Writing an Expository Essay

Table of contents

How to Write the Expository Essay

The word expository has the root “expose” in it. And that root, in its widest sense, is what expository writing is all about. The expository essay explains, defines, and/or describes something – a thing, a place, a person, a process, a concept, etc. In short, this type of essay presents factual information. If you have ever read an article published on Wikipedia, you have read an expository piece of writing. The same goes for your textbooks or any “how-to” videos you have watched on YouTube. These are expository essay examples and should give you a pretty clear idea of what is an expository essay.

A little inaccuracy can sometimes save a ton of explanation

So, if you are assigned an expository essay, the field is pretty much wide open. And guess what? This piece is actually an expository essay itself.

Types of Expository Essays

Since the expository essay definition is clearly a piece that delivers information, based upon fact, it may take on a number of forms.

  • Description or Definition: Topics are defined or explained by their traits or characteristics, usually supported by examples. Thus, you might be asked to define an abstract concept such as justice or freedom or describe a painting you observed at a museum. 
  • Sequence or Process: If you have ever read the instructions for putting something together, you have read an expository piece of writing. Those instructions involve both a process and a sequence. You might be assigned an essay describing how to do something or a process of some sort – how the President is elected, for example. 
  • Comparison/Contrast: When you are asked to compare and/or contrast two things, people, or concepts, you deal in facts, without providing any opinions – this is exposition.
  • Cause/Effect: Again, these types of essays rely on factual information about how one event or incident leads to another. 
  • Solution Essay: This essay presents a problem for which there may be several solutions, but those potential solutions are based upon facts and data, not opinions.
  • Classification: Here you will take a broad topic and break it down into categories or groups. A large category might be horses, and categories would then be thoroughbreds, quarter, palomino, Tennessee Walkers, etc. Again, no opinion needed – just factual information.

The key to expository writing is that you do not inert your opinions – you are a giver of information.

Sample Expository Essay on Diving and Classifying

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Potential Expository Essay Topics

The cool thing about expository essay topics is that you can choose humorous, serious, or even inspirational topics. 

Serious: How the electoral College Works; DIY Oil Changes; Comparing Mortgage Rates; How to Write an Expository Essay; How to Potty Train a Dog

Humorous: How to Win a Battle Against an Annoying fly; Fighting Dandelions in Your Yard; 20 recipes for Ramen noodles for college students

Inspirational: What volunteer work can students do to improve the lives of others; what measures can each of us take to clean our environment; what small kindnesses can we show to others, even strangers

Choosing a Topic for an Expository Essay

You may be given a range of topics within a broad general category, or you may have total free range. If you select a topic about which you know plenty, (let’s say you are a whiz at building cool bookcases), then you have the perfect topic. 

Let’s say you are not a whiz at something but you do have a strong interest in it. Then, of course, you will have to do some research and gather the facts you need to present a solid explanation, description, etc. If you should choose a comparison/contrast or classification, be certain that you have also gathered all of the facts you need to do it justice.

Planning the Expository Essay

You either have the information in your head or you have completed the research to get the information you need. Now it is time to figure out how you are going to move forward figuring out how to organize it.

There are some key steps you should follow as you plan:

  1. Brainstorm: Make a list of all that you know or all that you have found out about your chosen topic. No fact or detail is too silly. Get them all down on paper. Combine those that relate and then eliminate those that seem least important, until you have a set of data that you will want to include in your essay.
  2. Craft Your Thesis: From the categories of information you have identified, develop a thesis statement. It may change as you write your essay, but you will at least have a good start point that will keep you on track and on a topic as you further organize.
  3. Yes, you do a type of informal expository essay outline. If you are going to explain the Electoral College, for instance, you can’t jump all over the place. You have to have a logical sequence to describe it. How and why was it established in the first place? Exactly how is it determined how many electors each state gets? And how each state’s votes are cast? Why do some believe that it is outdated and no longer necessary? Remember, while you may certainly cover the opinions of others, this is not n opinion piece and inserting your own opinion on the matter is not allowed.

Best expository paper topics

  1. The importance of family in modern society
  2. Are there any benefits to wearing a uniform in school?
  3. Sport as a mean to relieve stress
  4. Is there any connection between violence and rock music?
  5. Dealing with overpopultation
Send topics by mail?

Writing the Expository Essay

Now you are ready to write, according to the sequence you have set up in your outline. Don’t worry about the introduction at this point. Get the body paragraphs written first, covering each point you intend to make. If you are writing a “how-to” essay, this is easy. You take the reader step-by-step through the process. If you are covering a topic that discusses the ways in which alternative sources of energy can prove useful, then you will cover each source (sun, water, wind, etc.).

Of course, this initial writing will be your rough draft, and you will certainly be cleaning it up. But at least you do have the bulk of your essay down on paper and in a logical flow. Doesn’t that feel good? Give yourself a pat on the back.

Here are your next steps:

  1. Take another look at your thesis statement. Does it really state what your essay is going to tell the reader? If not, fix it up. You might even say something like, “By the end of this essay, you will know exactly how to change the oil in your car all by yourself, saving a bunch of money.”
  2. Write your introduction. Taking the example of changing the oil in a car, you may begin by speaking about how important it is to change a car’s oil every 3-5000 miles and what the average cost is. You might even quote an expert or two on the damage that can be done by not getting regular oil changes.
  3. Go back and re-read your entire essay. Have you been very clear and concise, so that the reader will not misunderstand anything you have said? Remember some of those instructions for putting something together that has been so hard to understand? Don’t be that kind of writer.
  4. Now it’s time to edit the piece – this isn’t fun, but grit your teeth and do it. Are your transitions between paragraphs good? Does each sentence make sense and not contain so much information that the reader will lose focus? Are grammar and punctuation polished and correct? If you’re not sure, get someone who is to proofread it.
  5. Write for your audience. If you are describing a famous vacation destination, be informal and casual. If you are explaining the details of a Supreme Court case, then you will obviously be more formal.

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