Expository Essays: Types, Characteristics & Examples

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Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

The facts, just the facts: expository essays are not about giving an opinion or taking a side. In this lesson, we will learn about the different types of expository essays and check out a few examples.

We also recommend watching How to Organize an Essay and How to Focus Your Essay and Respond to the Essay Prompt

What Is an Expository Essay?

An expository essay does exactly what the name implies: it exposes. It is structured exactly like any other essay with an introductory paragraph which will contain a sound thesis statement, main body paragraphs that help to prove your thesis statement and a conclusion paragraph that summarizes all your points and wraps up your essay. The length can vary from essay to essay.

Expository Essay Characteristics

The most important feature to remember when writing an expository essay is that you will not need to write about your own personal opinions. The main objective of an expository essay is to inform your reader and back up all your facts with things like examples, graphs, charts and statistics.

Types of Expository Essays

There are many different types of expository essays. Below are four of the most common categories.

How to Do Something/Process Essay

The how-to or process essay provides readers with a step-by-step guide on how to do something or the steps it takes to finish a job. A successful process essay will be detailed enough so a reader will have all the information needed to complete the task.

Here are a few examples:

  • How to build a tree house
  • How to tie your shoes
  • How to bake a cake
  • How to prepare to run a marathon
  • How to play the card game 31

Descriptive Essay

This type of expository essay describes something. The objective of this essay is to paint a picture of whatever you are writing about in your reader's mind. A great descriptive essay will be loaded with details.

For example, if I wanted to write a descriptive essay on my first car, I would want to be precise about its features. I would describe everything: the color, the make, the model, the wear and tear, the dents, the sound it made when it started, the interior, the mileage, how it smelled on the inside, what the leather felt like in the summer and how I felt when I pulled the top down when it was sunny.

It's important to remember that this type of expository essay allows for a lot of artistic freedom. How will you write your essay to draw the most vivid picture for your reader? Get creative with your language and spare no detail.

Some more examples:

  • Description of a famous person
  • Your favorite summer vacation
  • Your first kiss
  • The steak you had for dinner last night
  • The fireworks over the river on Independence Day

Cause and Effect

Cause and effect essays are written to provide an explanation of how an action causes an effect. For example, if you were writing an essay on how a person can get lung cancer, you would list probable causes of the disease. You could provide detailed information on how things like cigarette smoking, air pollution and second-hand smoke lead to a higher probability of lung cancer.

Essentially these types of essays serve as an explanation on why something turned out the way it did. How one particular thing leads to another particular thing. Here are a few more examples:

  • How the stock market crash caused the Great Depression in the 1930s
  • How eating junk food and lack of exercise has caused childhood obesity rates to climb in the past decade
  • How good coaching leads to a winning attitude in teams
  • What were the causes of the Civil War?
  • What is the effect of not changing the oil in your car on a regular basis?

Comparison/Contrast Essay

In a comparison essay or contrast essay, you are either comparing something or contrasting something. When writing a comparison essay, you would be sure to address all the similarities between the two subjects. And of course, in a contrasting essay, you would want to highlight the differences.

Let's say I wanted to write an essay describing the differences between going to a college in the city and going to a college in a rural area. I would choose a contrast essay and go about detailing the differences between the living environments of both schools. Now let's say I wanted to write an essay discussing the comparable directing styles of Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg. I would then write a comparison essay which highlights all their similarities.

Here's a few more examples:

  • Contrast the differences between a vacation in Aspen and a vacation in Hawaii
  • Compare WWI to WWII
  • Contrast the differences in buying organic food versus regular food
  • Contrast the differences in owning a dog versus owning a cat
  • Compare F. Scott Fitzgerald to Ernest Hemingway

Lesson Summary

Expository essays are all about providing facts, not opinions. Four of the main types of expository essays are process/how-to, descriptive, cause and effect and comparison/contrast. They are structured exactly like any traditional essay with a thesis statement, main body paragraphs and conclusion.

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