What is an Expository Essay

It is an investigation in a written form that seeks to disclose facts about objects and events, define characteristics of processes and concepts, or find solutions for issues, and bring to light their crucial aspects. Such exposition is what gave this kind of essay its name.

How to Define Exposition?

When we define exposition, we can also define expository essays. To expose means to disclose something, reveal it, lay it open to the public. Naturally, exposition is a process or a state of something being disclosed, revealed and laid open for others to see. Thus, anything expository is intended to bring things out in the open. In the case of expository essays, they are intended to make something "mentally visible", make it comprehensible through explanation.

Expository Writing Definition

What is expository writing? Expository essays are representative of expository writing. And so, according to the interpretation of exposition, what is the purpose of expository writing? Expository writing is aimed at exposing meanings, characteristics, and relations of different phenomena. It is discovery writing that lifts the veil of obscurity on the truths of life and history. Therefore, any kind of non-fiction that does not center around a one-person opinion can be taken as an example of expository writing. Besides essays, expository writing can come in the form of articles, textbooks, sets of instructions, and any other types of content that strive to teach the reader and provide them factual, useful information.

Expository writing prompts are often used in school tests and exams, for they develop the important skill of argumentation, as well as expand one’s outlook. Expository essay definition puts it in the same row with a research. However, unlike research papers, expository essays rarely dig up broadly profound data. Yet, they do share such crucial feature of research as objective thinking, which makes expository writing differentiate from creative and personal. The structural components of an expository essay follow the traditional essay template, with an introduction, the main body, and a conclusion. However, they have distinct characteristics in an expository essay. The introduction is focused on a clearly stated thesis, which a writer defends in the main body. In the conclusion, all arguments are summed up to confirm the veracity of the thesis. Some types of expository essays might have slight deviations from these rules, but general requirements are the same. What matters more is not the essay’s volume but successful reasoning. An expository essay is built around an objective standpoint rather than a subjective opinion of its author.

The author of an expository composition is сalled upon to teach the reader about something they are not yet familiar with or something they wish to clear up for themselves. The explanation you present is expected to help the readers achieve that goal. Therefore, you need to corroborate all the information you're exposing in your text to avoid unintentional disinformation. Also, write your text in the concise and understandable language.

Typically, an expository paper is a 5-paragraph essay

Paragraph 1: succinct, pithy thesis statement.This introductory part is actually very important. If the author has specific instructions about what aspects of the matter should be analyzed, they have to comply with these instructions and keep them in mind when stating the thesis, which will, in turn, determine the course of the whole essay.

Paragraphs 2-4: the main body of the essay with its paragraphs proving the thesis through the exposition of facts.Every expository paragraph presents another point that contributes to the consolidation of your thesis statement. However, these proof-points often cannot be extracted through research when you are writing an impromptu essay as a test. In this case, the only tool a writer has is the base of knowledge in their head. On top of that task, they have to build conjunctive points that provide cohesion of the text. Without sensible links that show the relevance of statements to each other, it is much harder for a reader to see the logic behind the explanation. That's why your text must be glued together by smart transitional statements that show a connection between the arguments you provide.

Paragraph 5: conclusion that collects all the arguments and testimony brought up in the text.It is not appropriate to bring any new evidence here but the one already presented. Your conclusion is crucial as the final point of proof, where the thesis you introduced now sounds like a declaration. Make it sound loud, clear, and doubtless.

A couple more pieces of advice: 

  1. Make it complete.

Let your essay be full, without any gaps left that would give rise to questions. That means, to comply with the definition of expository essay, the matter under discussion should be explained entirely, without rhetoric, and the thesis must be proven completely.

  1. Stay creative.

Even though an expository text differs from a creative one, it doesn’t totally exclude creativity. After all, a bland data report is not what expository essays are supposed to be like. Yes, their value is in precision, logic and concise language, but they also should be able to grab attention and make an impact on a reader's mind. That's why your essay has to "look alive" and really express an idea rather than exhaust it.

