Expository Essay

What is Expository Essay? Definition, Usage, and Literary Examples

Expository Essay Definition


An expository essay [ik-SPOZ-ih-tohr-ee ess-ay] is an essay in which the writer researches a topic and uses evidence to inform their readers or clarify the topic. They can take many forms, including a how-to essay, an essay that defines something, or an essay that studies a problem and offers a solution.


The Five-Paragraph Model


Most expository essays follow the five-paragraph essay model:

  • Introduction: The introduction contains the thesis statement or main point of the essay. Here, the writer describes the subject and gives necessary context.
  • Body: This section is usually three or more paragraphs and offers supporting evidence for the thesis.
  • Conclusion: The conclusion revisits the thesis and summarizes the writer’s main points.


Types of Expository Essays


There are several types of expository essays that can be written.

  • Cause and Effect: These essays question why something happened and the outcome of that occurrence. For example, an essay of this type might question why there’s a large homeless population in Seattle and what effects it has on the city and its citizens.
  • Classification: These break a broad subject down into several, in-depth subcategories. A classification essay might study the various kinds of movies, define genres, and break the most common genres down by subgenre (for example, action thriller and action adventure as subgenres of the action genre).
  • Compare and Contrast: These essays lay out the similarities and differences of at least two subjects. One such essay might compare two different novels by the same author. These essays can explore the pros and cons of different choices as well, like living in the city versus living in the country.
  • Definition: As indicated, a definition essay describes or defines something. For example, it might define the internet and provide a detailed explanation of how it works.
  • How-To: Also called a process essay, a how-to essay gives the reader steps for creating or doing something. For example, a process essay might walk its reader through setting a table, step by step.
  • Problem and Solution: This type of essay explores a problem and, using evidential support, offers potential solutions. For example, a writer might consider the example of Seattle’s homeless population, cite a solution that other cities have used successfully, and propose that same solution for Seattle.

Other Forms of Expository Writing

In addition to the aforementioned, there are other uses for expository writing. Most commonly:

  • Newspaper articles
  • Encyclopedic entries
  • Manuals/assembly instructions
  • Cookbooks


Expository vs. Argumentative Essays


Expository essays are like argumentative essays in that they both require research. Unlike argumentative essays, expository essays are meant to inform their audience rather than persuade it.

Argumentative essays are often controversial and contain the writer’s personal opinions, whereas expository essays give factual information and explore a topic from many perspectives. Educational spheres often use expository essays to test writing ability, reading comprehension, and/or the writer’s understanding of a topic.


Examples of Expository Essays


1. Susan Sontag, “Notes on ‘Camp’”

This is a definition essay that explores the meaning and usage of the slang word camp. When she wrote the essay in 1964, people used the word to describe a person or thing as exaggerated, effeminate, or theatrical. Sontag suggests that camp isn’t a solid concept but rather a sensibility, and she acknowledges its connection to contemporary gay culture. Her definition of camp is given in the following passage:

[Camp] is not a natural mode of sensibility, if there be any such. Indeed the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration. And Camp is esoteric–something of a private code, a badge of identity even, among small urban cliques.

2. David Foster Wallace, “Consider the Lobster”

Herein, Wallace reviews the 2003 Main Lobster Festival and questions the morality of boiling lobsters alive. He examines the problem from all facets, including whether a lobster feels pain, without directly asserting his opinion. After descriptions of the festival, physical properties of lobsters, and the common use of the crustaceans, Wallace poses the main question of the essay:

So then here is a question that’s all but unavoidable at the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker, and may arise in the kitchens across the U.S. Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure? A related set of concerns: Is the previous question irksomely PC or sentimental? What does “all right” even mean in this context? Is it all just a matter of individual choice?

3. Rebecca Solnit, “The Longest War”

From Solnit’s 2014 book of essays, Men Explain Things to Me, “The Longest War” explores issues of male violence against women. Solnit uses both statistical and anecdotal evidence to inform her audience of the issue, which supports some of her argumentative essays that appear later in the book:

[T]hough a rape is reported only every 6.2 minutes in this country, the estimated total is perhaps five times as high. Which means that there may be very nearly a rape a minute in the United States. It all adds up to tens of millions of rape victims. A significant portion of the women you know are survivors.


Further Resources on Expository Essays


You can find more examples of expository essays on LiteraryDevices.net.

Bibme.org offers guidance for writing expository essays.

Essaytigers.com provides step-by-step writing instructions and an additional argumentative essay and expository essay comparison.


Related Terms


  • Argumentative Essay
  • Expository Writing
  • Thesis