essay by restating or rephrasing your thesis statement and main arguments in one sentence at most.
- End with a thought-provoking idea or call for action for readers to think about after reading it.
- Avoid starting with phrases like ‘in conclusion’ or ‘to conclude’ because they sound too formal and make it difficult to write a strong ending statement that stays on topic!
How to Write an Expository Essay
Writing an expository essay shouldn’t be difficult at this point. As you’ve probably noticed, there’s no shortage of things you could write about if you take the time to think about it. Whenever something seems to be a particularly good topic for an expository essay, the first question that should come to mind is “Why?” When you stop and ask yourself why something is the way it is, you’re thinking like an expository writer!
This section will go over the specific steps you should take when figuring out how to write an expository essay.
1. Brainstorming Ideas
A good way to brainstorm is to draw a mind map. Write your main idea in the center of a piece of paper and circle it. For example, suppose you were writing an expository essay explaining how people in the Renaissance should have worn sunscreen. In that case, your main idea might be something like, “People in the Renaissance should have worn sunscreen because it protected them from skin cancer.” Then draw lines coming out from the circle with other words or phrases related to it.
As you do this, try and think about any arguments that someone who disagrees with your thesis could make; for example, you might put, “People in the Renaissance didn’t know about skin cancer, so they didn’t care about protecting themselves from it” on one line and “Sunscreen was invented after the Renaissance ended, so people didn’t have access to it” on another line. These may turn into body paragraphs for your expository essay!
2. Fill Up an Outline
Your outline should have one main topic sentence in the introduction, three body paragraphs that support your thesis statement, and a conclusion that wraps it up.
Add references and citations to your essay as you go. Look over your essay for any mistakes or awkward passages when you’re done writing. Remember to cite any sources you use in your essay. You might also want to check for plagiarism at this point.
If you need more help creating a strong outline or haven’t had time yet to write a full draft of your paper, try following these steps:
- Write an outline of what you want to say in the essay. This can be as simple as noting down everything you think is important before putting it together into a more organized structure later on.
- Add references and citations as appropriate throughout the entire paper instead of at the end so that it’s easier for your readers (and yourself!) to find them if needed later on when reviewing or revising the paper
3. Write the First Draft
Now that you have completed your outline, you should be ready to start writing the first draft of your expository essay. You can write it in the standard five-paragraph format with one introduction paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a single concluding paragraph. Still, you can also write a far larger body as well.
The expository essay is generally a short composition that attempts to cover a narrow topic completely. 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; that is for you to decide.
4. Finalize Your Draft
Before submitting your paper, check for any errors and proofread it carefully. First, ensure that you have covered all the key points required to support your thesis statement. Go back and fill in any missing information if necessary. Then check the grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Use a professional editing tool such as Grammarly or Hemingway Editor to improve your text and correct small mistakes. Proofreading is also critical because it helps you improve the structure of sentences, add more transitions between paragraphs, remove wordiness, etc.
Your essay will be stronger if you include direct quotations from experts on the topic. Ensure that you have cited all sources properly using the required formatting style (MLA or APA). Finally, ask someone else to read your paper aloud and provide feedback about how effectively it communicates its point to them (for instance: “Would you know what this essay was about just by reading its title?”)
4. Editing and Proofreading
Editing and Proofreading
After completing a draft of the essay, read it aloud to yourself. Reading your writing aloud will help you notice places where the writing is awkward or unclear. If possible, try to find a friend or fellow student who can act as a proofreader for you; they may find errors that you missed because you’ve been staring at the essay for so long. Alternatively, you can use an essay editing service such as GradeSaver’s Essay Editing service to proofread your work.
Checking for paragraph structure and organization:
Does each paragraph discuss only one major idea? Is there any information in this paragraph that does not directly support your main topic? Can any sentences be removed without losing meaning? Are there two or more paragraphs that you could combine into one (either because they discuss the same ideas or use similar examples)? Are all the paragraphs structured properly? Is there an introductory sentence followed by supporting sentences and a concluding sentence?
Is each sentence constructed correctly with capitalization, punctuation, and spelling? To check to spell, ask someone else to read over your essay or print it out and read it backward (start with the last word in the last sentence and end with the first word in the first sentence). This will help ensure that your reader focuses on each word (rather than being thrown off by misspellings).
Expository Essay Topics
While the above guide will assist you in writing your essay, here are some additional helpful hints on expository essay topics.
Please choose a topic that interests you: Everyone wants to write about something they find engaging and compelling, so think hard before choosing a topic. You want to make sure you can get everything out of your topic that you can, so it’s wise to choose one that excites and interests you.
Choose a topic that is neither too broad nor too narrow: Although expository essays focus on facts, this type of essay needs to be engaging. Choosing a topic that is too broad means you will have difficulty finding enough facts and information about the subject. Choosing a too narrow topic means there may not be sufficient information to support your argument.
Ensure your topic meets assigned guidelines: Following the assigned criteria for an assignment is essential for success when writing an expository essay. Not doing so can lose valuable points on your work, even if the content presented is excellent.
Expository essays explain a topic in a clear, specific, and logical manner. When writing an expository essay, the goal is to inform readers without including your own personal bias or opinion. An expository essay examines a topic, evaluates the supporting evidence, and asserts an argument. Be sure to pick a topic that you can argue or somehow take a stance on.
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