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The Expository Essay

Know thyself.
(carved on the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, Greece)

Explore thyself! / Therein thyself shalt find / The “Undiscovered Continent”—
(Emily Dickinson, poet)

Where have you come from, my dear Phaedrus, and where are you going?
(Socrates asks young Phaedrus in Phaedrus)


Writing an expository essay is an effective means of exploring and thinkingthrough a topic and presenting youridea about that topic to an audience. The expository essay informs and explains.
“To inform” means to give information. For example: Today more women enroll in college than men. “To explain” means to clarify, enlighten, interpret, and account for the information. Therefore, to explain why more women are in college today, you might write, based on your experiences and observations that young women want to assert their independence and secure satisfying, high-paying jobs requiring a college degree.

The word “expository” comes from the Latin word exposui, which means “I have put forth.” To help you “put forth” your idea, you might employ the developmental strategies of example, definition, comparison/contrast, and classification. Using these methods of development, you will want to develop a logical and fluent progression of thought as you support your thesis.

Your expository essay will be the result of your creative exploration and investigation involving self-inquiry and personal reflection. This project will result in a college admissions essay, the kind of essay often required as part of your application process when you apply for entrance into a senior institution.

Often, the admissions committees at senior collegeswill want to know more about you as an individual than can be determined by examining your college transcript and application form. In addition, the committees want to see how well you write. Your admissions essay adds value to your transcript and application form and lets the admissions committee hear your voice. Your essay is an opportunity to present a good image of yourself.


For your 750 – 1,000 word thesis-controlled expository essay,select any passage (one to three sentences) that you find in one of the following compelling expository essayspertaining to the broad themes of self-identity and personal values. Make a personal connection with the passage in terms of your own life experiences and observations:

Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue”
Brent Staples’ “Black Men in Public Space”
Judith Ortiz Cofer’s “The Myth of the Latin Woman: I Just Met a Girl Named Maria”
Leslie Marmon Silko’s “In the Combat Zone”

In addition to the above four core essays we will study in class, also consider reading any of the following optional expository essays:

JhumpaLahiri’s “My Two Lives”
BharatiMukerjee’s “Two Ways to Belong in America”
Mike Rose’s “Blue-Collar Brilliance”
Stephen Carter’s “The Insufficiency of Honesty”
Judy Brady’s “I Want a Wife”
Judith Viorst’s “Friends, Good Friends, and Such Good Friends”


Here is a sample passage from Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue”:

“I am someone who has always loved language. I am fascinated by language in my daily

Here is another sample passage from Stephen Carter’s “The Insufficiency of Honesty”:

“The first point to understand about the difference between honesty and integrity is that a
person may be entirely honest without engaging in the hard work of discernment that
integrity requires; she may tell us quite truthfully what she believes without ever taking
the time to figure out whether what she believes is good and right and true.”

Once you select your passage that inspires a personal connection, use creating activities like freewriting, clustering, and cubingto allow your thoughts to emerge.


Let’s consider the fundamental decisions that we note on our planning pages: (1) purpose, (2) audience, (3) genre, (4) tone, (5) strategy/strategies, (6) tentative thesis, and (7) optional rough draft outline.

(1) Your writing purpose is expository: to inform and explain.

(2) Your audience(or reader) for your expository essay is a university admissions committee at your next college. These committees have high standards for and expectations about your thinking and writing.

(3) Your genre is a college admissions essay in response to the given writing topic (or prompt).

(4) Carefully select an appropriate tone that reveals your attitude about your subject matter.Also keep your audience in mind. Your tone might be, for example, inquisitive, serious or confident. This essay will be more formal than the informal memoir you wrote for Essay #1. (Therefore, avoid contractions; however, you may use the personal pronouns.)

(5) Strategies that help you accomplish your expository purposes of informing and explaining are (1) exemplification, (2) definition, (3) comparison/contrast, (4) and classification. You may also use narration and description. For your organization, you might pick one predominant strategy (a primary strategy) to develop your essay or several strategies working together (multi-strategy).

(6) Your narrowed tentative thesis for an expository essay will be different from the thesis you wrote for your reflective/expressive memoir. Your thesis for Essay #2 should express the main point of your essay and perhaps suggest a strategy or strategies(mentioned above) appropriate for your development.

(7) To help you organize, consider writing an optional rough draft outline.


Your tentative thesis on your planning page may be a sentence (thesis sentence) or more than one sentence (thesis statement). Your thesis should reveal your subject matter and suggest your essay’s architecture or developmental strategy. As you draft your thesis you may arrange your sentence to reflect whether you are using a primary strategy or if you are using a multi-strategy approach.


Essay #2 also involves a study of topic sentence paragraphs. Your essay must have at least three topic sentence paragraphs. These paragraphs begin with a topic sentence that contains a controlling idea and are developed with six to eight (or more) support sentences. The topic sentence is to the paragraph what the thesis is to the essay.

These body/topic sentence paragraphs must exhibit unity and coherence. Unity means that all sentences belong; no sentence diverges from the topic. These paragraphs also exhibit coherence in that the sentences have a smooth flow due to transition words, repetition of key words, and pronoun-antecedent references. Make sure that you achieve unity and coherence within each of your topic sentence paragraphs as well in the overall essay.

Break up the standard five-paragraph essay model (introductory paragraph, three body/topic sentence paragraphs, and concluding paragraph) with dialog paragraphs, the one-sentence paragraph (short simple sentence for dramatic effect), the rhetorical question(s) paragraph, and transitional paragraph(s).


You will also need to compose carefully an effective introduction, one that engages reader interest and introduces and (not develops) your thesis. You also want to give closure to your essay by composing a conclusion that helps frame your essay by pointing back to the title and/or introduction. You will need to examine a variety of strategies for writing introductions and conclusions so you can determine the best strategy for your particular thesis. Remember, your introduction and conclusion may be more than one paragraph.


When you submit your essay, include your (1) final draft on top, (2) list of possible topics, (3) any creating and discovery activities such as freewriting, clustering, and discovery drafts, (4) planning page with optional informal outlining, (5) rough draft, (6) optional tutoring response from AskOnline or campus tutor, (7) self/peer critique response sheet. Place the final draft of your essay on top.

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