Types of an Expository Essay

The following explanations may help you see the difference between the types of an expository essay.

The style of an essay depends on the task it’s bound to accomplish. There can be many variations of expository writing types, but we’ll concentrate on the major ones. The main types of expository writing are descriptive composition, process explanation, comparison and contrast analysis, cause and effect exposition, problem and solution explication, and classification.

Process essay is basically an instruction that points out a sequence of steps needed to accomplish a certain task. These steps have to be explained in detail to ensure that the reader fully understands how to perform them right and why they are essential. Examples of a process essay can be titled:

  • How to organize your working space
  • How to learn a foreign language
  • How to travel on a budget

Process writing is used in technical texts like reference guides and manuals, as well as professional advice in any other specific field of expertise or non-specific life-hack topic. Process exposition texts should be precise. They serve a practical purpose and are best matched by practical approach to writing them. Imagine following all the step-by-step directions that you provide in your essay yourself, to see if these directions really do the job of clearly explaining to your reader how to do the thing they want to do. For example, the reader wants to know how to start a business. Your process essay is then structured like this, in steps:

Step 1. Define the kind of business you want to run.

Step 2. Estimate your financial сompetence.

Step 3. Create a business plan.

Step 4. Work through the legal aspects.

Step 5. Establish necessary connections.

Step 6. Ensure promotion and growth of your business.These are the main steps, but you would also have to add many sub-steps and depict the process in more detail.

The Purpose of a Descriptive Essay

The purpose of a descriptive essay is to describe qualities and attributes of things, people, events, places, processes and other subjects. Each part of that subject is to be characterized as meticulously as needed. A reader should be able to mentally see the image. If it’s a house - you describe it’s exterior, interior, every room, the materials it’s built of, its size, probably architectural style. If it’s a garden around the house - tell the reader all about its landscape: the flowers, the trees - whether in bloom or covered in ripe fruit, any decorative elements, maybe even the weather and how it lights up the garden with sunshine or powders bare oaks with snow. An example: “The old bookstore has a sweetly stale smell of old paper. There seems to be no end to tall shelves of mahogany hardwood, put in neat long rows with narrow aisles between them. Faint sunlight comes through sparse small windows. It falls on the tightly seated sets of books and lights them just enough to have me see the titles in big letters”.

Subjects of descriptive essays may be:

  1. The view from your balcony.
  2. The first Christmas you remember.
  3. Your friend’s appearance.

One thing worth mentioning about descriptive essays is that they give writers a bit more space for creativity than other kinds of writing in the expository genre. They can be like paintings in the world of word, and if the context allows, you can get the most exquisite epithets out of your vocabulary storage and make the best verbal pictures.

Cause and Effect Essay

Another type of expository essays is cause and effect essay. It tracks the path of a process from its cause to its effect. Cause and effect expository essays show linear relations between things by explaining consequences and outcomes of certain events and circumstances. This can be about how rainbow is a result of light refraction in a raindrop, or how malnutrition or anxiety can be a cause of insomnia. In the first case, you mainly talk about physical phenomena that take place when light is dispersed into a spectrum. In the second case, you explain biological processes that happen in the body and cause disorder. Of course, cause and effect essays are not limited to description of the mechanics of nature. You can write on any topic, from socio-economic issues to neglect of some everyday chores, and answer the “why” and “how come” questions of the readers by showing them the chain of events that make the way from cause to effect:

  • How did the Industrial Revolution facilitate urbanization in Britain?
  • How does soil structure affect house construction?
  • Why did Star Wars change the face of film industry?

A brief sketch of a cause and effect essay: “Caught in the drought, cattle had been subjected to heat stress. Such a condition had a negative impact on cows and the amount of milk they produced. As the result of milk lack, the prices of dairy products were increased.”

