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How to Write an Expository Essay | Structure, Tips & Examples
Published on July 14, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on December 7, 2022.
“Expository” means “intended to explain or describe something.” An expository essay provides a clear, focused explanation of a particular topic, process, or set of ideas. It doesn’t set out to prove a point, just to give a balanced view of its subject matter.
Expository essays are usually short assignments intended to test your composition skills or your understanding of a subject. They tend to involve less research and original arguments than argumentative essays .
Table of contents
When should you write an expository essay, how to approach an expository essay, introducing your essay, writing the body paragraphs, concluding your essay, frequently asked questions about expository essays.
In school and university, you might have to write expository essays as in-class exercises, exam questions, or coursework assignments.
Sometimes it won’t be directly stated that the assignment is an expository essay, but there are certain keywords that imply expository writing is required. Consider the prompts below.
The word “explain” here is the clue: An essay responding to this prompt should provide an explanation of this historical process—not necessarily an original argument about it.
Sometimes you’ll be asked to define a particular term or concept. This means more than just copying down the dictionary definition; you’ll be expected to explore different ideas surrounding the term, as this prompt emphasizes.
An expository essay should take an objective approach: It isn’t about your personal opinions or experiences. Instead, your goal is to provide an informative and balanced explanation of your topic. Avoid using the first or second person (“I” or “you”).
The structure of your expository essay will vary according to the scope of your assignment and the demands of your topic. It’s worthwhile to plan out your structure before you start, using an essay outline .
A common structure for a short expository essay consists of five paragraphs: An introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
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Like all essays, an expository essay begins with an introduction . This serves to hook the reader’s interest, briefly introduce your topic, and provide a thesis statement summarizing what you’re going to say about it.
Hover over different parts of the example below to see how a typical introduction works.
In many ways, the invention of the printing press marked the end of the Middle Ages. The medieval period in Europe is often remembered as a time of intellectual and political stagnation. Prior to the Renaissance, the average person had very limited access to books and was unlikely to be literate. The invention of the printing press in the 15th century allowed for much less restricted circulation of information in Europe, paving the way for the Reformation.
The body of your essay is where you cover your topic in depth. It often consists of three paragraphs, but may be more for a longer essay. This is where you present the details of the process, idea or topic you’re explaining.
It’s important to make sure each paragraph covers its own clearly defined topic, introduced with a topic sentence . Different topics (all related to the overall subject matter of the essay) should be presented in a logical order, with clear transitions between paragraphs.
Hover over different parts of the example paragraph below to see how a body paragraph is constructed.
The invention of the printing press in 1440 changed this situation dramatically. Johannes Gutenberg, who had worked as a goldsmith, used his knowledge of metals in the design of the press. He made his type from an alloy of lead, tin, and antimony, whose durability allowed for the reliable production of high-quality books. This new technology allowed texts to be reproduced and disseminated on a much larger scale than was previously possible. The Gutenberg Bible appeared in the 1450s, and a large number of printing presses sprang up across the continent in the following decades. Gutenberg’s invention rapidly transformed cultural production in Europe; among other things, it would lead to the Protestant Reformation.
The conclusion of an expository essay serves to summarize the topic under discussion. It should not present any new information or evidence, but should instead focus on reinforcing the points made so far. Essentially, your conclusion is there to round off the essay in an engaging way.
Hover over different parts of the example below to see how a conclusion works.
The invention of the printing press was important not only in terms of its immediate cultural and economic effects, but also in terms of its major impact on politics and religion across Europe. In the century following the invention of the printing press, the relatively stationary intellectual atmosphere of the Middle Ages gave way to the social upheavals of the Reformation and the Renaissance. A single technological innovation had contributed to the total reshaping of the continent.
An expository essay is a broad form that varies in length according to the scope of the assignment.
Expository essays are often assigned as a writing exercise or as part of an exam, in which case a five-paragraph essay of around 800 words may be appropriate.
