Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.
Give information clearly.
Teach the reader something.
Tell what, who, why, or how to do something.
Are in newspapers, textbooks and magazines.
How to Choose a Topic
Did you know there are five kinds of explaining essays? Look at the chart below to see each type and how to write them. See which kind interests you the most. Next, scroll down to the topic ideas I have for each kind of essay. Hopefully, that will give you a great idea! When you've chosen a topic, see my instructions on how to write explaining essays.
5 Types of Explaining Essays
Explains the steps of doing something.
Organize in logical sequence.
How to change your brake pads. How to make a perfect coffee. How to live on Top Ramen for a year.
Defines what a concept is and is not.
Parts of that concept, or aspects of it.
What is beauty (or friendship or self-confidence)?
Explains cause or effect of something. Sometimes explains both cause and effect.
Organize by least important to most important. Or organize by different aspects of cause.
What caused 9/11? What effects do cell phones have on teenagers? What causes racism?
How does it happen?
Explains what can be observed about the process of something, especially something in nature, or how something works.
Usually tells the sequence of how something occurs.
How do viruses evolve? How do birds migrate? How does photosynthesis happen? How is aluminum made?
What is its history?
Explains the changes in something over time. Usually used to discuss human history or artifacts.
Broken into parts and told in sequence.
What is the history of Black Lives Matter? What is the history of divorce in the U.S.?
Do you know how to do something? Would you like to teach other people how to do it? How-to essays are fun to write and easy if you already feel you are an expert on a particular topic. Look at the list below for ideas, and also brainstorm by making a list of things you already know how to do.
Know Your Audience: You can vary the way you write this topic depending on who your audience is. For instance, depending on the knowledge of your audience, you can write several different essays on the simple topic of “How to Shoot a Free Throw":
- Free Throw 101 for Elementary School Students
- Teaching Middle School Players How to Shoot a Free Throw
- Pro Tips for High School Players on Shooting Free Throws
- How to Shoot a Free Throw After a Shoulder Injury
Use your title to narrow down your subject and your audience. Generally, you will aim for an audience who knows less than you do about that topic or someone who is at your same level but doesn't know the specific information you can teach them.
- How to organize your room.
- How to use Google Maps.
- How to set up a website.
- How to win a video game.
- How to avoid procrastination.
- How to organize a study group.
- How to customize your car.
- How to start a small business.
- How to use eBay to sell things.
- How to avoid gaining weight your first year in college.
- How to find the best deal on a used car.
- How to pay for college.
- How to choose a college major.
- How to apply for a study abroad program.
- How to train for a marathon.
- How to keep in shape during college.
- How to make new friends in college.
- How to get along with your roommate.
- How to keep your clothes looking new.
- How to plant bulbs in southern climates.
- How to analyze your dreams.
- How to prevent insomnia.
- How to take care of a wound to prevent infection.
- How to drive a stick shift.
- How to find a summer job.
- How to be a lifeguard.
- How to make homemade specialty coffee.
- How to take better photographs.
- How to learn to draw better.
- How to teach reading to preschoolers.
- How to travel inexpensively overseas.
- How to learn a foreign language.
- How to style hair.
- How to arrange flowers.
- How to entertain guests inexpensively.
- How to decorate on a budget.
- How to sew a dress.
- How to start an insect collection.
- How to display a flag correctly.
- How to make a bed.
- How to install a faucet in a sink.
- How to clean out a refrigerator.
- How to pack boxes for moving.
- How to pack a suitcase.
- How to take care of your teeth.
- How to prevent yourself from getting sick.
- How to throw a curve ball.
- How to shoot a basket (or free throw).
- How to pass in soccer.
- How to do a round-up in gymnastics.
Definition Essay Ideas
In order to write a definition or concept essay, you will need to think about the different parts or aspects of your subject. Taking the concept apart and describing the different parts helps us to understand the whole more completely.
Although this sort of writing is not written as an argument, these essays do usually involve your opinion. How? As you define something, you often are arguing how we should define something or how people ought to see a concept. These sorts of essays can be on more general concepts everyone already knows (love, beauty, peace, friendship) or might also explain a specialized vocabulary only used by people in a particular hobby or job (zesting in cooking, bulb planting in gardening).
- What is family?
- What is racial reconciliation?
- What is honesty?
- What is beauty?
- What is truth?
- What is integrity?
- Define love. What are the different kinds of love?
- What is friendship? What are the different types of friendships?
- What is a good marriage? What are the different types of marriages?
- How should we define family?
- What is a "well-rounded education"?
- What is a liberal arts education?
- What is homeschooling?
