Exploratory Essay Outline and Organization

Updated on June 20, 2018
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Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.

An Exploratory Essay examines the different views on an issue rather than arguing a particular position.

What is an Exploratory Paper?

Exploratory essays are like news reports, they seek to look at all the different views on an issue rather than picking one to argue. While you might not have written this sort of paper before, you are probably familiar with the way it is organized because most television news stories are written this way.

In fact, this is actually a very easy paper to organize and write. If you've done a good job in gathering your sources and analyzing them (perhaps you've already done a Summary, Analysis, and Evaluation paper), then you should not have difficulty putting those ideas together for this essay. However, you will need to be careful to smoothly integrate your sources into the paper and be sure that you have explained each side of the issue in a coherent and smooth way. Use the following questions below to help to write your outline.

5 Exploratory Questions

Fact: Is it true?

Definition: What does it mean?

Value: How important is it?

Cause: What caused it?

Policy: What should we do about it?

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How to Choose a Question

Exploratory Essays examine three or more sides of a question or topic that people don't agree about. So the first thing you need to do is to decide:

What is your question?

To make sure you have the best question for your essay, answer:

  1. Is your question really something people disagree about? Is it something people are interested in discussing now? Are there some current events which have made this issue one that people are thinking about?
  2. What Kind of question is it? (Fact, Definition, Cause/effect, Value or Policy) Is this type of question the best one for you to consider to make a good essay? Which type of question will work best for you:
  • What is happening right now? Is this really true?
  • What does this really mean?
  • What caused this situation? What are the effects of this?
  • What is really important about this issue?
  • What is the best way to solve this problem?

3. What main life need does this issue relate to? (example: desire for good government, good health, peace, a chance to work, or for our children to get a good education). Knowing the enduring issue helps you to understand the audience which is interested in this topic.


In the 1 to 2 paragraph introduction, you will describe your topic and state your question. You need to:

  • Explain the issue clearly and define any terms or background history of this situation.
  • Make the topic interesting to your readers by using good examples and interesting images.
  • Keep a neutral perspective and ask your question clearly.

Here is a list of types of introduction ideas you can use.

Techniques for Introductions

history of question
conversation about question
history of argument about question
vivid description of issue
current news that relates to question
interesting quotation
explain how this affects reader
unusual fact about question
list of viewpoints of famous people on question
start with questions
example or string of examples
frame story--start story in intro and finish story in conclusion

Introduction Pre-writing Questions

  1. Which of the above technique(s) will you use for your introduction?
  2. What research article(s) can you use in this? Mark and label them. Hint: you might want to use a different color to highlight sections you will use for different parts of your paper so that you can easily find them later.


The body of your Exploratory Paper will have two parts:

Part 1: Explain the rhetorical situation surrounding your arguable question:

  • Who is interested in this question?
  • What are the most important disagreements?
  • What has changed over time?
  • What current events make people interested in the question now?

Part 2: Explain the different answers to your question.

  • What are the different ways people would answer the question?
  • What is the reason for each of the answers?
  • What is the best evidence for each opinion?
  • How do the different opinions answer the objections of the other sides?

Body Part 1 Pre-writing Questions

Body Part 1: Analyze the rhetorical situation of the issue (social, cultural and historic moment in time). Here are the main things you need to discuss:

  1. How long has this question been around? Has the question changed over time?
  2. What kind of writing or speaking or media conveys the messages on this issue? (do people talk about it on social media, the news or mostly face to face?)
  3. Who talks about this question?
  4. Are there some recent events which affect the way people talk about this issue?

On Your Research Articles:

  1. Highlight the most important questions above to answer for your particular arguable question.
  2. Which articles can you use for this point of view? Write down sections of articles or mark the evidence on the articles that you can use for this section.

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Body Part 2 Pre-writing Questions

Part 2 of your body will be three or more paragraphs. Each of these paragraphs will explore one possible answer to your question. You will give a detailed explanation of that view and the best reasons and evidence for people to believe that view. Answer the following questions to prepare for writing this section:

  1. What are the different ways people answer the question? Write down at least 3 different answers. Each of these answers will be the topic sentence for (at least) one paragraph in your body (you might have more than one paragraph if you have a lot of information on a particular answer).
  2. Underneath each of the answers, write as many different reasons as you can think of for people to answer the question that way.
  3. Now you need to find evidence to support those points of view and the reasons. So look at your sources and use highlighting or label the best information for each view and reason. If you have a digital copy of your source, you might even want to copy and paste this evidence into your outline (don't forget to label where it comes from so you can cite it later).
  4. What order should you put these answers? You can put them from most to least popular, least to most popular, positive-negative-middle ground, or end with your own point of view (which leads to your conclusion).

Exploratory Essay: What Diet is Best?


In your conclusion, you will either challenge the reader to make up their own mind, tell the reader what you think or maybe do both of these. Answer these questions to help you do your conclusion:

  1. What answer would you have to this question? Is it one of the views you found in your research, a combination of views, or a new idea?
  2. Have you changed your beliefs about this issue as you've studied it more? What information convinced you the most?
  3. What do you think are the most important guidelines for people to use in deciding about this question?

Conclusion Ideas

Finish the frame story.

Add the final evidence you find most convincing.

Tell the reader your conclusions.

Challenge the reader to decide.

Outline what we need to consider to solve this question.

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