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
Achieving Coherence in Writing: Transition Words and Phrases
Among the many tasks facing a writer, one of the most important is to provide transitions that explain how ideas in a text are related to one another. Coherence in writing is the "logical glue" that allows readers to move easily and clearly from one idea to the next.
To achieve coherence, writers usually turn to conjunctions, adverbs, and prepositional phrases and clauses that function as adverbs. To make that task easier, we have compiled the following list of transitional words and phrases organized according to the logical connection, or transition, they indicate.
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You may find it helpful (as we do!) to keep this list posted near your keyboard, where you can see it easily when writing. We have chosen not to alphabetize the items in the lists because we want to discourage you from gravitating toward the word or phrase that may have already come into your mind rather than scanning the entire list to identify the one that best provides the "glue" you need.
The following set of lists is available as a printable PDF :
To indicate examples:
- frequently, especially
- for example, for instance
- first of all
- for one thing
- most important, most importantly
- to illustrate
- in particular
- in general
- in this way, in this manner
To indicate comparison:
- at the same time
- in the same way
- in a like manner
To indicate addition:
- above all
- further, furthermore
- first, second, third . . .
- in addition
- in the second place, secondly
- what is more
- in fact
To indicate contrast:
- although, even though, though
- at the same time
- and yet
- in contrast
- nevertheless, nonetheless
- on the one hand, on the other hand rather
- on the contrary
To indicate concession:
- no doubt, doubtless, doubtlessly
- granted that
- although this [noun] may be true
- I admit
- one must admit
- I concede
- one must concede
- after all
To indicate result:
- for that reason
- consequently, as a consequence
- as a result
To indicate cause/reason:
To indicate repetition:
- as has been pointed out
- as I have pointed out, as I have mentioned
- to repeat
- in other words
- once again
- in fact
- to recapitulate, to recap
- to repeat
To indicate time:
- after, afterward
- after a while
- at last
- at that time
- in the meantime
- in the past
- up to now, until now
To indicate place:
- here, there
- above, below, behind, beyond
- on top of
- next to
- adjacent to
- opposite from, opposite to
- farther, farther on
- in the background
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