Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.
Expository Essay Definition
Explain something or answer questions like:
- What is it?
- How should we define it?
- How do you do it?
- How does it work?
- What is its history?
- What caused it? What are the effects?
- What is the meaning of it?
This type of essay doesn't have to be dry and uninteresting. Choose a topic you really like or know something about and make it interesting to the reader by telling unusual details or making it humorous.
Expository Essays Answer:
What is it?
How can I do it well?
What caused it to happen?
Why should it matter?
How to Write Your Paper Faster and Easier
Want a fast and easy essay? Follow these three easy steps:
- Choose a great topic: Scan the list of topics below, or pick something you either know a lot about or would like to learn about. Writing is always easier if you are interested in the topic.
- Pre-write: Use my pre-writing worksheet questions at the bottom of this article to help guide you through the process of gathering and organizing the information you’ll need to write your essay. It may take 30 minutes (or more if you do research), but when you are done you should be ready to write.
- Edit: Use your computer's spell and grammar check program, and use Grammarly, which is a free check for errors. Have at least one other person read your paper and give you advice. Finally, read your paper out loud so that you slow down as you read and notice your errors.
College Experience Paper Ideas
One of the easiest topics is to write something that explains a person, place, event, or organization at your University. Not only is it easy to get information, but you will also probably enjoy learning more about your campus or the history of your college.
- Interview other students, staff, or faculty. You can use their quotes or stories as evidence for your paper.
- Observe the place you are writing about. Sit down with a notepad or your phone and write down your sensory experiences (what you smell, hear, see, taste, and touch). You can even listen to conversations and observe people. Vividly-written details and personal experience make your expository paper stand out.
- Research by looking at past issues of your college paper or on the college website. You might also find information posted on buildings around campus, the library, or in pamphlets at the visitor's center.
- Explain the requirements of an unusual major at your school (like Aviation, Fashion Design, Astro-Physics, Japanese, or International Studies).
- What is the history of your college?
- Who are the students at your college? What is the background of most students? How are students different? What do they have in common?
- Pick a professor at your college to interview. What is their background and how did they get interested in their subject?
- What is the history of your college mascot?
- Describe in detail a statue or memorial marker on campus. Research the history of the marker and the person or event it commemorates.
- How does one join a sorority or fraternity?
- How can you stay healthy while eating campus food?
- What's the best way to choose which college activities to be involved in as a freshman?
- How has your college changed over the years?
- What do you need to do to get ready for a college football game (or other sport) at your school?
- Why should people attend games of a less popular sport? (Pick one you like.)
- What's the worst way to study for finals?
- How can a student survive the first few weeks of college?
- How can you be a great roommate?
- What are ways to use the local coffee house to avoid studying?
- What causes college freshmen to be depressed?
- How can you help a suicidal friend?
- What do you have to do to win a campus election?
- What should you leave at home when you go to college?
- How best to decide which college to go to?
- How to get scholarships for college.
- How can one pay for college without getting into too much debt?
- What are the best scandals or memorable events in your college's history?
- Pick a building on your campus: Describe its history and describe how the building got its name (especially if it is named after someone).
- How can a person best separate from their parents in college?
- How can someone avoid dating the wrong people in college?
Sample Expository Essays
How Can You Relieve College Stress: Explains ways for college students to reduce the amount of stress they feel about school.
Christian Parenting Advice: Mother of 5 children gives tips on how to raise children to understand and appreciate their family's religious heritage.
Social Problem Topics
- What happens to juveniles who break the law?
- What is homelessness? What causes people to be homeless?
- What is the Salvation Army? How do they help the needy? (Or choose another non-profit charity that helps the poor.)
- What are the effects on a family when a parent becomes a meth addict?
- What causes teenagers to run away?
- How does having a single parent affect children in the areas of education, hygiene, and nutrition?
- How do people without health insurance get medical treatment?
- What is it like to be an illegal alien?
- What is the history of the foster care system in the U.S.?
