Academic Writing AdviceAcademic, Writing, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

Explaining the Expository Essay


Published on
Last Modified on

What exactly is an expository essay? All you may know about it right now is that your teacher assigned you an expository essay and now you have to not only figure out what topic you're going to write about, but you also have to figure out what exactly it is and how it works. It's likely that the expository essay has been making students collectively groan since its invention, but we're going to argue here that it doesn't have to be that way. The expository essay, while kind of a broadly interpreted kind of essay, is about digging up facts, making an argument, and possibly even discovering something new. When you are writing your essay, think of yourself as an archaeologist who is digging into the earth to learn more about its history, or as a 15th century explorer who is embarking out to find new land. With this blog post we hope to provide an explanation of the expository essay, how to best write it, and the general format that it follows—with plenty of examples along the way.

What is the expository essay?

An expository essay is a way to research about topics and explore new ideas.

The expository essay is a way for students to explore new ideas, research about topics, make a claim, and then provide evidence for backing up this claim that they've made. The expository essay is ideally one that is based on unbiased facts from credible sources, and is a good way for students to practice organizing their thoughts in a structured way. An expository essay can be about just any topic—while of course adhering to the teacher's instructions—and can even be a bit of fun if you let it. Your essay should consist of a thesis statement in your introduction, several body paragraphs that provide evidence to the claim you made in your thesis statement, and a conclusion that wraps up everything that you've discovered along the way.

Now that you're getting familiar with the basics of the expository essay, let's take a look at what each section of the essay will look like in detail.

What is a thesis statement?

A good expository essay will consist of a strong thesis statement, which will go into the first paragraph of the essay (also known as the introduction). The thesis statement, as you may remember, makes an argument about your chosen topic and will typically guide the direction of the rest of your paper by making claims that you can talk about in the body. Your thesis statement will emerge as you do research on your topic, and not the other way around. A very common theme when researching for a paper is that students will go into their papers thinking one thing about their subject and then after doing some research will have a completely different conclusion.

Perfecting Your Thesis Statement

As we go along in this blog about essays we will be building our own essay for you to look to as an example. Our essay topic is about school start times.

We'll begin with our sample thesis statement:

Middle schools and high schools should consider starting the school day later so that students can get the amount of sleep that doctors recommend, they could concentrate better, and improve their overall education performance.

How do I research and write the body paragraphs?

The body paragraphs of your expository essay are the meat of the paper. They are the part of the essay that backs up the claims that you made in your thesis statement, and are really the main attraction of the entire essay. When you are researching about your paper topic, most of the information that you find is going to end up being written about in the body paragraphs. And the introduction paragraph and the conclusion paragraph are mostly just a broad overview of what the body paragraphs have to say.

Researching your paper

So what kinds of information should you look at when you're researching to write the "meat" of your paper? In this modern era of essay writing, the first step you'll need to take is to do some online research. As we outlined earlier, though, it's crucial for an expository essay to be thoroughly researched using unbiased and accurate resources. One thing that we all know about the Internet is that it's filled with a lot of factual, useful information, but much of that is surrounded by false information that isn't verified by anyone or any entity. After all, anyone can make a website with copy—so you want to make sure that your research is giving you good information. So how do you know if it's a good resource for you? Here's a good checklist to use as you research for your paper:

