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Guide: How to write an expository essay

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  • Subject area(s): Types of essay
  • Reading time: 2 minutes
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  • Published: 5 December 2019*
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  • Words: 401 (approx)
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An expository essay provides information for the reader. It is objectively written and usually research-based. Examples include an essay for a history class on the Vietnam War or a biographical study of an author for a literature class.

An expository essay may also overlap with other essay types such as cause and effect or the process essay.

Thesis and Main Idea

Narrowing the topic or approaching the topic as an overview rather than an in-depth analysis is important in an expository paper. Books about the Vietnam War and biographies of authors’ lives can run to hundreds of pages, and the idea of condensing that into a short essay may be overwhelming. The Vietnam War essay could be focused on a single important battle in the war, however, or it could simply be a brief overview of the major turning points of the war. A biographical sketch would only need to cover the most important events of the author’s life.

The thesis statement tells the main idea of the paper and should appear in the introduction, usually at the end. For an expository paper, it should be factual, and it should give the reader an idea of what the focus of the paper will be. “Mark Twain was a nineteenth century American satirical writer” tells us that this paper will focus on the satire of Twain, while “Mark Twain was born in Missouri in 1835 and spent his life traveling, writing and giving speeches until his death in 1910” suggests a biographical paper.


An expository essay will most likely need research. The writer should find out what citation style is appropriate for the paper and follow that style carefully to avoid plagiarism. All information from outside sources must be cited, and direct quotes should be cited and placed in quotation marks. Information that is not placed in quotation marks must be completely rewritten as opposed to rearranging or changing a few words.

Body and Conclusion

Each paragraph of the essay’s body must have a clear, well-developed main point that is backed up by research if research is used. Each paragraph needs a topic sentence that tells the paragraph’s main idea. The concluding paragraph should not introduce new information, but should briefly review the essay’s main points.


An expository essay is a formal piece of academic writing. Slang should be avoided, and it should be written in third person.

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