- What is the history of affirmative action in education? What are its effects?
- What is the process of prosecuting someone for domestic abuse?
- Why do women stay with men who beat them up?
- What does "living below the poverty line" mean?
- What is the history of welfare in the U.S.?
- How do food stamps work?
- What is discrimination, or affirmative action?
- What is peak oil?
- What causes some people who grow up in bad circumstances to overcome them?
- What is sociology?
- How can bullying be prevented?
- What is the effect of the closing of public libraries in the U.S.?
- What is the effect of ability grouping in a classroom?
- What happens to kids when they drop out of school?
- What effect does social media have on interpersonal relationships?
Social Problems Research Links
Good places to research social problems are government websites (which give current statistics), non-profit websites (which have information about programs to help alleviate social problems), and major news sources. Here are some places to start:
Science and Technology Topics
- What is Google Glass? How will it change the way we live our lives?
- What are nanobots? How can they be used?
- What is a black hole and why are they important?
- What causes obesity?
- What is climate change?
- How is electronic music made?
- Why is there an increase in autism?
- What is an allergen? What is an allergic reaction?
- Why is there a startling increase in people with allergies and autoimmune diseases in Western countries?
- What is Alzheimer's? What happens to the brain of someone with this disease?
- How does wifi work?
- Explain the project to use DNA to store data.
- What is fusion energy? How close are scientists to making it?
- What is electric clothing?
- How has space flight spurred inventions we use every day?
- What is a 3D bioprinter and how might it change medicine?
- How does a vaccine work? How do scientists formulate the flu vaccine every year?
- What is string theory?
- How are humans searching for extraterrestrial life?
- How does the brain develop and change as we grow and age?
- Who were the Neanderthals? Did humans and Neanderthals ever mate?
- How similar are current robots to real people?
- Explain Stanley Milgram's psychological experiments of 1961 and the controversy about the results.
- What is electronic paper?
- What is bioengineering? How has bioengineering changed our lives?
Need help researching? Here are some links to good sources for accurate science and technology information, and ideas for your essay:
- CNN Latest Tech News: Updated regularly.
- Popular Science: Links to current articles about science innovations.
- Discover Magazine: Features articles on science and technology.
Mental Health Questions
- How does having a special needs child affect a family?
- What is the cause of depression and why is it rising in the United States?
- What is schizophrenia? What are the different types of this disease? Is there a cure?
- What does it mean to be OCD? How can you recognize it? How can it be overcome?
- What is a psychological disorder?
- What is cognitive-behavioral therapy? Who can it help and why?
- What is the history of art therapy?
- Explain the different types of therapy done by psychiatrists.
- What’s the best way to read and understand an article in a psychology journal?
- How does one become a therapist?
- What is a psychologist? What do they do, and how are they different than psychiatrists?
- What is bibliophobia?
- What is entomophobia?
- How does acrophobia affect people?
- What is xenophobia and how can it be overcome?
- What is altruism?
- What is the rule of repricocity?
- What is heroism?
- What is experiential learning?
- How do the stages of personality develop in childhood?
- What is the bystander effect?
- What are the four explanations for why we forget things?
- What is a genius IQ score and what does it mean?
- What is a memory?
- Explain what left brain vs. right brain dominance means to most of us.
Mental Health Research Sources
Researching mental health issues can easily be done online, but you need to be sure you get articles which are in a journal that is either published by a university or written by professional psychiatrists or psychologists. Here are some good places to start:
- Psychology Today: A popular journal with easy-to-read articles for the general public.
- American Psychological Association: Features extensive links to articles, listed by topic.
- Full-Text Psychology Journals: Is a list of psychology journals that offer full-text articles.
How to Start Your Essay
After you have a topic idea, what's next? You have to develop information that you will put into your essay and decide on your audience and purpose. Then you will need to decide the point of view, tone, and style of writing you will use. Sound confusing? Don't worry. Just answer the following questions to get ready to write. You can open up a word processing program, copy these questions, and then answer them, or do it the old-fashioned way with paper and pen.
