What Is an Expository Essay and How to Write It

Writing GuidesEssay Writing
Jul 10, 2018

Many students are taken by surprise when they are asked by teachers to write an expository essay. But chances are, they’ve already been writing this for years, just under a different name. So what is expository writing? This post explains what this essay is and provides tips, examples, and templates for completing this paper.

How to Write an Impressive Expository Essay

What Is an Expository Essay?

To understand expository essay definition, it’s better to explain expository writing definition since this is more general. Expository writing refers to written works that present information on a specific subject. In other words, the writer is sharing information to the reader. This is done by explaining concepts, telling a story, or detailing the steps of a process.

Based on expository writing meaning, it follows that an expository essay is basically expository writing that takes the form of an essay . The term actually comes from the word exposition, which is synonymous with words like description, explanation, and illumination.

What Is the Purpose of Expository Writing?

Expository writing serves a number of purposes depending on the aims of the writer. For one, it may allow the reader to acquire a good understanding of the subject being discussed. For another, it may teach the reader how to do a given task. And still, it may be just to simply impart important, useful, or interesting information to the reader. In the end, the defining quality of this type of writing is its communication of information.

Types of Expository Essays

Expository writing is a general term, and thus there are different types of essays that fall under it. Many of these types are commonly assigned in class and you may have already encountered one or more of them. The discussion below details some of these types and provides a short description of each.

  1. Definition . As the term itself suggests, a definition essay presents a comprehensive definition of the subject. This essay goes beyond dictionary definition and instead incorporates other perspectives, views, or notions regarding the meaning of the subject.

  2. Classification . This type of essay groups items under categories. It begins by defining and describing categories. It then presents examples that fall under the said categories. For example, it may discuss the different kinds of social media platforms.

  3. Cause and Effect . This paper discusses the relationship between two subjects by tracing how one subject results in the other subject. For example, it may trace how global warming happens and how it influences society and nature.

  4. Process . This type of essay explains a process by listing down steps that make up the procedure. The aim of this essay is to instruct the reader. For example, a process essay may detail how to install a specific program on a computer.

  5. Comparison and Contrast . This paper discusses the similarities and differences of two or more subjects. It may also detail advantages and disadvantages. For example, a paper might discuss the similarities and differences of traditional classes and virtual classes.

These are just a few of the most common types of expository essays assigned at school. Other types include narrative, descriptive , and problem-solution. Note that a key feature of expository writing is that it leans more towards sharing information than arguing a claim.

Expository Essay Format

While the format of this paper varies depending on the type of essay being written and the instructions, it is safe to say that it follows standard essay format in that it contains the three main parts: introduction, body, and conclusion. The specifics of this format is discussed in the outline section.

Note that part of the format is also influenced by the citation style. In particular, more technical aspects such as bibliography entries, in-text citations, and level heading format depend on the style chosen. The most common styles are APA, MLA , Harvard, and Chicago.

How to Write an Expository Essay

The process for completing an expository essay is more or less the same as the basic writing process. It begins with prewriting steps such as brainstorming and ends with proofreading of the final copy. A detailed step-by-step guide is provided in the process section of this post. Note, however, that the process varies according to personal approaches and the instructions provided by the professor.

Expository Essay Outline

As mentioned earlier, the format of an expository essay is influenced by factors such as instructions and citation style. Nevertheless, the basic structure follows that of the traditional essay format. The outline below presents the three main parts of the paper along with other components typically required in a paper.

  1. Introduction . The first part of the paper is the introduction, which serves three important purposes: capture the attention of the reader, provide background information or context regarding the topic, and present the thesis statement. Accordingly, the introduction should contain the following:

    1. Hook . The hook refers to the first few sentences of the paper intended to capture the reader’s attention and draw them into reading more. Common hooks include facts, questions, or anecdotes among others.

    2. Background information . This middle part of the introduction should present some information regarding the topic. The usual approach is to discuss the topic generally and then narrow it down to the specific subject of the paper.

    3. Thesis statement . The final part is the thesis statement, which is the main idea, message, or claim of the paper. The thesis doesn’t have to be argumentative in expository writing; it may simply be a declaration of information that represents the main point of the paper.

  2. Body . The body of the paper is where most of the discussion comes in. The specific content, of course, depends on the type of essay and the topic. Regardless of the content, you need to keep the discussion organized. You can do this by following the standard format for body paragraphs as detailed below:

    1. Topic sentence . The topic sentence presents the thought of the paragraph. This helps you keep the paragraph focused and self-contained. It’s always better to present the topic sentence at the beginning, since this informs your reader what the paragraph is all about.

    2. Explanation or expansion . The sentences after the topic sentence should work towards elaborating the thought you presented. For example, if the topic sentence is about the effects of global warming on coral reefs, then this part should specify what these effects are. This is also the place to include evidence if they are part of your discussion.

    3. Conclusion and transition . The last few couple of sentences should summarize the body paragraph and then include a transition towards the next paragraph.

  3. Conclusion . The final part of the paper is the conclusion, which wraps up the discussion and brings the paper to a close. An effective conclusion has three parts:

    1. Restatement of the thesis. The conclusion should restate the thesis statement. Present the thesis in different wording rather than just copying it from the introduction.

    2. Summary of main points. Summarize the main points of the paper after restating the thesis. This will help your reader remember the content of the paper.

    3. Final thoughts . The last part of the conclusion should offer the reader something memorable. You may end the paper with a well-worded closing statement or some thoughts to ponder on after reading.

This is a basic outline for an expository paper. As with any formal piece of writing, it comprises three main parts, each of which has its specific subparts. Remembering this outline will be a great help with any kind of writing, be it expository or some other type.

