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Expository Writing: How to Write an Incredible Expository Essay

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Expository essays are frequently assigned in English classes and are evaluated in various standardized exams.

But what exactly is an expository essay, and how do you write a good one?

In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to pen a high-scoring expository paper.

What Is an Expository Essay?

The word expository means “intended to explain or describe something.” An expository essay requires you to investigate an idea, gather supporting evidence, and present your point of view on a topic.

You may be wondering how this differs from a persuasive essay. While both essay types require you to provide evidence to support a claim, persuasive essays are more argumentative.

A persuasive essay includes a counterargument, which addresses and rebuts an opposing viewpoint. Expository essays, on the other hand, focus on clearly explaining and supporting your point of view.

Parts of an Expository Essay

A strong expository essay should consist of:

  • An introductory paragraph with a clear thesis
  • Evidence that supports the thesis (typically in three body paragraphs)
  • A conclusion

Below, we’ll look at how to construct the expository essay piece by piece. For clarity, we’ll focus on a somewhat formulaic process for expository writing.

Once you’ve mastered these basics, you can take risks and sprinkle more creativity throughout your essays.

Introduction

The introduction frames the topic of your essay. It also provides readers with any necessary background information or context. A simple format for your introduction is:

  • Grabber/Hook – A compelling sentence or two that draws readers into your essay.
  • Background Information (as needed) – Any basic information the reader needs to know about the topic to understand your essay.
  • Thesis Statement – This is the most important sentence of your entire essay. See below for more information.

Thesis Statement

The thesis statement is the roadmap for your entire essay, so it must be clear and concise. It should state your point of view on the topic. The thesis may also briefly mention the supporting evidence you’ll expand on in the body of the essay.

For instance, a thesis statement might say:

Students should read more literature because it improves vocabulary, reading comprehension, and empathy.

The writer’s viewpoint is immediately clear: Students should read more literature. The writer also indicates that her supporting evidence will mention several benefits of reading literature: improved vocabulary, better reading comprehension, and increased empathy.

  • Most likely, each of these points will form one of the writer’s body paragraphs.

If your teacher (or a standardized test) assigns you a topic, here’s another way to think of a thesis statement: The thesis is your answer to the question being asked.

  • Let’s say you receive a prompt that says, “Your community is thinking of starting a program encouraging people to limit car usage. Explain how limiting car usage would benefit your community.”

This prompt is essentially asking, “How would limiting car usage benefit your community?” Thus, your thesis could answer the question by saying something like, “Limiting car usage would benefit the community because it would decrease traffic, improve public health, and reduce air pollution.”

This approach ensures that you’re on topic and directly addressing the prompt.

Supporting Evidence

Once you’ve clearly stated your point of view, it’s time to support it. To do this, you’ll need evidence. Sometimes, this will mean doing your own research.

On other occasions, especially exams, you’ll be provided with relevant resources. These may include newspaper articles, primary sources, photos, or even audio recordings.

  • Your job is to sort through these resources and find evidence that supports your thesis. It’s important to note that if you can’t find evidence supporting your thesis, you’ll need to change it.

Strong evidence may include research findings, quotes from experts, and statistics. Make sure that your evidence is from credible sources and clearly supports your thesis statement.

Organizing Evidence

After finding your supporting evidence, you’ll organize it into body paragraphs, typically three of them. Each body paragraph should focus on one general idea.

In addition, each of these general ideas should be logically connected to your thesis statement.

  • Your body paragraphs should start with a topic sentence that introduces the idea that the body paragraph will elaborate upon.

Remember our sample thesis about students reading more literature? The topic sentence of the first body paragraph could read, “To start with, reading literature is essential because it expands students’ vocabulary.”

After the topic sentence, the paragraph should introduce 2-3 pieces of evidence supporting this idea. If a piece of evidence doesn’t clearly relate to the body paragraph’s topic sentence, it needs to be moved or deleted.

Analyzing Evidence

When you introduce a piece of evidence, follow it up with a sentence analyzing the evidence in your own words.

  • Explain the connection between the evidence and your thesis statement.
  • How does it support your point of view?
  • How do you interpret this evidence?

