Does Expository Writing Have You Confused?

Our editors explain how to write an expository essay

A young college student sitting outsite with a A young college student sits outside with a backpack and laptop, writing his expository essay.
Not sure how to write an expository essay?
Our editors explain everything you need to
know about expository writing.

Maybe you find yourself on this page because your instructor asked you to write an expository essay, and you aren’t exactly sure what’s expected of you—if so, you’ve certainly found the right place. Expository writing, or exposition, is a type of discourse used to describe, explain, define, inform, or clarify. It literally means “to expose.” Exposition can be found in writing or oral discourse, but for the sake of this article, we’ll stick with expository writing. You are likely familiar with expository writing already, even if the name sounds unfamiliar. Common examples include newspaper articles, how-to manuals, and assembly instructions. Expository writing is also the most frequent type of academic writing!

Present the facts, and only the facts

If you are asked to write an expository essay, then you are essentially being asked to present the facts; there is no place for bias or opinion in expository writing. In a way, this makes writing simple—it is a matter of gathering and presenting the facts about a certain topic. Something important to keep in mind when writing exposition is that you should not assume your readers have any knowledge of the topic; don’t gloss over basic or important details, even if you think they’re common knowledge. When writing expository essays, it is best to use third person narration, although second person is acceptable in some instances, such as for instructions—or articles on expository writing.

Characteristics of expository writing

There are a few characteristics of expository writing you should remember when crafting an expository essay. The first is to keep a tight focus on the main topic, avoiding lengthy tangents, wordiness, or unrelated asides that aren’t necessary for understanding your topic. In the same vein, be sure to pick a topic that is narrow, but not so narrow that you have a hard time writing anything about it (for example, writing about ice cream would be too broad, but writing about ice cream sold at your local grocery store between 5:00 and 5:15 pm last Saturday would be too narrow). You must also be sure to support your topic, providing plenty of facts, details, examples, and explanations, and you must do so in an organized and logical manner. Details that can support your expository writing include:

  • Anecdotes
  • Comparisons
  • Quotations
  • Statistics
  • Descriptive details
  • Definitions
  • Charts and graphs

Formatting an expository essay

The typical format for an expository essay in school is the traditional five-paragraph essay. This includes an introduction and a conclusion, with three paragraphs for the body of the paper. Most often, these three paragraphs are limited to one subtopic each. This is the basic essay format, but expository writing does not need to be limited to five paragraphs. No matter how long your essay is, be sure your introduction includes your thesis statement and that the paper is based on facts rather than opinions. And, as with all good essay writing, make sure to connect your paragraphs with transitions.

Methods for writing an expository essay

There are a few different methods for writing an expository essay. These include:

  • Compare and contrast
  • Cause and effect
  • Problem and solution
  • Extended definition

Generally, you will want to pick one method for each piece of expository writing. However, you may find that you can combine a few methods. The important thing is to stay focused on your topic and stick to the facts.

Now that you have a clearer understanding of expository writing, you’re ready to write your essay. One final tip: be sure to give yourself plenty of time for the writing process. After you’ve completed your first draft, let your paper sit for a few days—this lets you return to it with fresh eyes. If you’d like a second opinion, our essay editors are always available to help.

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