- Topic idea: ______________________________________________. (Write yours out.)
- What kind of expository essay is this? (How to? How does it work? Definition? Fact? Cause? History of?)
- List or cluster different aspects or parts of your topic.
- Circle the aspects which are most interesting to you. Cluster those.
- Do you have enough to say or too much? Do you need to narrow your topic or expand it?
- What sources can you use? Where can you find them?
- What are some things your audience would be familiar with which you can compare your topic with?
- What do they already know?
- What would they be interested in knowing?
- What kind of tone would be best for this audience? (informational, satiric, humorous, folksy, professional?)
- Considering your audience, which point of view would be the most effective one to write in? Would it be better to write in the first person ("I" or "we"), second person ("you"), or third person (impersonal)?
Write Your Thesis
- Your purpose (What do you want the audience to think, do, or know after reading? This will be related to what your audience doesn't know.)
- Turn your topic into a question: ___________________________________________
- Answer that question: __________________________________________________
- Make a thesis statement: _______________________________________________
- Essay map—sentence(s) which list main sub-topics: ______________________________________________________________ (These can be headers for sections of the paper.)
- Which sort of organization would work best for you? Examples: chronological (in time), spatial (in space and time), process (step-by-step), topical (part-by-part), cause/effect, historical overview, comparison and contrast, or reverse expectations.
- Write a brief outline of how you will structure the body of the paper.
Intro and Conclusion
- Which of these introduction and conclusion ideas could you use? Reverse expectation, expectation fulfilled, scenario (imagined typical story, also called a case study), personal story, frame story, vivid description, conversation, definition, comparison and contrast, analogy, startling statistic or fact, quotation, or story from a book or movie.
- Choose the best one(s) for your essay and explain what you will do.
Tone, Voice, and Style
- Which person will you write in for your essay? (1st “I,” 2nd “you,” or 3rd “he, she, it.”) Why?
- What sort of tone will you have? Why? (Example: serious and informative, humorous, sarcastic, enthusiastic.)
More Essay Writing Help
Here are some other articles to help you write and edit your essay:
Questions & Answers
Question: What are the characteristics of an expository essay?
Answer: These sorts of essays seek to give the reader information about a topic. Usually, an expository essay seeks to persuade the reader to think, act, or believe something. The characteristics of an Expository Paper are a clear thesis, 3 or more reasons for supporting the thesis, examples which explain those reasons and a conclusion which tells the reader what they need to think about the thesis.
"Expository" is a broad term and often writing classes will divide expository writing into a variety of categories. Here are some examples:
Describing: painting a vivid picture of a time, place or experience.
Persuasive or argumentative: giving reasons for the reader to believe your idea.
Comparison: telling how things are alike and different.
Narrative, personal experience or reflection essay: telling a story that has a meaning.
Explain: instructing by telling process or how to do something.
Question: What do you think of “Why do couples break up?” as an expository essay topic?
Answer: "Why do couples break up?" is a cause essay, and would make an interesting paper. However, the essay may be more interesting if you narrow it a bit more. Here are some suggestions:
1. Why do high school couples break up?
2. What are the most important reasons college-aged couples decide to stop dating?
3. What are the reasons most married couples break up?
4. What is the reason people dating long-distance break-up?
5. What causes women to break up with a man?
6. What causes a man to break up with a woman?
Question: How can I create an expository essay on the topic of Cameroon?
Answer: 1. What should be done to prevent kidnappings in Cameroon?
2. How can the government better prevent problems caused by the separatists?
3. Why are students caught in the middle between the government and the separatists?
4. Why is the killing of Charles Trumann Wesco particularly tragic?
5. How has the government of Cameroon fatally disregarded the minority population?
4. Who are the separatists and what do they want?
Question: What do think of "Eastern Religions in American Culture" as an expository essay topic?