Remember that essays don’t only reflect your writing skills; they also reflect your critical thinking skills. Instead of merely quoting evidence, you must also explain your thought process.

As a result, an effective body paragraph can follow this formula:

  • Topic sentence
  • Evidence #1
  • Analysis of Evidence #1
  • Evidence #2
  • Analysis of Evidence #2
  • Evidence #3 (Optional)
  • Analysis of Evidence #3 (Optional)
  • Concluding/transitional sentence

The final sentence of the body paragraph should remind readers of the paragraph’s main point and connect it to the next paragraph.

Transitions are important because they help readers follow your train of thought without confusion. They smoothly guide readers through your paper.

Transition words and phrases include:

  • For example
  • For instance
  • To illustrate
  • Specifically
  • However
  • On the other hand
  • Therefore
  • Consequently
  • As a result
  • Additionally
  • Furthermore
  • Likewise
  • Moreover
  • In fact
  • Similarly
  • Lastly
  • Finally

Conclusion

Like stories, essays have a beginning, middle, and end. The introduction is your beginning, the body paragraphs form the middle, and the conclusion brings the paper to an end.

The conclusion synthesizes the information included in your essay. As the name suggests, it also draws a conclusion from the information presented.

  • Instead of simply restating the thesis, you should revisit the thesis in light of the supporting evidence you’ve provided. Do not introduce any new information in the conclusion.

Remember that the conclusion is your last chance to make an impression on the reader. It should be logical and convincing. Try to end with a strong and/or memorable final sentence.

In total, an expository essay includes these pieces:

– Introduction

– Body paragraphs (usually three)

  • Topic sentence
  • Evidence #1
  • Analysis of Evidence #1
  • Evidence #2
  • Analysis of Evidence #2
  • Evidence #3 (Optional)
  • Analysis of Evidence #3 (Optional)
  • Concluding/transitional sentence

– Conclusion

  • Synthesis of evidence
  • Explanation of what this evidence shows (connected to thesis)
  • Strong final sentence

If you include each of these pieces, you’ll have a clear, logical, and effective expository essay. Once you become comfortable following this formula, you may wish to vary it or infuse it with your own style.

Just make sure that all the essential pieces are present in your essay.

The Expository Essay Writing Process

Before you can effectively assemble an expository essay, you’ll need to gather information and plan your approach.

Typically, the writing process includes:

  • Carefully reading the prompt (if applicable)
  • Brainstorming
  • Gathering evidence
  • Planning
  • Writing
  • Revising/editing

Let’s take a closer look at each step in the process.

1. Reading the Prompt

If you’re provided with a prompt, understanding it is an essential first step. Misinterpreting the prompt will result in a low score, even if your essay is well-written.

  • Read the prompt at least 2-3 times, underline key words and phrases. If the prompt is complicated, you may want to rewrite it in your own words.

Does the prompt have multiple parts? If so, make sure you understand each part and that your essay clearly addresses all of them.

2. Brainstorming

Once you’ve read the prompt, begin brainstorming how you will approach it. If you’ve been provided with relevant resources, this may also include a first read-through or skimming of these texts.

What position will you take? How are you planning to support your viewpoint? Jot down any idea that pops into your head.

  • It doesn’t matter if the idea is good—right now, you’re just trying to find inspiration. You’ll change, add, or remove information later.

If you haven’t been provided with a prompt, you’ll need to brainstorm a topic that interests you. It should also be a topic on which you’re at least somewhat knowledgeable.

3. Gathering Evidence

At this point, you’ll find evidence that supports your point of view. It helps to write at least a rough draft of your thesis statement before beginning this step. This way, you’ll have a clear idea of what sort of evidence you need to find.

After writing your thesis statement, find credible evidence that supports it. This may require you to go to the library or browse scholarly databases on the Internet. Alternatively, you may have been provided with resources. In that case, read through the resources carefully, underlining or circling evidence that reinforces your thesis.

4. Planning

Planning ensures that your essay is organized, focused, and cohesive. It also allows you to catch potential mistakes before they happen. For instance, you might realize that some of your evidence doesn’t fit, or that one of your body paragraphs is lacking support. You can then address these areas of weakness before writing your essay.

