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3.1: Expository Essay

Created by: CK-12

Learning Objectives

  • Provide evidence that supports a thesis, including relevant information on varying perspectives.
  • Articulate concepts and information from correctly and concisely.
  • Decipher between the significance and merit of different facts, concepts, and data.
  • Master the organization of an expository essay.

Introduction

The main aim of an expository essay is to provide an effective explanation of a topic. While a descriptive essay strives to describe a subject or a narrative essay seeks to show personal growth, an expository essay tries to explain a topic or situation. Thus, expository essays are written as if the writer is explaining or clarifying a topic to the reader. Since an expository essay is trying to clarify a topic, it is important that it provides the categories or reasons that support the clarification of the paper. Moreover, these categories and reasons also provide the framework for the organization of the paper.

Components of the expository essay as the parts of a house.

Much like the categories are essential to clarifying the topic, organization is the key to any well-developed essay. When composing your essay, think of its organization as a house, with each component of an essay representing a major part of a house. Just as the foundation provides support on which a house can be built, a thesis represents the foundation upon which to build an essay. The introductory paragraph then functions as both the door and framework for an expository essay. Like a house door, the introductory paragraph must allow the reader to enter into the essay. Additionally, just as walls are built upon the framework of a house, the body paragraphs of an essay are organized around the framework, or organizational scheme, presented in the introductory paragraph. The body paragraphs, much like the walls of a house, must be firm, strong, and complete. Also, there must always be as many body paragraphs as the framework of the introductory paragraph indicates otherwise your essay will resemble a house that is missing a wall. Finally, an essay must include a conclusion paragraph that tops off the essay much like a roof completes a house. As the roof cements the structure of the house and helps hold the walls in place, the conclusion paragraph must reiterate the points within your body paragraphs and complete an essay.

Although the overall organization of an expository essay is important, you must also understand the organization of each component (the introductory, body, and conclusion paragraphs) of your essay. The chart below identifies the essential parts of each component of your essay, explaining the necessary information for each type of paragraph. While the guidelines listed below may feel constrictive, they are merely meant to guide you as a writer. Ultimately, the guidelines should help you write more effectively. The more familiar you become with how to organize an essay, the more energy you can focus on your ideas and your writing. As a result, your writing will improve as your ability to organize your ideas improves. Plus, focusing your energy on your argument and ideas rather than the organization makes your job as a writer more exciting and fun.

Introductory Paragraph:

  • Introduce the issue.
  • Present the topic and its explanation or clarification.
  • Provide the categories used to explain the topic.
  • Provide the thesis statement.

Body Paragraphs:

  • Begin with a topic sentence that reflects an explanation of the paper and the category being discussed in the paragraph.
  • Support the argument with useful and informative quotes from sources such as books, journal articles, etc.
  • Provide 2-3 quotes that connect the category being discussed to the explanation
  • Provide 2-3 sentences explaining each quote more full, drawing stronger connections between the category and the explanation.
  • Ensure that the information in these paragraphs is important to the thesis statement.
  • End each paragraph with a transition sentence which leads into the next body paragraph.

Concluding Paragraph:

  • Begin with a topic sentence that reflects the argument of the thesis statement.
  • Briefly summarize the main points of the paper.
  • Provide a strong and effective close for the paper.

Introductory Paragraphs

A strong introductory paragraph is crucial to the development of an effective expository essay. Unlike an argumentative essay which takes a stand or forms an opinion about a subject, an expository essay is used when the writer wishes to explain or clarify a topic to the reader. In order to properly explain a topic, an expository essay breaks the topic being addressed into parts, explains each component in relation to the whole, and uses each component to justify the explanation of the topic. Thus when writing an introductory paragraph, it is crucial to include the explanation or clarification of the topic and the categories or components used to produce this explanation.

Introductory Paragraph:

  • Introduce the issue.
  • Present the topic and its explanation or clarification.
  • Provide the categories used to explain the topic.
  • Provide the thesis statement.

Since the success of the paper rests on the introductory paragraph, it is important to understand its essential components. Usually, expository papers fail to provide a clear explanation not because the writer’s lacks explanations or clarifications but rather because the explanations are not properly organized and identified in the introductory paragraph. One of the most important jobs of an introductory paragraph is that it introduces the topic or issue. Most explanations cannot be clarified without at least some background information. Thus, it is essential to provide a foundation for your topic before you begin explaining your topic. For instance, if you wanted to explain what happened at the first Olympic Games, your introductory paragraph would first need to provide background information about how the first games happened. In doing so, you ensure that your audience is as informed about your topic as you are, and thus you make it easier for your audience to understand your explanation.