- What is managed health care?
- What is the stock market?
- What is dreaming?
- What does "organic" mean?
- What are genetically modified foods?
- What is nanotechnology?
- What is a black hole?
- Who is Norman Borlaug? (or Who is________, substituting any person who is famous or did something interesting enough to write about.)
- What is a non-renewable resource?
- What is homelessness?
- What is mental illness?
- What is adoption?
- What is human trafficking?
- What are human rights?
- What is virtual reality?
Cause and Effect Essays
This essay asks you to explain the reason for a trend (or a one-time event) or a phenomenon (a trend which is increasing in popularity). Generally, a good cause topic doesn't have an easy explanation and may be something that people argue about. In fact, your essay doesn't have to have the answer for the cause or effect.
- What causes people to fall in love?
- What causes a person to become more interesting to others of the opposite sex once they start dating someone else?
- Why do marriages fail?
- What are the effects of divorce on children?
- What causes American voters to tend to go back and forth in voting Republican and Democrat?
- What is the cause of increased obesity in the U.S.?
- What is the effect of television violence on teenagers? On adults?
- What is the reason that '70s clothing styles are popular again?
- What effect does _________ (any recent novel) have on teenagers?
- Why was _______________ (any recent popular movie) so popular (or unpopular)?
- Why do so many people get religious tattoos?
- What is the effect of the rising costs of a college education?
- What is the effect of the increased testing of high school students?
- What causes people to drop out of high school?
- What is the cause of Americans having large credit card debt?
- What is the effect of fluoridated water on a community?
- What is the effect of texting on education? Or what is its effect on writing abilities?
- What causes cyberbullying?
- What is the effect of air pollution on children?
- What causes people to want to recycle more?
- What causes homelessness?
- What effects does a person's mental illness have on their family?
- What effect do poor diet and lack of exercise have on college students?
- What are the effects of not getting enough sleep?
- What causes college students to not be able to manage their time well?
Process Essay Topic Ideas
Like the how-to essay, the process essay explains how something occurs in time. However, rather than telling the reader how to do it, the process essay explains how it is observed to happen. You can use this sort of essay to explain something that happens in nature, science, or society. These sorts of essays are easy to organize because the order of the essay is the way it happens. However, the writer does need to carefully decide how to explain the process clearly and vividly to make it interesting.
- How do ants make their homes?
- How do cats keep clean?
- How do birds build a nest?
- How do monarch butterflies migrate long distances?
- How do children learn gender roles?
- How do people learn languages?
- What is the process of the birth of stars?
- How do humans see?
- What is the process of blood clotting?
- What is the life cycle of redwood trees?
- What is the process of DNA replication?
- What is the process of an abortion?
- What is the process of a knee replacement?
- What is the process of electing a new president in the United States?
- What happens when you send a text?
- What happens when you flush a toilet? What is the process of managing human waste?
- What is the process your body uses to fight infections?
- What is the mating process of the firefly?
- How is milk processed into different products?
- What is the process of airport security?
- What is nmRA transcription?
- How are caves formed?
- How are precious gems formed?
- How do bats find food?
- How do nuclear power plants work?
History or Background Essays
History or background essays take a look at the progression through time of an idea, movement, political decision, social phenomenon, or event. This sort of writing can be used to discuss the process of natural events, as well. Often, these papers discuss the facts as they occurred and may suggest causes and effects in the chain of events.
How Much History?
Often, the subjects can be big enough for several large books, so in a short piece, you may want to tackle just one part of that event. For example, a "History of Marriage" could look at the major changes in marriage as people moved from primitive societies to towns and then into the industrial age. Alternatively, a "History of Modern Marriage" could examine just the changes in marriage in the past few generations.
- What is the history of marriage?
- What is the history of divorce in America?
- What is the history of the Civil Rights Movement (or abolitionism or temperance)?
- What is the history of the Tea Party (or another political movement)?
- What is the history of the feminist movement (or the movement to get the vote for women)?
- What is the history of the Black Lives Matter movement?
- What is the history of the Nanjing Massacre (or any other war atrocity)?
- What is the history of the tensions between China and Taiwan (or any other two countries in tension)?
- What is the history of the U.S.'s stance toward illegal immigrants?
- What is the history of how football became the favorite national sport in the U.S.?
- What is the history of the Branch Davidians in Waco (or another cult group)?
- What is the geological history of Texas (or any other part of the world)?
- What is the history of the creationism vs. evolution debate in the United States?
- What is the history of the homeschooling movement (or charter schools, or vouchers)?
- What is the history of the Libertarian Party (or other political party) in the United States?