Answer: To make a good expository essay topic, you need to have some sort of question you are answering. Additionally, I'm not sure you are specific enough in using the term "Eastern Religions." Which religions are you referring to? Many religious groups would not be comfortable being grouped together. I'd encourage you to pick a particular religion to talk about. I'm assuming you are referring to Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism. Perhaps there is another one you are thinking about. Here are some examples you can use on your topic, but I'd suggest you substitute a particular religion for "Eastern Religions":
1. How are Eastern Religions changing American culture?
2. Are Eastern Religions damaging the culture of America?
3. Will Eastern Religions be assimilated into the culture of America?
4. How are Eastern Religions being assimilated into American culture?
Question: What do you think of the topic, "How does having a single parent affect children in the areas of education, hygiene, and nutrition?" for an expository essay?
Answer: You have a good expository essay idea but you don't actually have to say all of the topics you will be discussing in your question. Your question can be:
What is the effect of a child growing up in a single parent home?
Then your thesis is answering that question and describing the areas you want to discuss. Here are some potential thesis statements:
Growing up in a single parent home affects a child's education, hygiene, and nutrition in a negative way.
Growing up in a single parent home means that children need more support in education, hygiene, and nutrition from schools.
Question: What do you think the essay topic, "Why is depression in young adults on a rise in the U.S.?"?
Answer: That is an excellent cause topic. You can also consider:
1.What is the best treatment for depression in young adults?
2. How can you best help a depressed friend?
Question: What do you think of a topic being "Gun Control: Assault Rifles" or "Police Brutality" for an expository essay?
Answer: Those are interesting topic ideas, but it would be clearer if you put these in question form. Here are some ideas:
1. What is Police Brutality?
2. Should there be gun control of assault rifles?
3. How can we solve the problem of police brutality?
4. Why don't we have more gun control of assault rifles?
Question: How can I write an Expository Essay on the topic "Justice as an Instrument for Enduring Peace in Nation Building?"
Answer: You need to turn this topic into a question that can have more than one answer. Then your answer will be the thesis. Here are some possible questions using that topic:
What type of justice could be an instrument for enduring peace in nation building?
Can justice be an instrument for enduring peace in nation building?
How can we have an enduring peace in nation building?
Question: What do you think of "the main cause of car accidents in the U.S." as an expository essay topic?
Answer: Be sure that you word your topic as a question like this:
What is the main cause of car accidents in the U.S.?
That essay idea would be an explaining essay, and you can probably research the main reasons why people have car accidents. However, if you are trying to write a "cause" essay, this one probably isn't a good idea even though it uses the word "cause" in the question. The reason for this is that Cause Essays are argument essays which speculate on the most important reason for some situation. A good Cause Essay topic will not have a simple answer that you can research and find a definitive topic. It will be something that people have different opinions about. Here are some examples:
What is the most important cause of teens who start driving at 16 having more accidents than those who start driving at 18?
What causes people to tailgate?
What causes some cars to be less safe than others?
Question: An essay on the role of youth in Nigerian politics is what type of essay?
Answer: Any essay that describes something is an explanation or description essay. If you are going to suggest that the youth in Nigeria do more in political situations, that would be a problem solution essay.
Question: Can this idea work as an essay topic? "There are a lot of early marriages. What are the causes?"
Answer: Your topic idea is basically a problem solution essay idea. In order to solve a problem, you first need to describe it, then identify the causes before you suggest solutions. Here is my article on how to write this sort of essay: https://owlcation.com/academia/How-to-Write-a-Prop...
Question: How do you start an Expository essay?
Answer: One thing you need to know is that "expository" is really another name for a persuasive or argumentative essay. So you can look at any of my articles which explain how to write argument or position essays. Additionally,I have a number of articles explaining the steps in writing and the best one to start with is "How to Write a Great Thesis Sentence" https://hubpages.com/humanities/Easy-Ways-to-Write... After you have a thesis, you will need to fill out an outline, so you might want to see how to do that in "Writing Good Topic Sentences" https://hubpages.com/academia/How-to-Write-a-Great...
