What is an Expository Essay? (And How to Write an Amazing One)

What is an expository essay… and how do I write one?

You may have heard this term floating around in your course syllabus a few times and are now asking yourself these questions. If so, you’re not alone.

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If you’re sitting there looking at your assignment instructions and having a small panic attack looking at the words “expository essay,” you can take a deep breath and relax – it’s actually not as terrifying as it may sound. An expository essay is actually a very common type of essay that you’ll encounter at some point in your academic career, so it’s best to bite the bullet and learn what it’s all about now while you’re ahead of the game.

In this blog, you’ll get the answer to the question, “What is an expository essay?” as well as many other answers you didn’t even realize you needed to questions you didn’t know you had. If you’re ready to start acing your assignments and improve your expository writing, keep reading!

Female college student working on a descriptive essay for class
The Basics: What is an Expository Essay?

So, let’s start off by answering the main question right off the bat: what is an expository essay? After all, that’s the real information you’ve come here to find.

It does sound a little complex. Here’s the kicker, though. You’ve likely already written an expository essay before because it’s the most common type of academic writing assignment in college and university. In fact, you may have written plenty of them by now without realizing that’s what you were doing.

The official definition of the term “expository” is “to explain or describe something.” Therefore, expository writing is a technique used to explain something or explore a particular topic with facts and data.

Therefore, an expository essay is any type of essay that takes a topic or idea, investigates and analyzes it in detail, and then produces a conclusion. You’re not taking a stand or making an argument about it, but instead going over all of the facts and exploring the topic in depth. Your goal is to remain neutral and not form an opinion one way or another.

In simpler terms, you’re giving your reader a rundown of everything they should know about the topic to come to the same conclusion you did.

This will be a little different than a persuasive essay or argumentative essay in that you’re not always required to take a stand on a particular topic. The conclusion you make about the topic doesn’t have to be an argument specifically and could instead just be a summarized point from your research.
What is the Main Purpose of an Expository Essay?

So, let’s answer the next question you probably have. Now that you know what one is, what is an expository essay meant to do?

It may seem kind of weird to you that you’ll need to explain a topic that’s already been covered in class. However, from your professor’s perspective, the point of writing an expository essay is to test your comprehension skills. Essentially, your professor wants to see that you completely understand the subject matter or topic and that you’ve reviewed all of the facts or information.

Writing an expository essay also shows your ability to conduct research and practice critical thinking. There is a significant amount of information out there that can be accessed in so many different ways, from browsing the web to visiting your campus library. You need to be able to sift through all of the data out there and use your own critical thinking skills to pick out the real facts. In today’s day and age, this is an extremely important skill to have outside of the academic world as well.

Further, the benefits of expository writing go beyond simply passing your assignment. This type of writing is an essential component for many different career fields including journalism, business and entrepreneurship, science, and many more. Essentially, any field that you may need to provide a neutral explanation or background knowledge of something will require the use of expository writing.

White tone image of hands typing out an expository essay on a mac keyboard
How Do You Know if an Essay is Expository?

You can usually tell if an essay is expository by the use of expository writing. By expository writing, we mean descriptive writing that takes facts and credible information and processes that data into digestible chunks with a clear, concise conclusion.

Essentially, anything that provides an explanation of something is expository writing. Here are some examples:

● How something works

● Why or how something happened

● What something means

● How to do something

● The importance of something

With an expository essay, you need to be able to teach your reader about a subject. In order to teach someone about a subject, you need to fully understand it first. Therefore, if you read an essay and come out of it feeling like you understand the topic better or that you have a more well rounded knowledge of it, it is likely effective expository writing.

Female student writing an expository essay at a table outside
Expository Essay Types

We can’t possibly answer the question “what is an expository essay?” without going over the different essay types that could fall under this category. Below are a few of the most common types of expository essays that you’re going to see, or that you might have already seen at this point in your academic career.

● Cause and effect essays: In a cause and effect essay, you’re taking a topic and explaining how one thing leads directly to one or more specific outcomes. You can either show how one thing causes multiple effects, or how one effect is caused by multiple things.

● Classification essays: A classification essay takes a core topic and breaks it down into different categories or sub-topics, explaining how each sub-topic or category is defined or how something is sorted.

