Tips on Writing an Expository Essay
The purpose of the expository essay is to explain a topic in a logical and straightforward manner. Without bells and whistles, expository essays present a fair and balanced analysis of a subject based on facts—with no references to the writer’s opinions or emotions.
A typical expository writing prompt will use the words “explain” or “define,” such as in, “Write an essay explaining how the computer has changed the lives of students.” Notice there is no instruction to form an opinion or argument on whether or not computers have changed students’ lives. The prompt asks the writer to “explain,” plain and simple. However, that doesn’t mean expository essay writing is easy.
The Five-Step Writing Process for Expository Essays
Expository writing is a life skill. More than any other type of writing, expository writing is a daily requirement of most careers. Understanding and following the proven steps of the writing process helps all writers, including students, master the expository essay.
Expository Essay Structure
Usually, the expository essay is composed of five paragraphs. The introductory paragraph contains the thesis or main idea. The next three paragraphs, or body of the essay, provide details in support of the thesis. The concluding paragraph restates the main idea and ties together the major points of essay.
Here are expository essay tips for each part of the essay structure and writing process:
1. Prewriting for the Expository Essay
In the prewriting phase of writing an expository essay, students should take time to brainstorm about the topic and main idea. Next, do research and take notes. Create an outline showing the information to be presented in each paragraph, organized in a logical sequence.
2. Drafting the Expository Essay
When creating the initial draft of an expository essay, consider the following suggestions:
- The most important sentence in the introductory paragraph is the topic sentence, which states the thesis or main idea of the essay. The thesis should be clearly stated without giving an opinion or taking a position. A good thesis is well defined, with a manageable scope that can be adequately addressed within a five-paragraph essay.
- Each of the three body paragraphs should cover a separate point that develops the essay’s thesis. The sentences of each paragraph should offer facts and examples in support of the paragraph’s topic.
- The concluding paragraph should reinforce the thesis and the main supporting ideas. Do not introduce new material in the conclusion.
- Since an expository essay discusses an event, situation, or the views of others, and not a personal experience, students should write in the third person (“he,” “she,” or “it”), and avoid “I” or “you” sentences.
3. Revising the Expository Essay
In the revision phase, students review, modify, and reorganize their work with the goal of making it the best it can be. Keep these considerations in mind:
- Does the essay give an unbiased analysis that unfolds logically, using relevant facts and examples?
- Has the information been clearly and effectively communicated to the reader?
- Watch out for “paragraph sprawl,” which occurs when the writer loses focus and veers from the topic by introducing unnecessary details.
- Is the sentence structure varied? Is the word choice precise?
- Do the transitions between sentences and paragraphs help the reader’s understanding?
- Does the concluding paragraph communicate the value and meaning of the thesis and key supporting ideas?
If the essay is still missing the mark, take another look at the topic sentence. A solid thesis statement leads to a solid essay. Once the thesis works, the rest of the essay falls into place more easily.
4. Editing the Expository Essay
Next, proofread and correct errors in grammar and mechanics, and edit to improve style and clarity. While an expository essay should be clear and concise, it can also be lively and engaging. Having a friend read the essay helps writers edit with a fresh perspective.
5. Publishing the Expository Essay
Sharing an expository essay with a teacher, parent, or other reader can be both exciting and intimidating. Remember, there isn’t a writer on earth who isn’t sensitive about his or her own work. The important thing is to learn from the experience and use the feedback to make the next essay better.
Essay writing is a huge part of a education today. Most students must learn to write various kinds of essays during their academic careers, including different types of expository essay writing:
- Definition essays explain the meaning of a word, term, or concept. The topic can be a concrete subject such as an animal or tree, or it can be an abstract term, such as freedom or love. This type of essay should discuss the word’s denotation (literal or dictionary definition), as well as its connotation or the associations that a word usually brings to mind.
- Classification essays break down a broad subject or idea into categories and groups. The writer organizes the essay by starting with the most general category and then defines and gives examples of each specific classification.
- Compare and contrast essays describe the similarities and differences between two or more people, places, or things. Comparison tells how things are alike and contrast shows how they are different.