  1. Has the author signed his or her name to the piece? Though articles with unknown authors can sometimes be credible, for a general rule of thumb, it's good to stick with articles or books that have been published by a notable journal, newspaper, or publishing company and that have an author's name attached to the work. You want to the know that the author wants to stick by their words and doesn't anonymously hide behind the Internet walls.
  2. Does the article have a date of publication? If the article you're looking at doesn't have a date of publication it may not be a credible source. A date can help you determine whether or not a source's work is still relevant.
  3. Does the website look well designed? Not every journal or newspaper has the budget for a beautifully designed website, but it should at the very least look professional. Does the website in question have a lot of pop up ads or a strange font? Does it just look "off"? Trust your gut instinct and look for another source if you see any of these flawed web designs.
  4. Is the writing poor? Does the writing read a little strange? Is the author not capitalizing things correctly or using bad language? You may be looking at a poor source. Credible sources typically will have an editor look at grammar and spelling before it's published, so if you're seeing big mistakes then it's likely that the rest of the information isn't accurate.
  5. Did you access the site through a simple Google search or did you go through your school's library site? Now, of course Google churns out some credible material in a search. However, when you are researching for an academic paper it's always best to start with your school library's search portal for academic journals and verified articles. Ask a librarian or your teacher for more information about this if you're unsure how to begin.

Writing your paper

Now that we understand what good, solid research looks like, we can get to writing about it. After you've gathered all the information you need, you're going to need to organize it in a way that makes sense in your paper. Typically, expository essays are in the format of the traditional five-paragraph essay. Though your paper doesn't necessarily have to adhere to this structure (and you should definitely check with your teacher's instructions before you begin), we'll stick with this format to explain how to make claims and support them.

Remember that thesis statement that we made up? We're going to use that to guide our discussion throughout the body paragraphs.

Here it is again, but this time we're going to dissect it:

Middle schools and high schools should consider starting the school day later so that 1. students can get the amount of sleep that doctors recommend, 2. they could concentrate better, and 3. improve their overall education performance.

Based on our research, we've determined that schools should start later based on these three reasons. Now that we have these reasons pointed out, we're going to structure our paper using them. Here's how that should look:

Body Paragraph 1 (Point 1)
  • Students can get the amount of sleep that doctors recommend if middle schools and high schools started later.
    • Supporting evidence
      • Transition sentence
Body Paragraph 2 (Point 2)
  • Students could concentrate better if middle schools and high schools started later.
    • Supporting evidence
      • Transition sentence
Body Paragraph 3 (Point 3)
  • Students could improve their overall performance if middle schools and high schools started later
    • Supporting evidence
      • Transition sentence

Though this is a very basic structure of a short essay, it gives you a good idea of how to position your paper and can guide you as you write.

How do I write my conclusion?

The conclusion may seem like it's the easiest part of the essay, but it's just as critical to concentrate as much on the conclusion as you did with the thesis statement and the body paragraphs. You're wrapping up your paper but you could also be providing a suggestion of future research, what your research didn't cover, and what we can gain by reading your essay.

How To Write a Concluding Paragraph

To write a good conclusion you must restate the main ideas that your essay touched on, summarize all the claims you made, and then tell the reader what we should be left with. Tell us if there's any room for further analysis and where we go from here.

Proofread, proofread, and proofread some more

It's important to proofread your essay before you hand it in.

No great novel or great work was ever constructed on the first draft. Even though it may tempting to start your essay the night before it's due and crank it out really quickly, the real writing process is slow. It takes several drafts of something before it can look well thought out or sometimes even make sense. This is true whether you're a seasoned professional or you're a brand new writer.

Take your time when you're writing. Really think about the words you're writing and the order in which you write them. When you're done with your first draft, you're most likely not really done with the paper. Take a few hours, or even a few days if you have the time, and don't look at it for a bit. Allow your brain and your eyes to take a break, and then come back to it with a fresh look.

When you go in to write your second draft, look for mechanical errors like spelling and grammar (and no, spell check will not see everything!) and then look at the overall structure of your paper.

Though it may seem silly, reading your paper out loud is one of the best ways to catch any glaring errors that your eyes may be skipping over. Read your paper out loud to your parents, a friend, or even a dog that is willing to listen.

Once you've gone over it a few times, rearrange or fix what's needed. If you're not sure of how best to fix it, consider seeking the advice of a professional editor, a friend, or a teacher. The last thing your instructor wants is for you to sit alone and struggle with your writing. Don't be afraid to reach out for help when you need it.

Get in-depth guidance delivered right to your inbox.