  • At the top of your planning sheet (or a document on your computer) write your thesis statement.
  • Continually reference the thesis to ensure that you’re focused and on topic.
  • Next, determine the focus of each body paragraph and the 2-3 pieces of evidence that will support it.

Sometimes, students think that planning is too time-consuming.

However, a plan will save you time in the long run. With all your quotes and evidence organized in one place, writing your essay is much faster and easier.

5. Writing

Once you have a completed plan, begin writing your essay. Remember to analyze each piece of evidence and clearly connect your points with transitions.

Use a formal, academic tone and avoid slang or overly casual language.

Vary your sentence structure, including both short and long sentences. Pay attention to spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

6. Revising

Students often skip the revising and editing step of the writing process. This is a mistake. Slowly read through your essay at least once before submitting it.

  • Look for misspelled words, incorrect verb tenses, and punctuation or grammar mistakes. Does your writing flow well? Does everything make sense?
  • Are all of your points clear? Have you used the same word or phrase repetitively? (If you have, try to substitute a synonym.) Did you use transitions connecting your ideas?

Ensure that you submit the best, most polished version of your essay possible. Mistakes and unclear sentences make a poor impression.

Advice From the Experts:

From Tangela Walker-Craft – Simply Necessary, Inc., Family and Parenting Blogger:

Write in complete sentences. Write in paragraph form.

Each paragraph should contain 3 to 5 sentences for short essay questions, and 5 to 10 sentences for long essay questions. Vary sentence length and structure; try not to begin sentences with the same word or words.

Use facts and information taken from reading passages to answer questions; refer back to the reading passage to stay focused. Underline important information in reading passages to make it easier to go back to them when answering questions.

Proofread. Proofreading sentences backwards makes finding spelling mistakes and punctuation errors easier because it forces test-takers to focus on individual words instead of automatically “seeing” what he or she intended to write.

From Peter Donahue, a writing expert and teacher:

1. Write for clarity, not formality.

As a teacher, I see a lot of expository writing where the writer is more concerned with following the conventions of academic jargon than she is with expressing ideas. A good example is the use of “utilize” instead of “use,” because it “sounds more formal,” or the avoidance of the pronoun “I” because it “sounds too informal.”

So, rather than trying to appear formal, expository writing should aim to be clear. George Orwell’s 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” says more on this topic, and is a worthwhile read.

2. Think synthetically, write analytically.

Synthetic thinking starts with small details, or an open-ended question. As thoughts continue to develop, the main idea is clarified (or discovered) at the end the process. Contrariwise, Analytical thinking starts with a “given:” a major premise or generalization. It then proceeds to break down the main idea into its components and deal with each separately.

Expository writing is usually presented most effectively in an analytic format — the main idea first, the support afterwards. On the other hand, literary writing, like a poem or discursive essay, is often presented synthetically.

The key is knowing the difference between thought process and written format. We can think something synthetically, and then write it analytically. And in fact, this process can be the key to effective expository writing for many people.

Don’t assume that because a thesis appears in the first paragraph, you have to think of it first. You could try drafting it synthetically, to clarify your thinking. Then rewrite it analytically to present it more effectively for your reader.

From Jessica Moody, curriculum expert:

Expository writing is first about structure, second about clarity, and third about content.  Depending on the type of expository writing there is a specific structure expected.  Even in college essays each sentence on the essay has a purpose and can be labeled as a thesis statement, topic sentence, evidence, or explanation of evidence.

If the structure is not there, most of the time there is not much clarity and the content is lacking because it is confusing.  This is the same for any type of expository writing.

My suggestion for people becoming better at expository writing is to study the structure of the piece, the paragraph structures and the sentence structures.  If you understand how to break down the structure then you can learn to replicate any style or form you want.

Final Touches: Expository Essay Writing

Writing an excellent expository essay isn’t as complicated as it seems. Simply follow the steps and include the essential pieces outlined here.

Your essay is sure to showcase both your thinking and writing skills—and earn you a high score!