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How to Write an Expository Essay

The root of the word "expository" is "expose," which means to uncover, reveal, or show. More narrowly, the word can be taken to mean "prove." In other words, the goal of an expository essay is to show something that the writer holds to be true through a well-ordered argument that offers proof for the truth or idea being expressed. Investigative newspaper and magazine articles are the most popular non-academic models for the expository essay. Perhaps a simpler name for an expository essay could be "exploratory essay," emphasizing the fact that expository essays are basically explorations of a topic.

Unlike the descriptive or the personal essay, which rely heavily on individual observation, planning an academic expository essay requires the writer to choose a point of view that can be grounded in facts. It is important, therefore, to begin researching for an expository essay with a conclusion already in mind, and then to decide the best way for supporting that conclusion. The conclusion that you have in mind before researching and planning your expository essay is basically your thesis. You should be able to write your thesis in a single, straight-forward declarative sentence.

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Many in-class writing exams rely on the expository essay form. Consider, for example, the simple political science question or prompt, "Explain the role of the balance of powers in American Democracy." Although answering this question requires some experience with the definition essay, it also requires the writer to expose or reveal how the system of checks and balances works. In an exam like this, your definition of the balance of powers will become your thesis statement. For example: "The balance of powers in American Democracy uses three branches of government to maintain order between the rule of law, the will of the people, and the executive leadership." With three branches of government to explore, along with an introduction and conclusion paragraph, this question is a natural candidate for the traditional five-paragraph essay treatment.


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