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Cernuschi Expository Essays

Exposition is explanatory communication, whether in speech or writing. So an expository essay is an organized piece of prose which explains a specific topic or set of ideas to a defined audience. Expository essays include those written for exams or for standardized tests like the SAT. They may also be assignments composed outside of class.

Expository essays provide information and analysis. An expository essay may or may not have an overt central argument, though it does set forth points of view on the topic. It differs from the persuasive research paper in the level of research and argument it employs. While an expository essay should be focused on a particular topic and illustrate its points with specific examples, it doesn’t usually have the depth of research or argument that you need in a major research assignment. With an exam or a standardized test, for instance, the examples you use to support your points will be based on the knowledge already inside your head.

What Are the Elements of an Expository Essay?

An expository essay does have certain baseline requirements that are standard in nearly every essay type:

  • A clear thesis or controlling idea that establishes and sustains your focus.
  • An opening paragraph that introduces the thesis.
  • Body paragraphs that use specific evidence to illustrate your informative or analytic points.
  • Smooth transitions that connect the ideas of adjoining paragraphs in specific, interesting ways.
  • A conclusion that emphasizes your central idea without being repetitive.

How Do You Write an Expository Essay?

One common formula for the expository essay is the 5-Paragraph Essay. If you don’t have much experience with essay writing, this is a good method to start with, since it’s basic and straightforward. The 5-Paragraph Essay incorporates the elements listed above in the following basic structure:

  1. Introductory paragraph with a clear, concise thesis.
  2. Three body paragraphs that offer evidence and analysis connecting that evidence to the thesis.
  3. A concluding paragraph that sums up the paper by reevaluating the thesis in light of the evidence discussed in the essay’s body.

While the 5-paragraph structure gives you a helpful formula to work with, it’s only one among many valid options, and its suitability will depend on other factors like the length and complexity of your essay. If you’re writing a paper that’s more than 3 or 4 pages long, it should be more than 5 paragraphs. In most cases, the structure of a longer essay will be similar to that of the 5-paragraph essay, with an introduction, a conclusion and body paragraphs performing the same basic functions—only the number of body paragraphs will increase. The length of the paragraphs may also increase slightly in proportion to the length of the essay.


Composing an Expository Essay: A Process Guide

  • Begin by reading the assignment carefully to make sure you understand it. Then find a topic that fits the assignment. It’s important that you narrow your topic so that it’s directly relevant to the assignment. But make sure your topic is not so narrow that it lacks significance.
  • Start a brief outline by writing a tentative thesis statement that addresses the assignment prompt. Try to come up with an interesting, original perspective on your topic, and word the thesis so that it reflects that originality.
  • Think of specific examples you can use to illustrate your major points about your topic. These examples may come from your learning or from personal experience. Each example should have some clear connection to your central idea.
  • Your essay should devote one body paragraph to each of your major examples. So continue your outline by writing a topic sentence about each major example for each of your body paragraphs. Since the topic sentence will be part of each paragraph transition, it should make a clear, logical connection between your thesis and the evidence that paragraph will discuss.
  • Complete your outline by thinking of an interesting, meaningful way to end the essay. Remember that the conclusion should sum up your central points without merely repeating what you’ve said earlier. You might suggest the larger implications of what the essay has discussed and analyzed. One way to do this is to offer a concise review of what you’ve covered combined with a forecast or recommendations for the future.
  • If this is an assignment that you’re completing at home rather than in a timed exam, you might want to experiment with writing the body paragraphs before you write your introduction. The details of analysis in the body of the paper often help you to determine more precisely how to word your thesis and the way you introduce it in your opening paragraph.
  • Your essay should perform several of the following tasks that overlap and merge smoothly with each other:
    • Define your key terms or ideas.
    • Describe specific evidential examples.
    • Investigate the common thread among your examples.
    • Compare and contrast your examples and their relation to your thesis.
    • Analyze cause-and-effect relationships among your examples.
    • Connect your examples explicitly to your central idea and to each other.
    • Polish your essay through revision to make it artful, original, and interesting. Avoid clichéd language or the most obvious examples. You want your reader to learn something new and compelling, whether it’s an unusual fact or a novel perspective on your topic.

Information about Expository Writing


What is Expository Writing?

What are some Expository Organizational Patterns?

Why Teach Exposition?


What is Expository Writing?

Exposition is a type of oral or written discourse that is used to explain, describe, give information or inform. The creator of an expository text can not assume that the reader or listener has prior knowledge or prior understanding of the topic that is being discussed. One important point to keep in mind for the author is to try to use words that clearly show what they are talking about rather then blatantly telling the reader what is being discussed. Since clarity requires strong organization, one of the most important mechanisms that can be used to improve our skills in exposition is to provide directions to improve the organization of the text.


What are some Expository Organizational Patterns

In order to give you more information about oral and written exposition we have provided you with eight different examples of expository organizational patterns. You will find that most of these organizational patterns are very familiar to you. You may have never really considered them to be "kind" of organizational patterns. As you read through the different types of organizational patterns that are presented below, try to figure out how many of these organizational patterns do you already find yourself writing or speaking on a daily basis?


Depicts a pattern in which the speaker discusses a topic, then diverts to discuss a related but different topic.

Narrative Interspersion

A pattern or a sub-pattern imbedded in other patterns in which the speaker or writer intersperses a narrative within the expository text for specific purposes, including to clarify, or elaborate on a point or to link the subject matter to a personal experience.


When the speaker discusses a topic, then restates it using different words or symbolism. It is used to drive home a point and to give special emphasis to the text.

(Ball, 1991, "Organizational Patterns in the Oral and Written Language of African American Adolescents", adapted from dissertation submitted to Stanford University.)



The author describes a topic by listing characteristics, features, and examples


for example, char- acteristics are


The author lists items or events in numerical or chronological order.

first, second, third; next; then; finally


The author explains how two or more things are alike and/or how they are different.

different; in contrast; alike; same as; on the other hand

Cause and Effect

The author lists one or more causes and the resulting effect or effects.

reasons why; if...then; as a result; therefore; because

Problem and Solution

The author states a problem and lists one or more solutions for the problem. A variation of this pattern is the question- and-answer format in which the author poses a question and then answers it.

problem is; dilemma is; puzzle is solved; question... answer

(permissions pending, Tompkins)




Why teach exposition?

Let's think about the type of writing that most of us encounter in our daily lives. When you pick up and read a non-fiction book, magazines, or newspaper article the author uses expository writing to inform you, the reader, about the topic. At school, students are required to submit school exams and research papers as a means for their teachers to grade their progress. Finally, at work, people are required to produce business reports and memorandums to inform their superiors and co-workers about the occurrences that take place at other levels of the company. In addition, oral exposition is primarily observed in oral academic presentations, business talks, and speeches that are delivered to a group of people. As each of these different cases illustrate, expository writing and speech surround us in our everyday lives. The primary intent of the Expository Writing Program contained at this web site will be to help move students closer to mastering the hows, whens, and wheres to select different oral and written expository styles for a variety of real world contexts.


Students will greatly benefit from understanding the varying types of oral and writing styles they can use for academic and workplace activities. The following information discusses the different types of writing that can be used and provides you with examples of some expository writing prompts that you may expect to encounter.