● Descriptive essays: Also referred to as a definition essay, a descriptive essay is an essay wherein you describe and define a particular topic to tell your reader what it is or what it means. Think of it as a long, informative, descriptive definition of something.

● Compare and contrast essays: In a compare and contrast essay, you’re taking one idea, concept, or sub-topic and comparing it to another. You could write about anything, from characters in a story to concepts and ideas.

● Process essays: A process essay is essentially a how-to guide. In this type of essay, you’ll take a topic or subtopic and explain how it works or go over the procedure.

● Problem and solution essays: In this type of essay, you would describe a problem and then offer a solution on how to fix it through detailed instructions and explanations.

Female college student conducting brainstorming in the writing process
Choosing a Topic For Your Expository Essay

Here’s another question you might be asking yourself: What is an expository essay usually about?

The great thing about this type of essay is that you can write an expository essay on just about anything. One of the only challenges you’ll find is choosing a topic that fits within the scope of your assignment or your course. In many cases, your professor will either assign a topic to you or give you a list of topics you can choose from that are covered within your class. However, once in a while you might be left to your own devices and need to come up with something yourself.

When choosing a good topic for an expository essay, ask yourself the following questions:

● What do I already know about this topic? It’s much easier to explain something to your reader if you already have a base of knowledge about it – even if it’s just a little bit.

● Am I interested in this topic? You need to be at least a little interested in a topic to write a good essay about it. Otherwise, you’re going to get buried in the research and lose motivation quickly.

● How hard will it be to find credible sources on this topic? If it’s hard to access sources for your topic, it’s going to be even harder to write an entire essay about it and still get good marks.

● Is this topic relevant enough to my course? Float your topic or ideas for your topic by your professor just to be sure. Even if you write an award winning essay, you could fail the entire assignment if your topic isn’t relevant.
Examples of Good Expository Essay Topics

Great expository writing makes your reader feel that they have all of the necessary information to form an opinion on your conclusion or thesis. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you’ve chosen the right topic for your essay.

Here are some examples of some expository essay topics you could use to write and formulate an expository essay:

● The importance of investing money after college

● What is the best renewable energy source to help fight climate change?

● How the invention of the printing press altered Western society in the 1400s

● Why some countries have different views on Communism than others

● Explain the connection between food and emotions

● The significance of the Golden Era of Hollywood and its impact on modern films

● How to become an entrepreneur

● Compare and contrast online school versus traditional in-class school

Of course, all of this depends on the topic of your course and your professor’s discretion. If they’ve assigned you the topic, you don’t really have much of a choice, so you’ll need to consider how you want to break down that topic to find something that interests you.

A pair of male college students sitting outside helping each other write an expository essay
What is an Expository Essay Supposed to Include?

At this point, you may have grasped the concept of an expository essay, but you may still be wondering what you’re supposed to be including in it. The good news is if you’ve ever written an academic essay before, this type of essay isn’t very far off.

The core elements of a good expository essay include the following:

● Sold facts from credible sources where possible.

● A clear and concise thesis statement that communicates your main argument or point.

● Introduction, conclusion, and body paragraphs that transition into one another seamlessly.

● Refined explanations that give your reader a full understanding of the topic.

● A creative voice that keeps your reader’s attention.

Now that we’ve shown you what your essay should include, let’s take a brief look at what an expository essay should NOT include:

● Spelling and grammar mistakes – always proofread your work before you submit your final draft.

● First person voice – be sure to write in the third person at all times.

● Opinions – an expository essay is meant to provide a neutral explanation of a topic. It’s not the place to discuss your personal opinion on the subject.
The Outline of an Expository Essay

Depending on which of the expository essay types you’re using, your outline might be a little varied. For example, if you’re writing a compare and contrast essay, you may choose a different outline than you would for a classification essay.

Despite all the variations and essay types, most of the time your expository essay will follow the 5-point essay format. It looks like this:

1. Introduction

2. Body paragraph 1 (first main idea)

3. Body paragraph 2 (second main idea)

4. Body paragraph 3 (third main idea)

5. Conclusion

While this is the basic structure of a 5-point essay, you’re free to change the number of body paragraphs as you see fit. It’s important to make sure that each body paragraph focuses on one idea, so if you need to include more than three ideas, or if your essay is over 5 pages long, you can include more paragraphs. This will also make your essay easier to read and digest, which will help you get better marks.