You’ll usually be given guidelines regarding length; if you’re not sure, ask.
An expository essay is a common assignment in high-school and university composition classes. It might be assigned as coursework, in class, or as part of an exam.
Sometimes you might not be told explicitly to write an expository essay. Look out for prompts containing keywords like “explain” and “define.” An expository essay is usually the right response to these prompts.
An argumentative essay tends to be a longer essay involving independent research, and aims to make an original argument about a topic. Its thesis statement makes a contentious claim that must be supported in an objective, evidence-based way.
An expository essay also aims to be objective, but it doesn’t have to make an original argument. Rather, it aims to explain something (e.g., a process or idea) in a clear, concise way. Expository essays are often shorter assignments and rely less on research.
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Expository Essays: A Complete Guide
You write a lot of essays, and while they might share some broad characteristics such as their structure, they can be quite different from each other. Some essays are meant to convince the reader that the position you’re arguing is the correct position, while others explore the differences and similarities between literary works. Beyond these, you might also be assigned to write essays that explain subjects, events, and concepts to the reader, sometimes walking them through processes. These essays are known as expository essays.
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What is an expository essay?
An expository essay is an essay that communicates factual information. Broadly, this type of writing is known as expository writing . Expository essays rely on different structures to communicate their positions, like compare and contrast, process essays, and analyzing cause and effect.
Expository writing is one of the four main types of writing . The others are persuasive, narrative, and descriptive writing.
Knowing how to write an expository essay, along with knowing how to write other types of essays , is an essential skill for any student to master. Expository writing isn’t the place to be cute, clever, or edgy; it’s the kind of writing where you position facts and observations to let them speak for themselves in the most effective way possible. It’s the kind of writing you do when you’re analyzing information you’ve been assigned to study, thinking critically about concepts covered in class, and explaining the processes and reasons behind the conclusions you’ve reached.
The purpose of expository writing
Expository writing has a clear purpose: to educate the reader. While it may also entertain or persuade the reader, these are secondary benefits and not the author’s goal. Well-crafted expository writing demonstrates the author’s expertise on the subject and in many cases demonstrates how they learned about their subject.
For example, you might be assigned to write an essay about the mock trial your class held. In this essay, you would introduce the assignment and the case your class worked on through the trial. Then in the following body paragraphs , you would describe each stage in the mock trial process (discovery, opening statements, cross-examination, closing statements, jury deliberation, and verdict) and how your class completed each of these stages. In the final paragraph, you would state the verdict your class reached and the judge’s ruling.
Your essay about the mock trial doesn’t argue that the ruling was right or wrong. It merely explains the process your class used to work through the trial process and learn how real court cases move through the court system. In other words, your essay would present facts and process rather than opinion and commentary.
Types of expository essays
As we mentioned above, expository essays come in many forms. These include the following:
In a classification essay, you write about various subjects within one category, discussing each subject’s unique characteristics alongside the characteristics that connect it with others in its category. For example, you might write a classification essay about different kinds of herding dogs. Your essay would start with a thesis statement about how herding breeds are different from other categories of dogs, then in each paragraph, discuss specific herding breeds (corgi, collie, heeler, etc.).
A definition essay defines its subject by presenting clear facts about it. Your definition essay might challenge commonly repeated myths about a historical event by presenting firsthand accounts of the event from primary sources and discussing relevant social, political, and economic trends that impacted the event and influenced perceptions of it.
A process essay walks the reader through the steps involved in completing a task. A recipe has a lot in common with a process essay. A process essay’s opening paragraph explains the process that will be covered and the end result of following the directions. Each body paragraph is a step in the process, then the conclusion explains what the reader should have achieved by completing each step.
In a compare-and-contrast essay , you support your thesis statement by examining the differences and similarities between the sources cited. For example, you might write an essay comparing and contrasting the dress code at your school with the dress codes at two neighboring schools. Your body paragraphs might examine the differences in which articles of clothing are and aren’t allowed as well as the overall preciseness of each dress code’s language and the amount of “gray area” present in each policy.
