Writing an Explanatory Essay

Table of Contents

How to Write an Explanatory Essay

How do ideas gain traction? How does a point of view become widely adopted? In most cases, it’s because many people take that information, and present it to new audiences in ways that they can understand. That’s the purpose of an explanatory essay.  You select a topic, then use evidence, data, and solid logic to support it.

In the next few paragraphs, we’re going to walk you through the steps it takes to do that successfully. We’ll start with topic selection. Next, we’ll cover research, writing your outline, your rough draft, and your final draft. As always, we’ll close out with a few more helpful tips.

What is an Explanatory Essay

There are two notable things about an explanatory essay. First, you will be presenting and supporting another person’s idea, or an idea put forth by an organization. Further, you may not actually agree with the idea. That’s not your job. Your job is to simply analyze and present it in a way that supports it.

In most cases, you will choose a topic that is relevant to your class, then you will approach the topic from a specific angle. This usually means supporting a specific idea or point of view. For example, if you take a class in economics, you might write an explanatory essay in support of Keynesian economics. 

In general, the topic and argument being presented will be complex, and perhaps controversial. This ensures that you can take up enough time and space to thoroughly explain it.

One thing to remember is that you aren’t writing an argumentative essay. You aren’t defending any particular idea as being better than others. You aren’t comparing or contrasting the concept you are writing about either.

You are presenting something with a neutral point of view.

Basically, ‘just the facts ma’am’. When you are finished, your reader shouldn’t necessarily agree with or support the idea you’ve put forth. They should simply understand it.

Explanatory Essay Topic Ideas

Any topic that is complex enough to require an explanation can be the subject of an explanatory essay. These papers can be written on a variety of topics in a variety of academic disciplines. You can write explanatory essays on business principles, political ideologies, complex scientific theories, even the plot of your favorite movie.

To help stimulate your own thought process and give you a bit of inspiration, we've had our writers contribute their ideas to the following list:

  • Socialism
  • The first down in American football
  • Photosynthesis
  • Trickle-down economics
  • Climate change
  • Broken window policing
  • Nuclear energy
  • Ketogenic diet
  • The Tet offensive during the Vietnam war
  • How windmills work
  • The causes of World War I
  • How does poverty impact education?
  • How does screen time impact families?

Sample Explanatory Essay

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How to Start an Explanatory Essay: Conducting Research

The first step to writing your explanatory essay isn’t writing at all. If you want to learn how to start an explanatory essay, you have to start with research.

The first step is finding the right sources. Remember that original source material is always best. What does that mean? You want your information to come from its creator, or as close to it as possible. For example, if you’re writing a paper on a specific scientific theory, you should start with anything that was written by the creator of that theory.

You can use other sources as well. People before you likely wrote some very intelligent things about your subject matter. Just be sure to choose sources that are academically sound. Look for studies, journals, and articles from reputable sources. Avoid blog posts written by laypersons, sponsored content, or disreputable media outlets. Be careful, because many of the latter will take steps to mimic legitimate news sites.

Once you’ve done proper research, you can be certain that your ideas and approaches are valid. Take good notes and keep them well-organized. Order them so that they can easily be used to support the points that you make in your paper. Keep in mind that you are presenting a point of view, but having the right facts helps your audience to understand why that point of view is reasonable whether they agree with it or not. From your notes and research, you should begin to form an explanatory thesis.

Explanatory essay writing infographic

Writing Your Outline

A good set of notes can easily be used to create a helpful outline. This will allow you to further organize your thoughts, ensure your supporting points are in place, and to establish the structure of your paper. 

Every outline will look a bit different. That will depend on your topic, and the length of your paper. Chances are, you’ll be writing a paper that’s about two pages long, and is about 5 paragraphs. Your outline will break down like this.

Intro: This is where you present your topic, generate interest, and share the thesis.

Body Paragraphs: Use these to share the important points of your topic. Add supporting points as evidence, or to provide further details and explanation.

Conclusion: This is where you wrap things up for your reader. Repeat your thesis. Then illustrate how each point you’ve made validates your topic.

Explanatory Essay Rough Draft

Now it’s time to build on your outline, and create your first draft. This will be the unpolished edition of your explanatory essay. In a sense, you will use your outline as a framework. All of those points you’ve jotted down now need to be turned into fully formed sentences and paragraphs. You’ll also need to create smooth transitions from one paragraph to the next.

Ask yourself the following questions as you write:

  • Does my intro clearly state what the subject matter is?
  • Does my intro have a story or cool fact or another statement that will interest the reader in learning more?
  • Is it easy to determine what my thesis statement is?
  • Is the main point of each body paragraph clear?
  • Am I supporting each point I make?
  • Are my inline citations accurate?
  • Is my closing strong?

Best explanatory paper topics

  1. How economical condition and educational levels affect poverty?
  2. How do beauty contests affect one's self-esteem?
  3. Health benefits of drinking alcohol
  4. The influnce of music on one's emotional state
  5. Are the gender roles described in A Doll's House still relevant today?
Send topics by mail?

Explanatory Essay Final Draft

If you’ve worked diligently up until this point, it should be easy to turn your rough draft into a final draft. This where you should polish things up. Fix any spelling and grammatical errors. Have a peer read through your paper, they can give a second point of view on your paper’s readability and flow.

Are you struggling to produce a final draft that is just like you want? Check out an explanatory essay example!

Final Writing Tips

Here is a roundup of great writing tips that you can use as you write your explanatory essay: 

  • Find a great app for taking and organizing your notes. It makes that process so much easier. Plus, you can work on the go.
  • Use a dedicated tool to check your spelling and grammar. Don’t rely on the tool that comes with your word processor.
  • Speaking of spelling and grammar. Nothing beats a manual read through to check for mistakes.
  • Refer back to your assignment rubric to be sure that you have not missed any important requirements.
  • Choose a topic that is interesting and easy to research.

Getting Additional Help

We sincerely hope this guide gives you all of the help that you need. If not, please remember that we have staff available to help you 24/7. Just contact us with any questions or concerns. We’ll be able to help you ASAP.

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