The Process of Expository Writing

As stated earlier, the process of writing an expository paper is similar to the general writing process. There are specific steps that you can follow, beginning with prewriting and ending with proofreading. The steps below serve as your guide. Some expository writing tips are also included to help you.

  1. Read the instructions . The first step is understanding what the assignment requires by reading the instructions carefully. This will help you determine the type of expository essay you will be writing. Is it just one type or a combination of two or more? Knowing the type is crucial since it will serve as a foundation for the rest of the writing process.

  2. Conduct research . In many cases, you might have to research for resources and do a lot of reading, especially if the paper leans more on the technical side. For example, a personal narrative essay can be written without the aid of sources. But cause-effect, compare-contrast, and definition essays will mostly likely require evidence from sources.

  3. Brainstorm for ideas . Once you feel adequately informed, begin brainstorming for ideas and write them down as they come to you. Try to arrange your ideas logically if you can. For example, if you’re writing a compare-contrast assignment, separate the similarities from the differences. 

  4. Craft the thesis . Proceed to craft the thesis of your paper. Remember that the thesis doesn’t have to be argumentative in some cases; rather, the crucial thing is for it to be representative of the main idea you want to communicate. For example, if you’re writing a definition essay, then the thesis should be comprehensive enough to capture the various definitions you will discuss.

  5. Create an outline . While creating an outline may seem unnecessary, it actually makes the writing process easier and faster. Write down the main points of your paper, making sure that they are related to your thesis. Include evidence if necessary. Arrange the points coherently. 

  6. Write the draft . Once you have your outline, expand the points you wrote into full paragraphs. This is where the outline comes in handy. Your outline will give your writing direction and help you avoid getting off-track. As mentioned earlier, paragraphs are clearest when you present the topic sentence first, evidence and expansion second, and transition last.

  7. Revise . Revise your draft at least a couple of times. Leave your draft for a few hours or even a couple of days if you have the time. This should allow you to view your essay with fresh eyes. Remember that editing the paper is vital to ensuring clarity, coherence, and good flow and organization. 

  8. Proofread . Finally, proofread the final draft of your paper. Many students skip this step, not realizing that grammatical and typographical errors can easily cause the quality of a paper to suffer.

As shown by the steps above, the process for writing an expository paper is essentially the same as that for other written pieces. The differences mainly happen in how the content is constructed. Of course, this process is more a guideline than a rule. You are welcome to make changes depending on your personal approach.

Expository Essay Examples

Studying examples is a good way to develop writing skills. Excellent examples show you how the final output looks when principles of effective writing are observed. Below are several examples of expository essays. Read them carefully to gather a better understanding of how a well-written paper looks like.

  1. Sample 1 . This is an excellent example of a simple expository essay. See how the writer divides the paper into sections that explain what natural resource management is, how it applies to women, and what can be done to improve practice and address issues.

  2. Sample 2 . This sample of a classification paper on classical music shows how the writer started with identifying the categories before explaining the characteristics of each and providing examples.

  3. Sample 3 . This sample cause and effect paper shows a good arrangement of information. Each of the three body paragraphs explains a specific effect of eating fast food on children. Notice how the writer integrates evidence to prove the topic sentence.

  4. Sample 4 . This is an example of a well-written process paper detailing recipes for students. The author takes the time to explain basic concepts before moving on to the recipes. The tools and ingredients are mentioned beforehand and the steps are logical and easy to follow.

  5. Sample 5 . This sample compare and contrast paper on the origins of the universe shows the similarities and differences between faith-based and science-based theories. Notice how the writer used block format in presenting the discussion.

  6. Sample 6 . This definition paper presents an extended definition of the word religion. It goes beyond the customary textbook definition and instead looks into its meaning from different perspectives.

These are just a few examples of simple and well-written expository essays. Other examples are available online for you to review. When reading these examples, try to study how the content matches the outline provided in this guide.

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Expository Essay Template

Apart from examples, templates can also help you write projects effectively. Templates tell you what content to place and where to place it. The template below provides simple instructions that you can follow when crafting your paper.


(A.1) This paragraph serves as your introduction. Use the first few sentences for your hook, which is a statement designed to capture your reader’s attention. It can be a question, a brief anecdote, or an intriguing fact. (A.2) The next few sentences should present some background information or context regarding the topic. This is also the part where you can explain why the topic is important or why the reader should care about it. (A.3) Present your thesis statement at the end of the paragraph. Remember that a thesis is the main idea of your paper. A thesis should communicate your message, not tell the reader what your paper will do.

Body paragraphs

(B.1) The next few paragraphs should feature the bulk of the discussion. Put the topic sentence at the beginning of the paragraph whenever possible. This will tell the reader what the paragraph is about. (B.2) Follow the topic sentence with either an explanation of the point, evidence supporting the point, or both. It all depends on the type of paper you are writing. For example, if you are writing about global warming and your point is that rising temperatures are disastrous for agriculture, present reliable information that supports the point, such as how crops are dying or how agricultural yield is decreasing. Explain why this is happening. Include in-text citations. (B.3) End the paragraph by summarizing the content and then add a short transition sentence that introduces the next paragraph’s point. Follow this pattern every time you write a new body paragraph.


(3.A) End the paper with a concluding paragraph. Begin the conclusion by restating the thesis statement. (3.B) Follow this with a summary of the main points of the paper. Be as concise as possible. (3.C) End the essay with some closing words. You may also leave the reader with some final thoughts or points to ponder on.

This template shows you what to put in your paper so that your content is clear, complete, and coherent.  But note that templates are not always available for you to use. You should be able to remember the basic structure of a paper. You will be amazed by how writing becomes so much easier when you have a template in your mind.

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