The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
Contributors: Jack Baker, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2013-03-11 10:04:15
What is an expository essay?
The expository essay is a genre of essay that requires the student to investigate an idea, evaluate evidence, expound on the idea, and set forth an argument concerning that idea in a clear and concise manner. This can be accomplished through comparison and contrast, definition, example, the analysis of cause and effect, etc.
Please note: This genre is commonly assigned as a tool for classroom evaluation and is often found in various exam formats.
The structure of the expository essay is held together by the following.
- A clear, concise, and defined thesis statement that occurs in the first paragraph of the essay.
It is essential that this thesis statement be appropriately narrowed to follow the guidelines set forth in the assignment. If the student does not master this portion of the essay, it will be quite difficult to compose an effective or persuasive essay.
- Clear and logical transitions between the introduction, body, and conclusion.
Transitions are the mortar that holds the foundation of the essay together. Without logical progression of thought, the reader is unable to follow the essay’s argument, and the structure will collapse.
- Body paragraphs that include evidential support.
Each paragraph should be limited to the exposition of one general idea. This will allow for clarity and direction throughout the essay. What is more, such conciseness creates an ease of readability for one’s audience. It is important to note that each paragraph in the body of the essay must have some logical connection to the thesis statement in the opening paragraph.
- Evidential support (whether factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal).
Often times, students are required to write expository essays with little or no preparation; therefore, such essays do not typically allow for a great deal of statistical or factual evidence.
Though creativity and artfulness are not always associated with essay writing, it is an art form nonetheless. Try not to get stuck on the formulaic nature of expository writing at the expense of writing something interesting. Remember, though you may not be crafting the next great novel, you are attempting to leave a lasting impression on the people evaluating your essay.
- A conclusion that does not simply restate the thesis, but readdresses it in light of the evidence provided.
It is at this point of the essay that students will inevitably begin to struggle. This is the portion of the essay that will leave the most immediate impression on the mind of the reader. Therefore, it must be effective and logical. Do not introduce any new information into the conclusion; rather, synthesize and come to a conclusion concerning the information presented in the body of the essay.
A complete argument
Perhaps it is helpful to think of an essay in terms of a conversation or debate with a classmate. If I were to discuss the cause of the Great Depression and its current effect on those who lived through the tumultuous time, there would be a beginning, middle, and end to the conversation. In fact, if I were to end the exposition in the middle of my second point, questions would arise concerning the current effects on those who lived through the Depression. Therefore, the expository essay must be complete, and logically so, leaving no doubt as to its intent or argument.
The five-paragraph Essay
A common method for writing an expository essay is the five-paragraph approach. This is, however, by no means the only formula for writing such essays. If it sounds straightforward, that is because it is; in fact, the method consists of:
- an introductory paragraph
- three evidentiary body paragraphs
- a conclusion
This is not to suggest that Ms. Kennedy, at 86, has made new concessions to narrative conventions or expository clarity.
—ben brantley, New York Times, "Review: ‘He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box,’ Adrienne Kennedy’s Beautiful Nightmare,"30 Jan. 2018
There are no clumsy expository scenes of men and women in white lab coats trying to convince the audience that such a thing is possible.
—mike scott, NOLA.com, "'Mom and Dad' movie review: Nicholas Cage has gone insane,"17 Jan. 2018
In any case, the expository details of this dazzling history are less likely to be lost on Britons who never studied the American Revolution.
—ben brantley, New York Times, "Review: ‘Hamilton’ Conquers London (King George Slays, Too),"5 Jan. 2018
Like the Caped Crusader, several members of the title group are defined by pseudo-tragic backstories that are related through leaden expository dialogue peppered with eye-roll-inducing Whedon-style one-liners.
—simon abrams, The Hollywood Reporter, "Why Can't Anyone Get Superman Right?,"19 Nov. 2017
But just as often his actors are rooted to the carpet like floor lamps, listening to yet another discursive expository passage.
—jordan riefe, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Big Night': Theater Review,"18 Sep. 2017
Nearly all of Kakutani’s favorite formulas, though, are blandly expository.
—andrew kahn, Slate Magazine, "Michiko Kakutani’s favorite book-review clichés, by the numbers.,"21 Aug. 2017
Only Daredevil season two and Iron Fist season one have any direct bearing on The Defenders, with Jessica Jones and Luke Cage reduced essentially to quippy, expository sidekick roles.
—emma dibdin, Esquire, "Go Ahead and Skip The Defenders Unless You Like Iron Fist,"21 Aug. 2017
Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train reveals a young playwright's awkwardness with its overwritten passages and reliance on expository monologues.
—frank scheck, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train': Theater Review,"24 Oct. 2017