How to Write an
Explanatory Essay

A common writing assignment is the explanatory, or expository, essay. An explanatory essay describes your opinion on something, the ideas of another person, a process to follow, or an event that has taken place.

Rather than criticizing the information or debating its validity, you simply explain it and make it easier for your reader to understand. One you know the basic building blocks of an explanatory essay, you’ll be able to write a great one.

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  1. Step 1 – Choose a Topic That You Understand Well Although an explanatory essay might sound complicated, it’s very basic in fact. You can explain almost anything as long as it falls within the parameters of your assignment. The following are just a few examples:
    • Tell the reader why everybody should speak at least two languages.
    • State why the government should not observe religious holidays.
    • Discuss the gluten-free diet fad and whether it’s necessary for most people.
    • Explain how the electoral college system works and show whether it’s fair and effective, or not.
    • Describe the process you would follow when buying a new car.
    • Show that the Equal Rights Amendment needs to be fully ratified and how it would benefit the United States.
    • List the events that led up to World War I.
    • Make an argument for what you think will be the next world superpower.
  2. Step 2 – Be Careful Not to Veer Into the Territory of Other Types of Essays It’s best not to write a persuasive essay or process essay, even though you might be able to argue that both are technically explanations. Try to stay true to the explanatory style, which will demonstrate to your instructor that you fully understand the concept.

    While you should present evidence to back up your topic, your goal is not necessarily to sway the reader but to make a solid case. Likewise, your description of a process should be less of a step-by-step instructional guide and more of a discussion.

  3. Step 3 – Gather Evidence to Support Your Essay The key to a well-written explanatory essay is good reasons to support your main idea. In some cases, these may be merely opinions, but as long as your reasoning is strong, your essay will be too.
    To write a solid essay, you’ll want to get your information from reliable sources.

    If you’re visiting a website you’re not familiar with, check the About Us page to learn more about the organization publishing the information. Keep track of your sources and be sure to mention them in your paper, according to the style dictated by your instructor.

  4. Step 4 – Outline Your Essay You won’t be submitting your outline, so don’t worry about using Roman numerals and indenting perfectly. Just do a little prep work to make the actual writing easier. It’s just like an artist making a sketch before beginning a painting.

    Simple lists or text boxes will do. You could also try mind-mapping or using the old-school method of writing your ideas on separate index cards.

  5. Step 5 – Write the Body of Your Paper An essay should contain a minimum of five paragraphs: an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. However, this doesn’t mean all essays should only have five paragraphs. It’s simply a starting point.
    Your assignment will specify a word count or the number of paragraphs you need to include. Be sure to focus on one point in each paragraph, which you’ll explain clearly in the first sentence. If you begin to branch off to another idea, transition to a new paragraph.
  6. Step 6 – Finish with Your Conclusion and Introduction You should end your essay on a strong note. Tie your ideas together with powerful summary statements in a memorable final paragraph. But you’re not finished there.

    Copywriters know that the first words on a page are the most important. It’s often a good idea to leave your introduction for last. With the rest of your paper written, you’ll better be able to draw the reader in with powerful language.

    The expository essay isn’t as technical as it sounds. This assignment can cover a wide variety of topics. It’s up to you to choose a subject you feel passionate about so you can do it justice.

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