How to Write an Expository Paper

Professors like to assign an expository paper because itΓÇÖs a good way to challenge students on how to perform in-depth research and demonstrate their understanding of a specific topic. ItΓÇÖs likely that you will be required to write this type of paper at least once, if not several times while youΓÇÖre in school. Here is an overview of what an expository paper is and the key elements necessary so you can write a paper that meets your professorsΓÇÖ expectations.

The Definition

The word ΓÇ£expositoryΓÇ¥ is based on the word ΓÇ£expoundΓÇ¥ which means to ΓÇ£clarify the meaning of and discourse in a learned way, usually in writing.ΓÇ¥

An expository paper explains by exposing and conveying information about something that may be difficult to understand. It informs by giving a complete, fair, interesting and relevant explanation about a topic in detail. It does not use criticism, argument or any form of development of the subject. It simply demonstrates all the relevant facts without giving any point of view from the writer. The first person, ΓÇ£IΓÇ¥, is not used in an expository paper.

Getting Started

The steps to writing this paper are similar to writing any other winning term paper. You must first define your audience. Who are you addressing? Why do they need to know this information? What information is relevant to them? When you have identified the answers to these questions, you can go on to do your research.

Find a credible source that clearly states the facts. Make sure you understand the ideas and underlying values contained in the work that underpin the writerΓÇÖs thesis. Then go on to use the work of other equivalent sources to put the ideas into a larger context.

When you write your paper, make sure you communicate your explanation clearly, analyzing the parts fully in proper sequence so your audience follows how you arrived at your conclusions.

The Basic Structure

There are different developmental styles you can choose from for writing expository papers that each has its own pattern, depending on the subject matter. They should all start with an introductory paragraph and your thesis statement. The rest of your paper should follow the pattern for the style of expository paper that you are writing.

The patterns include:

Description ΓÇô Describe your topic by listing characteristics, features and examples, using cue words such as ΓÇ£likeΓÇ¥ and ΓÇ£such asΓÇ¥, for example.

Sequence ΓÇô List items and events in numerical or chronological order. Use cue words such as ΓÇ£firstΓÇ¥, ΓÇ£secondΓÇ¥, ΓÇ£thirdΓÇ¥, ΓÇ£nextΓÇ¥, ΓÇ£thenΓÇ¥, and ΓÇ£finallyΓÇ¥.

Comparison ΓÇô Explain how two things are alike or different using cue words such as ΓÇ£alikeΓÇ¥, ΓÇ£same asΓÇ¥, ΓÇ£on the other handΓÇ¥, ΓÇ£differentΓÇ¥, and ΓÇ£in contrastΓÇ¥.

Cause and Effect ΓÇô List one or more causes and resulting effect or effects, using cue words such as ΓÇ£a resultΓÇ¥, ΓÇ£thereforeΓÇ¥, ΓÇ£becauseΓÇ¥, and ΓÇ£reasons whyΓÇ¥.

Problem and Solution ΓÇô State a problem and list one or more solutions to the problem or pose a question and then give answers to it. Cue words for this pattern include ΓÇ£problem isΓÇ¥, ΓÇ£dilemma isΓÇ¥, and ΓÇ£puzzle is solvedΓÇ¥.

Finally, your concluding paragraph should reflect back to your opening paragraph and reinforce your thesis statement.

Proper Formatting

As you explain your topic, you will cite references from other works to provide a complete argument. Be sure to cite your sources accurately using the most up to date version of the APA or MLA formatting guidelines. This will help your readers refer to the sources you provide. If your professor specifically assigns MLA formatting for your paper, you will need to follow the guidelines for creating a bibliography, too. If you do not adhere to these guidelines, you will make it difficult for your readers to verify your supporting evidence, which will cost you points.

David Plaut is the founder of Reference Point Software (RPS). RPS offers a complete suite of easy-to-use formatting template products featuring MLA and APA style templates, freeing up time to focus on substance while ensuring formatting accuracy. For more information, log onto or write to us here.

Reference Point Software is not associated with, endorsed by, or affiliated with the American Psychological Association (APA) or with the Modern Language Association (MLA).

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