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What is an expository essay?

An expository essay is a kind of brief paper (usually up to five or ten pages in length) in which the writer explores an idea, attitude, or thesis, presents and evaluates relevant evidence, expands theoretically upon the evidence, and presents the reader with an argument that incorporates the evidence and ends with a firm, well-supported conclusion.

The following is a quick guide to the main elements.

The Idea or Claim

The main function of an expository essay is to persuade the reader to agree with a central claim the writer has made. Therefore, it is essential that the person writing the expository essay select a topic or idea about which they have a clear-headed, strong position, and ideally a position they would like to convince other people to hold.

The beginning of the expository essay should introduce this topic or issue, first in a general way that makes the reader familiar. Then, the writer should explain what their position is, or the central idea that they will be trying to convince the reader of throughout the essay. After this central idea has been stated very plainly, there should be a brief sentence outlining which kinds of evidence will be used to support the claim.

The Evidence

There are several methods that are valid when constructing an expository essay. For example, the writer may use comparison and contrast to demonstrate how the topic at hand is similar to something theoretically related; alternatively, the writer may wish to present relevant historical examples or even data from the social sciences, history, philosophy, or the hard sciences. However, hard evidence is not sufficient on its own. The writer must use their rhetorical skill to explain why the evidence backs up their claim or central thesis. The strength and quality of the argument is the key to determining the grade of the essay.

The Writing

The writing of an expository essay must be clear and concise, of course, but it must also be highly persuasive and compelling. Unlike a term paper or a research paper, which may dryly recite facts for the reader’s education, the purpose of an expository essay is to entice the reader, grip their attention, make them care about the topic, and then convince them to hold the essay writer’s viewpoint on the topic.

To accomplish these goals, the writing must be of a more exciting style than is typically seen in less persuasive essays. Expository essays are shorter than term papers, with punchier language that uses more active voice. It may be helpful to read style guides or even speeches from famous politicians or orators. Emulating their active voice, strong language, and passionate advocacy of a view will result in a much more powerful essay.