Question: Can you help me develop this as a cause essay: What causes bullying among students in schools?
Answer: For help in doing a cause essay like this see: https://owlcation.com/academia/How-to-Write-a-Spec...
Question: How about "What is the history of YouTube?" as an essay topic?
Answer: If your assignment is to tell the history of something, that could be a good question. However, if you are supposed to do a persuasive or argumentative topic, you might want to change your essay topic to:
"How has YouTube changed the way people learn?"
Question: What is the process of expository writing?
Answer: The process of expository writing is the same as writing an argument essay. However, don't be confused by the word "argument" because, in this context, it doesn't mean you are trying to "argue" your point with someone. What it means is that you are trying to explain your point of view about a claim, which can be a statement of:
What is something?
How should something be defined?
What caused something?
How important is something?
What we should do.
Here are some articles to help:
How to write an argument essay: https://hubpages.com/academia/How-to-Write-an-Argu...
How to write an explaining essay: https://hubpages.com/academia/How-to-Write-an-Expl...
How to write cause and effect: https://hubpages.com/academia/How-to-Write-a-Specu...
How to write problem solution: https://hubpages.com/academia/How-to-Write-a-Propo...
Question: How can I write an expository essay about the relations of two countries?
Answer: You will need a clear topic such as:
1. What is the relationship between the U.S. and England?
2. How important is the currency problem in Turkey for India?
Then you will answer the question of your topic, giving 3 or more reasons for your answer.
Question: Will this topic work for an expository essay: “What is Integrity? Why is it required? How to be so? What happens when you below the mark?"
Answer: Usually, it is best to have a single question as the basis of your expository. It can be an explaining question, "What is integrity?" or a question that traces causes, "What causes us to require people to have integrity?" It can also be a proposal of what to do, "What should we do when people are dishonest in the classroom?"
Question: I want to write an essay about how and why the pilgrims came to America. What would be some good topic ideas? I want to make sure that it's an essay and not a report.
Answer: Generally, an essay would discuss a question which is not firmly agreed upon by everyone (like an argument essay or newspaper editorial), while a report would tend to be more about explaining answers that were generally accepted (like a textbook). I think that the "how" of why they came to America is probably something you would find in a textbook as generally accepted. However, I did a quick search and discovered that there are some different opinions about the "why." So I would focus your essay on describing the different views about why they came to American and then ending your essay by telling which view you find convincing and why.
Question: What tone can be used in an expository essay?
Answer: An expository essay is explaining something to the audience and in order to make the audience believe you are correct, you should use an objective and neutral tone. Don't wax too enthusiastic or you will sound like a sales pitch rather than an authoritative source of information. Your tone should be like a newspaper article or textbook.
Question: What do you think of these essay topics: What is the cause of depression? Why is depression rising in the United States?
Answer: Your questions about depression are an excellent example of cause/effect expository topics. You might use this same format to investigate other mental illness topics such as anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder, or any other psychological condition. In answering this question, you will need to consider both the increase in awareness which can cause more people to seek help and a diagnosis, along with different stresses and cultural conditions which might be causing an increase. You will need some facts and statistics to prove there is an increase if you want to talk about rising trends. Finally, including personal experience or examples from the media can make this a compelling and interesting paper topic.
Question: What do you think of the essay topic "What are the procedures for elementary students to go to lunch?"
Answer: This topic would be an explaining essay that would give the details of how this would happen. If your assignment is to make an argumentative essay, then you could ask the question, "What is the best procedure for having elementary students go to lunch?"
Question: What are the characteristics of a comparative essay?
Answer: Comparative essays use criteria to evaluate and analyze two or more different things. For example, you could evaluate two hamburger restaurants according to the criteria of:
Taste of the food.
Friendliness of service.
Atmosphere and cleanliness of the restaurant.