College student sitting on a picnic blanket in a park working on her descriptive essay
Introduction and Thesis Statement

Like any good essay, your expository essay needs to begin with a great introduction that includes a well crafted thesis statement. Start with an attention-grabbing hook that makes your reader want to know more. Then, move on to a brief but concise background where you provide some quick context about your topic. It doesn’t need to go into a lot of detail, but it should give your reader a clear idea of what they need to know before you make your point.

At the end of your introduction, you’ll include your thesis statement. Think very carefully about this, as it’s very difficult to write a good essay if you don’t have a good thesis statement that clearly indicates the core point you’re making. It’s best to think about your thesis statement like the roadmap for the entire essay, so you have to get it right.

If you’re really stuck on coming up with a good thesis statement you can always download our e-book, The Official Pocket Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Thesis Statements. This guide breaks down all of the information you need to create the perfect thesis statement for your expository essay, as well as any other type of assignment you might need to write.
Body Paragraphs

Each of your body paragraphs should focus on one idea or explain one aspect of your topic. This allows your reader to easily follow your train of thought while keeping your entire essay as clear and concise as possible.

All of your body paragraphs should follow the same structure. Start with your topic statement that introduces the idea you’ll be discussing in that paragraph. Then, move on to the discussion where you’ll introduce facts and evidence and then explain them in detail. End your paragraph with a conclusion statement that transitions into the next paragraph or idea.

Your body paragraphs contain the most important parts of your essay. This is where the bulk of your explanation will be, so you want to make sure your writing flows properly and logically. Your professor will be paying close attention to the flow of your paper when they’re marking it.

College student reviewing notes and facts sitting alone in a coffee shop
Conclusion

In your conclusion paragraph, you’ll sum up the main points and ideas you’ve discussed in the body paragraphs of your essay. This section of your paper is meant to leave a lasting impression on your reader and give them something to think about.

You can learn more about crafting the perfect essay conclusion in our blog here, but here are some key points to remember when it comes to wrapping up your expository essay:

● Start by restating your thesis statement.

● Don’t introduce any new information you haven’t covered in your body paragraphs.

● Use the opposite structure of your introduction: start narrow, and then build out.

● Focus on the main points only. You only have so much room to summarize your essay, so stick to the most important things.
Avoiding Plagiarism and Looking at the Facts

No matter which of the academic essay types you’re working with, you need to make sure you use credible facts and cite them properly to avoid plagiarism. Getting flagged for plagiarism, even if it’s completely unintentional, can ruin your entire academic career and get you into some serious trouble.

Using facts from credible sources provides your reader with the most accurate information about the topic. The last thing you want to be doing is giving your reader this very long and detailed explanation that isn’t even true. If you can’t fact check the data and find a clear truth, don’t use that particular piece of information if you can avoid it.

No matter what facts you use in your expository essay, you need to make sure every idea that isn’t your own is properly cited. Your professor will usually provide you with assignment instructions that indicate which citation style you need to use. If they don’t, stick with one of the three most common citation styles: MLA Style, APA Style, or Chicago Style.

Student brainstorming notes by hand to start the writing process
How to Prepare for an Expository Essay on Your Exam

Due to the fact that they are designed to show your professor your understanding of a topic, expository essays aren’t always going to be assigned to you as a major paper. In many cases, you may encounter an expository essay on your final exam. When that happens, you’re not going to have the means to go and look for credible facts, statistics, and sources on the spot. Instead, you’ll need to rely on your own depth of knowledge. That’s why knowing how to produce good expository writing is important.

Here are some ways you can improve your expository writing in the event that you don’t have time to prepare a specific topic in advance for an expository essay:

● Take really good notes in each class.

● Practice using descriptive essay writing techniques.

● If you have even a rough idea of the topic ahead of time, prepare a practice outline.

● Practice explaining your topic to friends, family members, or roommates who are willing to listen. Ask them if they still have any questions about it when you’re done.

● Give yourself enough time to study and avoid pulling all-nighters whenever you can.

Closeup of hands typing an expository essay on a laptop
Still Wondering What is an Expository Essay? Stop Questioning and Make Your Life Easier

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