As the name implies, a cause-and-effect essay gets into how specific events and/or actions caused others to occur. They sometimes trace chains of events to explore why we find ourselves facing certain circumstances today. An example of a cause-and-effect essay might be one tracking how shifting market trends over the past few decades impacted the industries in your region, creating the current local economy.
How expository essays are structured
Expository essays follow the same general structure you use with every essay assignment : an introduction, body paragraphs that support and expand upon the points you made in your introduction, then a conclusion that reiterates those points and underscores your thesis.
Unless your instructor requires your essay to hit a certain word count, there’s no specific length your essay needs to be. Similarly, it doesn’t need to have a specific number of paragraphs—but it does need to express your points thoroughly and accurately. To achieve this, your essay should follow this format, give or take the quantity of body paragraphs for the number of supporting points you make:
In the introduction, you present your essay topic and your thesis statement, ideally hooking your reader with intriguing facts. You also introduce your supporting evidence and all necessary context to help your reader understand your thesis.
Each supporting point you make needs its own body paragraph. Although the five-paragraph essay is typically considered the “standard” essay length, you might need a six-paragraph or longer essay to thoroughly communicate your thesis statement.
Use transition words and sentences to transition between body paragraphs. Transition words and sentences are the phrases that express the relationship between two paragraphs, signaling to the reader why you’re making a specific point and how that point fits into your overall work.
In your last body paragraph, you’ll need to transition to your conclusion. That doesn’t mean you should start summarizing here—give your final body paragraph as much insight and detail as you gave your previous body paragraphs.
In your conclusion, you restate your thesis statement and summarize the points you made in your body paragraphs. It should neatly tie up any loose ends and answer any lingering questions the reader may have.
How do you write an expository essay?
Before you write your next expository essay, familiarize yourself with the conventions and rules for essay writing . These general guidelines will help you structure your essay and determine the most effective way to present your information. But because you’re writing an expository essay, it’s also important that you understand and incorporate all the characteristics that separate expository essays from other kinds of writing. Keep the following rules for expository writing in mind:
- Despite the taboo, insects make an excellent food source and could stem humanity’s looming food shortage, based on both their protein output and the sustainability of farming them.
- The backlash to rock ’n’ roll music in the ’50s by religious groups and traditionalists actually boosted the genre’s popularity instead of diminishing it as intended.
- Your tone should be objective and academic . While narrative and descriptive essays can take on artistic, impassioned, and familiar tones, expository essays stick to conventional language and a neutral tone.
- Stick to the facts. An expository essay is not the place to express your opinion—or even present the facts in a way meant to change or shape the reader’s opinion.
- Always be completely sure of the facts you’re presenting. That means thoroughly vetting your sources, cross-checking them with other reputable sources, and properly citing every fact you put forth as the truth.
Start writing your expository essay the same way you would start the writing process for any other project: by brainstorming. If you weren’t assigned a topic, you’ll need to determine an appropriate topic on your own—brainstorming is where you’ll determine that topic. It’s also where you’ll determine your thesis statement, the most important component of your expository essay . Don’t move forward with outlining your essay until you have a thesis statement.
Once you have a clear thesis statement, it’s time to outline your essay. With an expository essay, it’s especially important that you present accurate facts in a logical way. It can be very helpful to note your sources for each paragraph in your outline.
With a completed outline, it’s time to start writing. Follow the standard writing process through this first draft, editing, and your revision. Once you’re finished, make sure you proofread your essay carefully—not only for grammar and spelling mistakes, but to double-check that you’ve properly cited every source and formatted your essay according to your assigned style guide.
You write the essay, Grammarly gives it extra polish
In an expository essay, it’s especially important that your writing is mistake-free. Having spelling and grammatical mistakes in your writing undermines your credibility as a writer, so even if your ideas and insights are solid, readers won’t get as much out of your work as they would if it had no mistakes.