For more help in writing an evaluation essay see: https://hubpages.com/academia/How-to-Write-an-Eval...
Question: With an expository essay must the topic always be a question?
Answer: A topic does not have to be a question, but I generally teach students to turn the topic they are writing on into a question because an expository or argument essay is something that has more than one answer or point of view. Frequently, students want to write an essay using just their point of view, but in order to argue effectively "using cell phones while driving should be outlawed" they need to know the question that they are answering. When you identify the question, you can usually figure out the other points of view on that topic and then you can argue more effectively to refute those points of view.
Question: Can you suggest some expository essay topics about the Army?
Answer: Here are some topics about the Army:
1. Is an all-volunteer Army still the best way to ensure military-preparedness?
2. Should everyone have to spend some time in the military?
3. How can the Department of Defense best make sure that the members of the Armed Services are combat ready?
4. Are there significant emotional difficulties that will persist for people involved in operating drone military forces?
5. How can the military best use high-tech equipment to fight effectively, efficiently, and with the fewest casualties?
6. How will having women in combat change the Army?
7. What changes need to take place in the Army to make jobs better for women?
8. How will the ramping up of military operations in Afganistan affect the Army?
9. How has the Army changed since 9/11?
10. Why are so many transgender individuals seeking to join the Army?
Question: What do you think of "Why do women stay with men who beat them?" as an expository essay topic?
Answer: That is an interesting essay idea and one that has a lot of research evidence. You could conclude an essay on this topic with ideas of how to help a woman who is in a situation of domestic violence or with ideas of how our society can help stop that situation.
Question: Where can I find examples of Expository Essays?
Answer: There are two sample essays linked in this article, and here are a few more:
Writing Jobs for Stay at Home Moms: https://discover.hubpages.com/literature/Moms-Make...
How to Get Cheap Life Insurance: https://discover.hubpages.com/money/How-to-Get-Che...
How to Find Lego Assembly Instructions: https://hobbylark.com/collecting/How-to-Find-LEGO-...
Sarah J. on August 16, 2019:
Thanks so much! I can now write my essay with ease! :)
Sarah J. on August 16, 2019:
This is a great site! So helpful!
Emma Fields on October 13, 2018:
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on December 03, 2017:
Hi Ebramhimi--look at some of my argument articles and you will find links to samples.
Gabby Alonso on November 13, 2017:
very perfect description
Sam Elizabeth on November 06, 2017:
Thank you for your help . I can now write my easy.
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Timothy Whitt from New Jersey on January 08, 2015:
There are a lot of great essay topics in this Hub
Elliott Shifman L on December 12, 2014:
These are some great tips. thanks. #elliottshifmanl
Trisha Roberts from Rensselaer, New York on June 17, 2014:
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Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on January 18, 2014:
This is such a thorough piece about writing essays, and I will definitely be referring to it now and then when I write. I especially appreciate your pre-writing worksheet.
ajanthap on January 09, 2014:
Stoneage2010 on October 11, 2013:
These are some great ideas. Writing a paper in college always seems to freeze people up and they never know what to write. Even when you like writing, you just draw a blank. Thanks for the info!
Crystal Tatum from Georgia on October 04, 2013:
Half a million views - wow! I'm not surprised that students find your articles helpful. You've tapped into a very receptive and never diminishing market.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on October 04, 2013:
Thanks Crystal--My writing articles all began as handouts I gave to my own students. I started posting them here on HubPages so that my students who had finished my course still had access to them. Quite to my surprise, I've found they have been used by students all over the world. I have about half a million views of my articles so far after just a couple of years. I'd always wanted to write a book, but now I think that online writing is more fun!
Crystal Tatum from Georgia on October 03, 2013:
Wow what a great list! College students rejoice! I hope you have found some appropriate sites to market this hub toward said students. Voted up and useful.
CraftytotheCore on October 02, 2013:
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Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 02, 2013:
A very useful list. I'm keeping this one and will refer to it when I need inspiration. Thank you!