- Cause and effect essays explain how things affect each other and depend on each other. The writer identifies a clear relationship between two subjects, focusing on why things happen (causes) and/or what happens as a result (effects).
- “How to” essays, sometimes called process essays, explain a procedure, step-by-step process, or how to do something with the goal of instructing the reader.
Time4Writing Teaches Expository Essay Writing
Time4Writing essay writing courses offer a highly effective way to learn how to write the types of essays required for school, standardized tests, and college applications. A unique online writing program for elementary, middle school, and high school students, Time4Writing breaks down the writing process into manageable chunks, easily digested by young writers. Students steadily build writing skills and confidence, guided by one-on-one instruction with a dedicated, certified teacher. Our middle school Welcome to the Essay and Advanced Essay courses teach students the fundamentals of writing essays, including the expository essay. The high school Exciting Essay Writing course focuses in depth on the essay writing process with preparation for college as the goal. The courses also cover how to interpret essay writing prompts in testing situations. Read what parents are saying about their children’s writing progress in Time4Writing courses.
A topic sentence is the most important sentence in a paragraph. Sometimes referred to as a focus sentence, the topic sentence helps organize the paragraph by summarizing the information in the paragraph. In formal writing, the topic sentence is usually the first sentence in a paragraph (although it doesn't have to be).
Purpose of the Topic Sentence
A topic sentence essentially tells readers what the rest of the paragraph is about. All sentences after it have to give more information about that sentence, prove it by offering facts about it, or describe it in more detail. For example, if the topic sentence concerns the types of endangered species that live in the ocean, then every sentence after that needs to expound on that subject.
Topic sentences also need to relate back to the thesis of the essay. The thesis statement is like a road map that will tell the reader or listener where you are going with this information or how you are treating it.
Topic Sentences and Controlling Ideas
Every topic sentence will have a topic and a controlling idea. The controlling idea shows the direction the paragraph will take.
Here are some examples:
- Topic Sentence: There are many reasons why pollution in ABC Town is the worst in the world.
- The topic is “pollution in ABC Town is the worst in the world” and the controlling idea is “many reasons.”
- Topic Sentence: To be an effective CEO requires certain characteristics.
- The topic is “To be an effective CEO” and the controlling idea is "certain characteristics."
- Topic Sentence: There are many possible contributing factors to global warming.
- The topic is "global warming" and the controlling idea is "contributing factors."
- Topic Sentence: Fortune hunters encounter many difficulties when exploring a shipwreck.
- The topic is “exploring a shipwreck” and the controlling idea is “many difficulties.”
- Topic Sentence: Dogs make wonderful pets because they help you to live longer.
- The topic is "dogs make wonderful pets" and the controlling idea is "because they help you to live longer."
- Topic Sentence: Crime in poverty-stricken areas occurs as a result of a systemic discrimination.
- The topic is "crime in poverty stricken areas" and the controlling idea is "systemic discrimination."
- Topic Sentence: Teen pregnancy may be prevented by improved education.
- The topic is "teen pregnancy may be prevented" and the controlling idea is "improved education."
- Topic Sentence: Cooking requires a number of different skills.
- The topic is "cooking" and the controlling idea is "many different skills."
- Topic Sentence: It is important to be ready before buying a house.
- The topic is "buying a house" and the controlling idea is it's "important to be ready."
- Topic Sentence: Graduating from high school is important for many different reasons.
- The topic is "graduating from high school" and the controlling idea is "many different reasons."
- Topic Sentence: Having a first child is difficult because of the significant adjustments in your life.
- The topic is "having a first child" and the controlling idea is "significant adjustments in your life."
- Topic Sentence: Remodeling a kitchen successfully requires research and a good eye.
- The topic is "remodeling a kitchen" and the controlling idea is "requires research and a good eye."
A carefully thought out topic sentence has two functions. First, it helps you, the author, to stay focused. Second, a clearly stated topic and controlling idea will give readers the tools they need to clearly understand what you have to say.
Remember that topic sentences set the tone for the paragraph and should relate back to the thesis or the main idea of the paper.