Expository Writing: Definition, Types and How-to Guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 16 October 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Expository pieces involve explaining topics using facts and logic to educate readers. You can use this writing style for academic essays, scientific papers and investigative reports. Understanding what it takes to write a captivating expository piece can help you compose one that gets your readers' attention. In this article, we define expository writing, list its types and provide steps on how to write an essay in this style.

What is expository writing?

Expository writing explains a topic in detail to a reader. It aims to inform someone about a particular subject to deepen their understanding. This writing style is factual, objective, linear and logical. It differs from other types of writing, such as descriptive, persuasive and narrative, which create a sense of experience, convince someone of one idea and tell a story, respectively. Examples of expository writing include academic essays and magazine and scientific articles.

When writing expository essays, it's essential to use simple language and be concise to maintain readers' attention. To make it informative and credible, include data and facts from reputable sources. You can use second-person language to make the reader feel as though you're speaking to them and first-person for personal stories, such as life experiences.

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Types of expository writing

The following are types of expository writing:

Problem and solution

These essays identify an existing problem in the community, state potential causes that facts and figures support and provide several practical solutions with methods to implement them. The first step is stating the issue and explaining why it's important. You can explain how it started as something simple and evolved into a complex predicament, or provide statistics showing its urgency.

For example, if you're writing a scientific essay on a specific disease, you can include global or local statistics about it, such as prevalence and incidence. Follow this with potential solutions from credible sources and give detailed descriptions of how to apply them. If you're suggesting new resolutions, use logic from pre-existing information to explain why you think it's an effective option. Use and cite credible sources for your data, such as government websites, news and media sites, peer-reviewed journals, newspaper articles and latest edition textbooks.

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Definitive

This type of writing defines a subject by characteristics, types and examples. It starts with an introduction, followed by a paragraph describing the topic of interest. The number of paragraphs depends on your preferred word count and the extensive nature of the topic. You can follow with types, examples, applications, advantages and disadvantages related to the subject and end with a conclusion. Definitive writing applies to topics such as technology, business, health and leadership.

How-to or process

This involves educating readers on how to perform a task, assemble an object or how a theoretical process works. For example, you can explain how to utilise cybersecurity for a small company, prepare a meal following a recipe or write a resume for a job. When writing these articles, it's essential to use numbered steps and use instruction words in each header to guide the reader.

Research and understand the topic first so you can explain how to produce something or perform a task logically. You can also add tips in such papers to equip the reader with all the knowledge they require to complete the task effectively.

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Cause and effect

This type of writing explains the reasons and outcomes of a situation. It aims to determine the origins of the event and its effects. You can make the subject of the paper the causes, the results or both. If you have a topic of interest, think of possible reasons you already know before doing any research. Determine the pre-existing conditions that may have contributed to these. For example, if you want to write an essay about the causes of burnout, you can ascertain what pre-existing conditions can lead to this, such as increased workloads.

Use transitive phrases such as so, led to and because of to associate the cause and effect in your essay. For example, there were employee layoffs, so the remaining employees worked overtime to compensate for this, which led to burnout. In cause-and-effect essays, you can also predict possible outcomes. When relating causes to potential effects, use phrases such as likely to, can expect or possible. For example, if the company doesn't hire more staff, the current employees are likely to get burnout. Cause and effect essays rely on situation analysis and interpretation and the use of evidence and logic.

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Compare and contrast

Compare and contrast essays juxtapose two ideas, products, processes, locations or events. When writing such pieces, find characteristics that both concepts share and those that differ. This type of writing is useful for topics that seem similar but have differences, such as leadership and management. There are several methods you can use when writing these essays, including:

  • Alternating: This involves dividing each characteristic or subtopic of the subject and describing the similarities and differences between each one. You can use this method to demonstrate the connection or lack thereof between two ideas.

  • Block: You can write each topic on its own and go in-depth about its characteristics and types. It allows you to focus the reader's attention on one subject at a time and lose the connection between both concepts.

  • Similarities and differences: Focus the first paragraph on the similarities between all subjects and the second one on the differences. This method allows you to emphasise all comparisons in their entirety.

Classification

In these essays, you classify several topics or ideas based on the characteristics they share. For example, you can categorise job types according to pay grades, professional qualifications or industry. You can then order the arrangement of subtopics according to size, importance or number. For instance, if you want to classify jobs based on their annual salary, you can list them in ascending order. This gives the essay a flow, maintains the reader's attention and allows them to find the information they require easily.

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How to write an expository article

The following are steps on how to write an article in this style:

1. Choose a topic

When selecting a topic, think about the type of article you want to write and choose one that's appropriate for it. Opt for one that you're knowledgeable about and want to pursue. For example, if you want to write about technology, consider if you're comparing products, explaining how to use a software app or describing a specific topic. This allows you to focus your research and develop an outline for your essay.

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2. Do your research

When studying the topic, use specific keywords to ensure you get relevant articles containing essential information. To keep the essay current, limit your sources to the last five years unless there's little information from that period. You might find contrasting information, so find scholarly papers to decide which information to include. Articles from .edu or .gov sites are more likely to lack bias, so consider these as primary sources.

3. Create an outline

Do this for your essay so you can focus on one section at a time. Consider the following examples for each type of expository essay:

  • Problem and solution: introduction, problem statement, causes of the problem and solutions

  • Definitive: introduction, definition of the topic, characteristics or types, applications, advantages and disadvantages and conclusion

  • How to: introduction, description of the process, instructions for the procedure, tips and conclusion

  • Cause and effect: introduction, description of the event or situation, possible causes, potential effects or outcomes and conclusion

  • Compare and contrast: introduction, definition of each idea, similarities, differences and conclusion

  • Classification: introduction, brief topic description, characteristics for classification and conclusion

4. Write your middle paragraphs

Start by writing what you know about the topic in your second, third and fourth paragraphs, such as examples, types, applications, steps and definitions. Ensure that each statement adds value to the paper and use non-idiomatic words to maintain your reader's attention. Include transition words between your paragraphs to make the essay coherent and show readers how ideas relate to one another.

5. Draft your first and last paragraphs

Your first and last paragraphs contain your introduction and conclusion, respectively. Writing them last allows you to summarise what the reader can expect to find in the paper and what the final thoughts are on the topic. You have more insight into the subject after doing your research and writing a detailed essay, which makes writing these two paragraphs easier at the end.

6. Edit and proofread your essay

Once you complete your document, take a break, then review and edit it. Looking at it with a relaxed mindset enables you to notice ways you can improve it further. Use grammar-checking tools to check for errors, and assess the paper for plagiarism to ensure its authenticity. Cite your sources at the end of the article using your preferred citation method.

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