Compare and Contrast Essay

Next type of expository writing is a comparison and contrast essay. It exposes correlation of two or more concepts, styles, directions and phenomena. In comparison and contrast exposition, the subjects are being analyzed in terms of aspects or attributes they share and those they don’t. It’s about analogy and contrast. The goal of such writing may be to look at two neighboring cultures, or heritage of various artists, and find an overlap in their impact or, on the contrary, bring the reader’s attention to the difference between their characteristics. As a writer of the essay, you concentrate either on similarity of the subjects or on their difference. The third option is an essay where you explore both. Examples of compare and contrast essay assignments:

  • Compare Buddhism and Hinduism
  • Contrast early works and Cubism of Pablo Picasso
  • Analyze similar and distinctive features of public and private schools

The main idea looks like this: “Both Cottage Pie and Shepherd’s Pie are served with mashed potatoes and contain meat. But Cottage Pie uses beef, while Shepherd’s Pie filling is lamb. Besides, the two pies are traditional for two different lands: England and Ireland”.

Problem and Solution Essay

Problem and solution essay is focused on finding a way out of a complicated situation. This kind of writing can also be in the form of expert advice on how to cure an illness or how to lead your company out of financial distress, or even just a suggested scheme designed to resolve environmental issues or organize an educational campaign against illiteracy in third world countries. Example: "Many cities of the world have significantly eased the excessive traffic problem by having their citizens riding bicycles more than driving cars. Nothing makes it impossible to implement the same approach in our city. We can start by promoting the idea in our society through raising awareness of all the detrimental side effects of excessive traffic. To spark interest, we could arrange bike gatherings and talk about advantages of the vehicle on the media. Afterward, the matter can be taken to the governmental level and gain the monetary support of the officials to provide bicycle training at schools and working places and adjust the city for comfortable transportation by bicycle."Possible topics for a problem and solution essay:

  • What are the ways to improve school performance among teenagers?
  • Bringing back the Irish language: how should we go about it?
  • Strategies for digital fatigue reduction.

The Purpose of Classification Essay

The purpose of a classification essay is to organize subjects by categories. This could be a classification of poets by literary genre and/or the epoch they lived in; gadgets or software grouped by price and range of functionality; or maybe a single subject, every aspect of which is classified in some way. Classification essays are not justs lists of items and concepts; they provide analysis of differentiating factors that put subjects in various categories. Examples of topics calling on classification writing:

  • Vacation destinations for every kind of travel.
  • What was the housing situation among different social classes at the beginning of 20th century?
  • Evolution of dance styles.

For instance: “Yoga poses can be classified by body parts they engage (arms, thighs, spine), by healing benefits they present (reducing lower back pain, boosting energy), by the way in which they shape the body (twists, stretches, backbends), and the level of complexity. Dolphin pose engages the muscles of arms and legs; it relieves back pain, headache, and improves digestion; this is an inversion pose, where the position of the heart is higher than the position of the head. Dolphin is a level 1, or beginner pose”.

In a Nutshell

Expository essays follow the definition of exposition, as they are the means through which a writer reveals an objective picture of reality to the reader. In such a way, reality is exposed in its presumably true nature, which is proven through data, expert opinion, empirical observations and any other means that would be relevant to the type of essay.

The most common types of expository essays are:

process essay: explains in consecutive steps how to do some activity or how something works.

descriptive essay: depicts or characterizes something in a detailed way.

cause and effect essay: shows a process or a historical fact as a result of a certain cause that brings about a certain outcome.

comparison and contrast essay: highlights similarities and/or differences between two or more subjects.

problem and solution essay: seeks to resolve issues through logically valid and proven methods.

classification essay: groups concepts, facts and other subjects together into definite categories on the grounds of their mutual relevance.Expository writing, as opposed to creative writing, provides necessary information about a certain matter and sheds light on different aspects of reality. Expository writing is applied widely in school essays, educational materials, media articles and texts relating to specific fields of knowledge.