That’s why proofreading is so important . . . and why Grammarly is so helpful. Before you submit your essay, use Grammarly to catch any mistakes or unclear sentences that might have sneaked past you while you were proofreading your work. It can also ensure that the tone you’re using is the tone you want to be using—and that it’s consistent through your whole essay.
- How it works
How to Write an Expository Essay
Published by Grace Graffin at August 17th, 2021 , Revised On January 10, 2023
Expository means “to describe or explain something”. It is related to the words ‘exposition’, ‘expound’, and ‘expose’ – to explain or reveal the meaning, to lay open, speak one’s mind.
Whenever there is a need to gather research and describe an idea, a topic , or a process clearly and logically, it is done in the form of an expository essay .
An expository essay requires the writer to take a balanced approach to the subject matter rather than justifying a particular point of view.
Expository essays are assigned to students to evaluate their subject knowledge and composition skills. When compared with argumentative essays , they involve a lot less research.
Definition of Expository Essay
“The expository essay is the type of essay that involves an investigation of an idea or topic, appraises relevant supporting evidence material, and presents an argument in a clear and concise manner. ”
When to Write an Expository Essay
Your school or university could assign an expository essay to you as coursework or as part of an online exam.
However, the guidelines may or may not clearly state that your assignment is an expository essay. If that is the case, then look for keywords like ‘explain’, ‘describe’, ‘define’, etc., to be sure that what has been asked for is an expository essay.
You might even be asked to explain and emphasise a particular concept or term. Writing a simple definition will not be enough because you will be expected to explore the ideas in detail.
Writing an Expository Essay
An expository essay should not be based on your personal experiences and opinions. It rather takes an objective approach. You will be expected to explain the topic in a balanced way without any personal bias.
Make sure to avoid the first and second person (“I” and “You”) when writing an expository essay.
How to Structure an Expository Essay
The structure and format of your expository essay assignment will depend on your school’s guidelines and the topic you are investigating. However, it is always a good idea to develop an outline for your essay before starting to work.
The Five-Paragraph Essay Writing Approach
An expository essay will require you to take the five-paragraph essay approach: an introductory paragraph , main body paragraphs , and the concluding paragraph . This is often referred to as the hamburger style of essay because like a hamburger, it contains five main parts: the introduction and conclusion being the bun that encapsulates everything.
Rationale and Thesis Statement
Start your essay with a rationale and thesis, also known as the thesis statement , so your readers know what you set out to achieve in your expository essay assignment.
Make sure the thesis statement is narrow enough to follow the guidelines provided in the assignment brief. If the thesis statement is weak and too broad, you will struggle to produce a flawless expository essay.
Construct a framework, so you know what elements will constitute the basis of your essay.
Expository Essay Introduction
Like other essay types , an expository essay begins with an introduction , including a hook, background to the topic, and a thesis statement. Once you have grabbed the readers’ interest, it will be easier to get them to read the remaining essay.
Looking back at history, the conquest of Constantinople marked the beginning of the new Islamic age led by the Ottoman Empire. Mehmed the Conqueror defeated a weakened Byzantine Empire in the battle of Constantinople in a siege that lasted for almost two months. The conquest allowed the Ottomans to encompass most of Southern Europe to the gates of Vienna over the next century.
Expository Essay Main Body
The main body should have a minimum of three paragraphs, each consisting of a topic sentence, an explanation of one general idea, and a concluding sentence.
Each body paragraph should share a logical relationship with the introduction paragraph’s thesis statement to create ease of readability and understanding for the readers.
Main body paragraphs allow the writer to provide an in-depth explanation of the topic. The main body should include a minimum of three paragraphs, although you can add more paragraphs for more extended essays.
There should be clear and logical transitions between the main body paragraphs. Transitions are the cement that holds your essay together. If your essay doesn’t progress logically, the readers will find it hard to grasp the argument you have presented.
