Learning how to write an expository essay allows you to express your opinion, defend an argument, or delve into a deep analysis of a concept. Learn more.
The basic structure of an expository essay includes an introduction (with a solid thesis statement), body paragraphs to support the thesis, and a conclusion. The number of body paragraphs depends on the length of the essay, and each body paragraph should provide direct evidence that supports the initial thesis statement.
The conclusion should tie the essay together and leave the reader with something to think about rather than simply restating the thesis. An expository essay isn’t the same as a research paper or other types of cut-and-dry academic writing. Expository writing allows writers to discuss their own opinions, develop a good thesis, and go on to prove their point.
Like a persuasive essay, an expository essay allows writers to share their points of view with their audience. Expository essay writing can be fun and engaging and provide writers with a way to share an opinion they feel passionate about with their professor or publisher.
Here, we’ll explore the standard essay format for expository writing, from the introductory paragraph to the concluding paragraph, look at some expository essay topics, and check out some examples to help you jump-start your thought process as you brainstorm essay ideas.
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Step 1. Getting Started
Before starting your expository essay, you’ll need to choose a topic. This may be a topic you already feel passionate about, or you may be exploring a relatively new topic. Either way, you must choose an opinion you’ll support throughout your essay. For example, if you’re writing an expository essay about characters in a book, you may choose to explain which character showed the most growth.
On the other hand, if you’re writing an expository essay for a history class, you may choose to argue about what caused a specific global event. When brainstorming, write down every idea that comes to mind, no matter how silly it may seem at the moment. If you can, take a few hours away from your brainstorming list before you choose a topic. Then, when you return to your list, look for connections and see if you can use the information you wrote down to develop the start of your expository essay.
If you’re writing an expository essay for a professor or a publication, your topic will likely be assigned to you. You’ll likely have leeway in choosing which side of the argument you’d like to support, but you’ll need to stick to the topic guidelines. If you’re writing an expository essay for enjoyment or in a writing class, you’ll likely have more creative license to explore an exciting idea. Here, we’ll look at some expository essay topics that can help jump-start your creative process.
Potential expository essay topics include:
- What is the culture of your neighborhood?
- Is distance education a good option for kids?
- Should the government provide healthcare to all of its citizens?
- How is connecting with people online different from connecting with people in person?
- What country does the best job supporting the mental health of its citizens?
- Does popular music have a positive or negative influence on today’s society?
Step 2. Writing a Good Thesis Statement
It’s wise to develop your thesis statement before you dig into writing your expository essay. Your thesis statement will guide the rest of your writing and help you develop the expository essay outline that will help you seamlessly flow from one point to the next. Your thesis statement (also known as a topic sentence) should make your main point and be toward the beginning of the introduction of your essay. Your thesis statement should be specific and narrow enough that you’ll be able to prove your thesis within the word limit of your essay.
If your thesis is too broad, it can be hard to create an argument strong enough to support your topic. On the other hand, if your thesis is too narrow, you may struggle to find enough information to prove your point. So it’s ok if you need to tweak your thesis before you begin writing your paper.
Examples of well-written thesis statements include:
- Providing communities with access to mental health resources has decreased violent crime rates.
- Children who are read have healthier brain development and stronger bonds with their parents than children who are not read to.
- According to law enforcement statistics, hate crimes in California have risen over the past year.
- In The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway’s use of Jake as the narrator makes readers sympathetic to his many plights.
- Once you have your thesis statement complete, it’s time to begin working on your expository essay outline.
Step 3: Creating An Expository Essay Outline and Choosing a Format
There’s no required length for an expository essay (unless your professor or publisher sets one). However, many writers find that a five-paragraph essay format is a solid start for an expository essay.
Generally, the five-paragraph essay format consists of a single introductory paragraph (that includes a thesis statement), three body paragraphs with evidential support, and a conclusion paragraph. However, suppose your expository essay requires more support than you can provide in three body paragraphs. In that case, you can add additional body paragraphs as needed (as long as each paragraph adds a new point to your essay and provides evidential support).
Creating an outline of your essay before you start writing can be a great way to form your ideas. You may need to tweak your thesis statement as you research your evidence, and that’s ok. Many people find that their opinion shifts as they write expository essays and do the research necessary to support their point.
