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What Is Expository Writing?

By E. Reeder
Updated May 23, 2024
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Expository writing also is called informative writing, because its purpose is to explain, inform or clarify. This type of writing is often required of students when they are assigned to write essays explaining subject matter in various academic disciplines. It also is the type of writing used in some nonfiction and in various professional reports. Small works, such as a student’s report on the lifespan of beetles, and long works, such as an autobiography, can employ expository writing to convey facts to readers. Writing that is expository can be found in student essays, research studies, business reports, textbooks and other works of nonfiction.

One essential element of expository writing is that it provides enough details to readers to clearly explain the topic. Readers should be able to form a clear idea of the topic being explicated after reading a report, book or essay using expository writing. The amount of details that needs to be provided varies depending on the intended audience. A textbook or a newspaper article, for example, may need to explain every detail of its subject matter — including answers to the questions who, what, when, where, why and how — not assuming readers have any background knowledge. A specialized research report on an archaeological study, however, might not explain technical terms related to the field, because the intended readers would already have extensive background knowledge.

In its pure form, expository writing is intended to be factual and unbiased. A newspaper article, for example, is supposed to be unbiased and simply present the objective facts so readers can form their own opinions and conclusions. This is different from a newspaper editorial, which is supposed to present a subjective opinion. If there is an opinion or conclusion in expository writing, it should be based on factual evidence. Similarly, a research report may suggest in its conclusion that smoking tobacco is harmful to people’s health after it has presented factual evidence in support of that idea.

Organization is a characteristic common to expository writing. Information should be presented in a clear and logical manner so readers can follow and easily understand it. A student’s five-paragraph expository essay on types of pollution might begin with a paragraph that introduces the topic. That may be followed by three body paragraphs that each explain a different kind of pollution, and a conclusion paragraph that sums up the essay. An autobiography might be organized chronologically to give details about the life of its subject in sequential order.

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Discussion Comments
By gravois — On Nov 15, 2011

I had a job once writing encyclopedia entries for a start up online encyclopedia. This basically involved a ton of expository writing.

It was a lot harder than I expected it to be. I came to the job with a strong background in fiction, but expository writing is a completely different animal all together. In a lot of ways they are opposites. I had to hold back a lot of my natural instincts as a writer because they would have only obscured the instruction.

Honestly, my first dozen or so entries were pretty bad. It took me a while to hit my stride but once I did I was able to write in this style almost mechanically. It becomes a second nature.

By Ivan83 — On Nov 14, 2011

Good expository writing examples are hard to come by. There is lots and lots of expository writing out there but a lot of it is sub par to say the best.

Its strange because we receive some much training in expository writing and yet most people cannot explain something in clear and effective language. I read articles all the time that are trying to explain how to build something or how to make a certain recipe and they are totally unclear.

I don't think this is because we are all stupid or that we don't receive enough training, I think the problem is that good expository writing is truly hard to do and it takes a skilled writer to do it well.

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