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The table turned in favour of the Ottoman Empire after Sultan Mehmed took over the throne from his father Murad II. Sultan Mehmed II (ruled 1451-81) was a young, just, strong-minded, religious, and fearless leader. Immediately after assuming power as the new sultan, he decided to take advantage of the Byzantine Empire’s weaknesses and ordered the Rumeli Fortress’s construction, which was completed in under four months. The Rumeli Fortress provided a base to the Ottomans to conduct the siege and conquest of Constantinople. The transformation of that city into the Ottoman capital of Istanbul marked an important new stage in Ottoman history.
Expository Essay Conclusion
The conclusion paragraph consists of a “summary sentence,” which provides a broad summary of your research on the topic, one or more overview sentences that must be connected to the key theme of the essay, and a key takeaway emphasizing the importance of the research work completed. The “key takeaway” sentence summarises the key point that you want the readers to take away from your essay.
Avoid presenting any new information in the conclusion section. Here, you must only reinforce the points made in the earlier sections.
The legacy of the Ottoman Empire can be linked back to the conquest of Constantinople led by Mehmed II. The victory over the weakened Byzantine Empire allowed the Ottomans to establish strong military and political influence across Southern Europe to the gates of Vienna. After taking over the throne from his father in 1451, Mehmed II did not wait for too long before marching his army to the walls of the Byzantine capital. In that siege, which lasted for almost two months, Mehmed II and his army brought the Byzantine defence to its knees. The event marked the beginning of the expansion of the Ottoman Empire.
Purpose of an Expository Essay
So what is the purpose of an expository essay?
Expository essays explain an idea or a set of ideas, a topic, or a process. An expository essay does not require you to provide your personal opinion about the subject matter. You need to explain the subject matter in a clear and concise manner through research and argumentation.
Expository Essay Checklist
Will i need the skill of expository writing after i finish my studies.
It depends on what you are studying for. While you might or might not write any more expository essays after your formal education has ended, the skill will be very useful in certain careers, such as business reports, journalism, and in scientific and technical writing.
How does an expository essay differ from an argumentative essay?
An argumentative essay is usually longer and requires more research. It starts with a claim about something that will need supporting evidence. And both sides of the argument need to be discussed. In an expository essay, there is no requirement to make an original argument and defend/support it.
What is the purpose of expository essays?
This style of essay is necessary when you have to showcase your knowledge on a given subject, or your ability to gather research on one and present your findings.
How long is an expository essay?
There is no fixed length but an expository essay could be part of an exam, in which case it might only be 1,000 words or less. They are usually shorter than argumentative essays . It can depend on the subject under discussion. You will likely be given instructions on the required word count.
Are there different types of expository essay?
There are six different types of expository essay, each with a different purpose.
The six types are:
Process essay – describing a task, a method, how to complete something Cause and effect essay – why something happened and its effects Problem-solution essay – provide analysis of problems and their solutions Compare and contrast essay – describe the similarities and differences between two subjects Definition essay – define the topic in detail and explain the how, what, and why Classification essay – separate the topic’s categories and define them in detail
When you are assigned your essay, you should be able to distinguish which of these approaches you are required to take.
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- How It Works
How to approach an expository essay. An expository essay should take an objective approach: It isn’t about your personal opinions or experiences. Instead, your goal is to provide an informative and balanced explanation of your topic. Avoid using the first or second person (“I” or “you”).
Write your expository essay in MLA format and follow a basic five paragraph structure. 1. Prewrite and Outline. To write a well-organized five-paragraph essay, it's important to take some time to jot down pertinent notes and perform research about your expository essay topic.
In the introduction, you present your essay topic and your thesis statement, ideally hooking your reader with intriguing facts. You also introduce your supporting evidence and all necessary context to help your reader understand your thesis. Body paragraph Each supporting point you make needs its own body paragraph.
Expository Essay Introduction Like other essay types, an expository essay begins with an introduction, including a hook, background to the topic, and a thesis statement. Once you have grabbed the readers’ interest, it will be easier to get them to read the remaining essay. Table of content Example