Writing in an expository style can be a learning experience. Writing an outline before you begin writing your essay can make it easier to switch up your ideas and supports as needed without having to revamp your entire essay when you have a shift in opinion or find new research that goes against your original opinion.
When you create your outline for your body paragraphs, it’s wise to include a different resource for each paragraph. Utilizing different resources shows your reader that you took the time to explore a vast body of research rather than simply choosing one source that supports your opinion. Beef up your outline by including statistics and quotes from your research. Later, you can decide whether you want to include direct quotes or if you’d instead paraphrase the information.
Regardless of your chosen approach, attribute information to the correct sources when you include an idea from somewhere other than your mind. Find out whether you use MLA or APA format for your citations, and cite your work correctly. You’ll also need to include a works cited page at the end of your paper, allowing your reader to get more information on your sources if necessary. Writing out in-text citations and your works cited page during the outline process (instead of at the end of your writing process, when it can be tough to track down exactly where you got each idea) can save you time and stress.
Step 4: Creating a Solid Expository Essay Conclusion
If you’re a writer who struggles to write conclusions that tie your essay together without simply restating the information you’ve already provided, you’re not alone. It can be tough to create a conclusion that helps your reader tie the information you’ve provided together in a way that doesn’t feel repetitive.
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel; your conclusion shouldn’t make new points you haven’t already discussed in your essay. Instead, you’ll want to restate your thesis in a new way, rephrase a few of your key points, and then leave your reader context around why your argument matters. Talking about the implications of your argument on society or its impact on people’s well-being can help you discuss your points in a way that feels new and fresh.
If you’re struggling to write your conclusion, feel free to take a few hours away from your work. Then, try writing your conclusion without re-reading your thesis statement or body paragraphs when you return. When your mind has time to process what you’ve written without seeing the exact words, it can be easier to create a conclusion that provides your reader with a fresh take.
Step 5: Proofreading to Make Your Work Shine
After completing your expository essay, you must return and proofread it to ensure that your grammar is correct and that you’re making your points. It can be helpful to read your essay out loud. Hearing your words spoken instead of reading them in your mind can help you find the phrasing that feels awkward, detect run-on sentences, and pick out repetitive phrasing.
You may also ask someone else to read your essay aloud, as hearing your words from someone else can help you see them in a new light. You’ll also want to run your expository essay through an online writing tool to help you check for overuse of the passive voice, grammatical errors, and spelling mistakes.
Examples of Expository Essays
1. “Reasons For Obesity” by Gillman & Kleinman
Reasons for Obesity – Obesity has become a common condition in the United States. According to CDC (2018), 36.5% of U.S. adults are obese. Since obesity is a serious and very costly problem, experts seek to understand the reasons for the condition. Researchers point to genetics as a major precondition for obesity (Gillman & Kleinman, 2007). There is ample evidence that offsprings of obese parents are likely to be obese compared to their peers whose parents are not overweight (Bouchard et al., 1990). Also, there is an opinion that the lack of food culture leads to obesity. Unfortunately, many people become addicted to the junk food that is cheap and “hyperpalatable” (Avena, Rada, & Hoebel, 2008).
In this expository essay, the author expertly cites sources to explain why obesity is a prevalent problem in the United States. The author argues that obesity is preventable, citing research that provides clear-cut reasoning why obesity occurs on such a large scale in the U.S. The author expertly cites their sources, even though they’re paraphrasing information instead of using direct quotes. This essay is an example of academically-focused writing, rather than the more creative spin some authors take when writing in an expository essay format.
2. “Consider The Lobster” By David Foster Wallace
Consider the Lobster – So then here is a question that’s all but unavoidable at the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker, and may arise in the kitchens across the U.S. Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure? A related set of concerns: Is the previous question irksomely PC or sentimental? What does “all right” even mean in this context? Is it all just a matter of individual choice?
In this expository essay, Wallace explores whether killing a lobster is humane. He does not simply delve into the scientific reasoning behind whether lobsters feel pain–he also discusses what he sees at a lobster festival and works to explain whether it’s ok for humans to find enjoyment while other creatures are feeling pain. This essay includes more creativity than an expository essay with a more academic format.
For help with this topic, read our guide explaining what is persuasive writing?
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