Below is a table describing and explaining the main jobs of the introductory paragraph.

Introductory paragraphs introduce the topic and suggest why it is important.

Example: An analysis of the essay exam results of the new English class shows that the new class format promotes close reading and better essay organization.

This sentence tells the reader both that the topic of the paper will be the benefits of the new English class and that the significance of these benefits is the improvement of close reading and essay organization.

Introductory paragraphs outline the structure of the paper and highlight the main ideas.

Example: Considering the results of the High School Exit Exam, it is apparent that school curriculum is not properly addressing basic math skills such as fractions, percentages, and long division.

This sentence indicates that main ideas (fractions, percentages, and long division) of the essay and indicates the order in which they will be presented in the body paragraphs.

Introductory paragraphs state the thesis.

Example: California high schools will require all students to take a resume and cover letter writing workshop in order to better prepare them for employment.

This thesis statement indicates the explanation of the paper.

In addition to introducing the topic of your paper, your introductory paragraph also needs to introduce each of the arguments you will cover in your body paragraphs. By providing your audience with an idea of the points or arguments you will make later in your paper, your introductory paragraph serves as a guide map, not only for your audience but also for you. Including your main sub-points in your introduction not only allows your audience to understand where your essay is headed but also helps you as a writer remember how you want to organize your paper. This is especially helpful if you are not writing your essay in one sitting as it allows you to leave and return to your essay without forgetting all of the important points you wanted to make.

Things to always do Things to never do
  • Capture the interest of your reader.
  • Introduce the issue to the reader.
  • State the problem simply.
  • Write in an intelligible, concise manner.
  • Refute any counterpoints.
  • State the thesis, preferably in one arguable statement.
  • Provide each of the arguments that will be presented in each of the body paragraphs.
  • Apologize: Do not suggest that you are unfamiliar with the topic.

Example:I cannot be certain, but...

  • Use sweeping generalizations.

Example:All men like football...

  • Use a dictionary definition.

Example:According to the dictionary, a humble person is...

  • Announce your intentions: Do not directly state what you will be writing about.

Example:In the paper I will...

Most importantly, when writing an introductory paragraph, it is essential to remember that you must capture the interest of your reader. Thus, it is your job as the writer to make the introduction entertaining or intriguing. In order to do so, consider using a quotation, a surprising or interesting fact, an anecdote, or a humorous story. While the quotation, story, or fact you include must be relevant to your paper, placing one of these at the beginning of your introduction helps you not only capture the attention or the reader but also introduce your topic and argument, making your introduction interesting to your audience and useful for your argument and essay.

Body Paragraphs

In an expository essay the body paragraphs are where the writer has the opportunity to explain or clarify his or her viewpoint. By the conclusion paragraph, the writer should adequately clarify the topic for the reader. Regardless of a strong thesis statement that properly indicates the major sub-topics of the essay, papers with weak body paragraphs fail to properly explain the topic and indicate why it is important. Body paragraphs of an expository essay are weak when no examples are used to help illuminate the topic being discussed or when they are poorly organized. Occasionally, body paragraphs are also weak because the quotes used complicate from rather than simplify the explanation. Thus, it is essential to use appropriate support and to adequately explain your support within your body paragraphs.

In order to create a body paragraph that is properly supported and explained, it is important to understand the components that make up a strong body paragraph. The bullet points below indicate the essential components of a well-written, well-argued body paragraph.

Body Paragraph Components

  • Begin with a topic sentence that reflects the argument of the thesis statement.
  • Support the argument with useful and informative quotes from sources such as books, journal articles, expert opinions, etc.
  • Provide 1-2 sentences explaining each quote.
  • Provide 1-3 sentences that indicate the significance of each quote.
  • Ensure that the information provided is relevant to the thesis statement.
  • End with a transition sentence which leads into the next body paragraph.

Just as your introduction must introduce the topic of your essay, the first sentence of a body paragraph must introduce the main sub-point for that paragraph. For instance, if you were writing a body paragraph for a paper explaining the factors that led to US involvement in World War II, one body paragraph could discuss the impact of the Great Depression on the decision to enter the war. To do so, you would begin with a topic sentence that explains how the Great Depression encouraged involvement in the war because the war effort would stimulate certain aspects of the economy. Following this sentence, you would go into more detail and explain how the two events are linked. By placing this idea at the beginning of the paragraph, not only does your audience know what the paragraph is explaining, but you can also keep track of your ideas.