- What is the history of Greenpeace (or another ecology movement)?
- What is the history of the translation of the Bible into other languages?
- What is the history of coffee (or tea, Dr. Pepper, or Coke)?
- What is the history of the development of computers (or binary code, or computer language)?
- What is the history of women's swimwear (or other fashion)?
- What is the history of the development of state lotteries in the U.S.?
- What is the history of McDonald's (or any other fast-food chain)?
- What is the history of life (or death or another type of) insurance?
- What is the history of Harvard University (or another college, or program in a college)?
- What is the history of the Empire State Building (or another famous building or landmark)?
Questions & Answers
Question: How would one write the body of an explaining essay on the topic "designing a primary school library?"
Answer: An explaining essay is usually divided either into sections or topics, or by space and time. I think with the topic of designing a school library; you should do it by parts of the library or aspects of the library. For example, you could do body paragraphs on the following topics:
different book sections and book shelving
checkout counter and equipment
entrance and exit
places students can read
See my article on how to write an Explaining Essay: https://hubpages.com/academia/How-to-Write-an-Expl...
Question: How would one write the introduction to this kind of assignment essay question: "Define probability sample and describe the various types of probability samples"?
Answer: This type of explaining essay is technical, and so a straightforward introduction is probably the best. You can start with a clear definition, or possibly, you might want to give one or more examples of probability samples, and then give the definition.
Question: What do you think of the topic, "How has the English language been spread globally?" for an explanation essay?
Answer: Looking at the history of English and England's colonialism will give you answers to that question. English is also able to adapt and add words from other languages very easily. Here are some similar questions:
1. Why is English in Britain different from that in America, Canada, and Australia?
2. Why is English the universal language of science?
3. Will Mandarin or another language ever supplant English as the global language?
Question: What do you think of the essay topic "What does "Prabandha" mean?"
Answer: Since Prabandha is a medieval Indian Sanskrit literary genre, you probably need to be a bit more specific about what "meaning" you are talking about. Try these topics:
1. What is the importance of Prabandha?
2. How is Prabandha similar to other medieval writing?
3. What is Prabandha?
4. How does Prabandha influence people today?
5. Which saying or anecdotes from Prabandha have had the most influence in Indian culture?
Question: Why does netball have so many rules?
Answer: That topic question is a "cause" essay. If your assignment is writing an explaining essay, a better question would be one of the following:
1. What are the rules of netball?
2. How is netball played?
3. What makes netball different from other games?
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on March 24, 2019:
Danelle- You would need a question to frame your topic like importance, cause or what we can do.
Danelle Willis on March 23, 2019:
Is climate change a good topic for a concept essay?
Anonymous on November 13, 2018:
This will be helpful for me
Fudge on June 17, 2018:
very helpful for finding a topic.
shimishi on February 13, 2018:
nice one.. thanks
Amber Fox on March 04, 2015:
This was extremely helpful in helping me find a topic for my process analysis essay, figuring out a topic to write on is always the hardest step for me. Thank you so much!
Amie on January 04, 2015:
This's is a very good article I am studying for school and I chose how to take good photos
Elliott Shifman from Chicago, Illinois on December 10, 2014:
These are such great tips and seem very useful. I will have to keep this page in mind for future reference. #elliottshifman
Michelle Scoggins from Fresno, CA on October 06, 2014:
Hi Virginia great hub. You captured a great deal of information in a very organized manner. Many of the ideas you illustrated can be possible hubs :)
Rachel Rasdall from Chicago, Illinois on July 08, 2014:
This is a wonderful article for my students! Thanks for writing it :-) I now have a teaching-tool...
RTalloni on October 15, 2012:
Thanks for the info and topic ideas as well as links to your super hubs. This post will be a helpful resource to many!
Audrey Kirchner from Washington on October 08, 2012:
I totally agree, Virginia--when I was reading through the lists, I was thinking--hmm--hubs!! Definitely great information for those folks who need to come up with essay topics. I always think that that is the hardest part of writing anything--just knowing what to call it or title it in the case of hubs--and then the ideas start to kind of flow--once you pin down where you want to go. Great presentation and fantastic pictures/ideas~
Russ Moran - The Write Stuff from Long Island, New York on September 24, 2012:
Good resource here. Most of the topics you discuss could be hub ideas.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on September 24, 2012:
Thanks rgmg50--actually, most of Hubpages is written as "Explaining Essays." Although I wrote these for academic essay topics, I think many of them would make good Hub ideas too!
rgmg50 on September 24, 2012:
Excellent and very useful. Very well constructed. This is one of those hubs that a person wants to keep to refer back to.