Following the topic sentence, you must provide some sort of fact that supports your claim. In the example of the World War II essay, maybe you would provide a quote from a historian or from a prominent history teacher or researcher. After your quote or fact, you must always explain what the quote or fact is saying, stressing what you believe is most important about your fact. It is important to remember that your audience may read a quote and decide it is indicating something entirely different than what you think it is explaining. Or, maybe some or your readers think another aspect of your quote is important. If you do not explain the quote and indicate what portion of it is relevant to your clarification, than your reader may become confused or may be unconvinced of your explanation. Consider the possible interpretations for the statement below.

Example: While the U.S. involvement in World War II was not the major contributor to the ending of the Great Depression, the depression was one of the primary motives for entering the war.

Interestingly, this statement seems to be saying two things at once – that the Great Depression helped spark involvement in the war and that World War II did not end the depression alone. On the one hand, the historian seems to say that the two events are not directly linked. However, on the other hand, the historian also indicates that the two events are linked in that the depression caused U.S. involvement in the war. Because of the tension in this quotation, if you used this quote for your World War II essay, you would need to explain that the significant portion of the quote is the assertion that links the events.

In addition to explaining what this quote is saying, you would also need to indicate why this is important to your explanation. When trying to indicate the significance of a fact, it is essential to try to answer the “so what.” Image you have just finished explaining your quote to someone, and they have asked you “so what?” The person does not understand why you have explained this quote, not because you have not explained the quote well but because you have not told him or her why he or she needs to know what the quote means. This, the answer to the “so what,” is the significance of your paper and is essentially your clarification within the body paragraphs. However, it is important to remember that generally a body paragraph will contain more than one quotation or piece of support. Thus, you must repeat the Quotation-Explanation-Significance formula several times within your body paragraph to fully explain the one sub-point indicated in your topic sentence. Below is an example of a properly written body paragraph.

Example of an expository body paragraph paired with an explanation of its parts.

Conclusion Paragraph

The conclusion paragraph of an expository essay is an author’s last chance to create a good impression. Hence, it is important to restate the thesis statement at the beginning of the paragraph in order to remind the reader of your topic and explanation. Since it is at the end of the paper, the conclusion paragraph also should add a sense of closure and finality to the clarification of the paper. It is important to re-emphasize the main idea without being repetitive or introducing an entirely new idea or subtopic. While you can conclude your conclusion paragraph by suggesting a topic for further research or investigation, do not make this question the focus of the paragraph. Thus, you should briefly and concisely reiterate the strongest clarifications of the paper, reminding the reader of the validity of your thesis, or explanation, and bringing closure to your paper.

Concluding Paragraph:

  • Begin with a topic sentence that reflects the argument of the thesis statement.
  • Briefly summarize the main points of the paper.
  • Provide a strong and effective close for the paper.
Things to always do Things to never do
  • Stress the importance of the thesis.
  • Rework your introduction or thesis statement.
  • Include a brief summary of the main idea.
  • Use overused phrases.
  • Be concise.
  • Example:In summary...” or “In conclusion...
  • Provide a sense of closure.
  • Announce what you have written in the body of the essay
  • Example:In this paper I have emphasized the importance of...
  • Apologize.
  • Example:Although I do not have all the answers...
  • Make absolute claims.
  • Example:This proves that the government should...

You may feel that the conclusion paragraph is redundant or unnecessary; However, do not forget that this is your last chance to explain the significance of your argument to your audience. Just as your body paragraphs strive to present the significance of each fact or quote you use, your conclusion paragraph should sum up the significance of your argument. Thus, you should consider making a bold statement in your concluding paragraph by evoking a vivid image, suggesting results or consequences related to your argument, or ending with a warning. Through using these components, you not only make your conclusion paragraph more exciting, but you also make your essay, and your argument, more important.

Review Questions

  1. What are three of the main purposes of an introductory paragraph?
  2. What should you never do in an introductory paragraph?
  3. How should you refute counterpoints?
  4. What is the formula for a well-argued body paragraph?
  5. What should you include in a conclusion paragraph? What should never include in a conclusion paragraph?

Points to Consider

  1. Write an expository essay about your favorite movie or book, paying special attention to why a certain book or movie is your favorite. Be sure to adequately summarize the movie or book in order to provide a concise and comprehensible explanation. Additionally, be sure to use concrete details and examples to explain why you enjoy the book or movie you are writing about. Simply summarizing the plot will not explain to the reader why the book or movie is entertaining to you.
  2. Write an expository essay about a historical event, indicating at least three factors that contributed to its development. For instance, you could discuss how factors, such as World War I, led to the Women’s Suffrage Movement. A factor could be an event, an individual, or a movement that is historically significant. In order to properly show how certain factors caused or contributed to a specific event, you must clarify both the factors and the event itself.

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Date Created:

Feb 23, 2012

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Dec 11, 2013
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