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How to Construct Better Expository Essays

Expository Essays will test your knowledge, may test your problem-solving skills, and, most importantly, all your research skills.

Gerry Masters
Gerry Masters
Book lesson

Expository Essays will test your knowledge, may test your problem-solving skills, and, most importantly, all your research skills.

They are often set as an assignment as they require a considerable amount of time and energy to construct.

Sometimes an expository essay will simply be testing how deep your knowledge of something is.

What were the benefits and drawbacks of Prohibition in the USA from 1920 to 1933?

This will require you to simply research the history leading up to the decision and what happened as a result.

However, sometimes an expository essay question will be far more challenging. Firstly you have to explain why something is the way it is and then suggest solutions.

New Zealand experienced a serious measles epidemic in 2019. From 1 January 2019 to 18 December, there were 2784 confirmed cases of measles notified to the Ministry of Health across the country.

Why did this happen and what can be done by Health Authorities and Medical Practitioners to limit or prevent this problem occurring in the future?

It is very likely that your assessor/examiner will have given you a list of factors/criteria that you need to address in your essay. So for the measles essay it could look like this:

Provide information on:

1.   Why and how this occurred
2.   Vaccination rates at the time & why some ethnicities/groups have lower vaccination rates than others
3.   How the disease spread
4.   Government response
5.   The anti-vax movement
6.   Herd immunity
7.   Further relevant factors

This is very helpful as it gives you a definite framework and a focus to work on, much better than waffling and being more likely to miss something important.

Answering numbers 1 to 6 should be easy—you simply need to look at all the relevant available information e.g. news stories, government websites, medical/measles websites, etc.  Whereas number 7 is likely to be a little more challenging as you must determine what constitutes “Further relevant factors”

Word Requirement—Don’t Be Way Over or Way Under

Let’s say you have been asked to produce a 1500-word essay. A reasonable teacher will hopefully allow anything between 1430 words and 1650 words (though it is very much an individual decision by your teacher) BUT this should NOT be your major focus. An experienced teacher can easily spot an essay (usually because it is poorly written) where the student has been primarily focused on meeting the exact word limit.

Quality is far more important than quantity.

If you have finished and you are over 100 words or more below what you need consider giving more detail on one or two of the criteria listed, but make sure it is relevant.

If you have finished and you are over 100 words or more above what you need consider writing more simply and clearly and eliminating any unnecessary information, perhaps you can explain something better by rephrasing it using fewer words.

Spoiler Alert: Your references, including any in-text citations, DO NOT COUNT towards the total word requirement.

You Must Use Academic Vocabulary in an Expository Essay

The Academic Word List (AWL) was developed by Averil Coxhead at the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand for her MA Thesis.

The list contains 570-word families which were selected because they appear with great frequency in a broad range of academic texts. If you click on the link you will be taken to a website where you can do practice exercises with words from the list—it is particularly good because it also offers definitions of each of the words in the list.

Make your essay far better interesting by using this great resource from Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Using the same phrases over and over in an essay is lazy, unimaginative, and will lose you marks. This resource is great because it has the following:

  • Ways to introduce your topic/begin your essay
  • Ways to conclude your essay
  • Different methods of comparing and contrasting
  • How to give examples
  • How to show relationships or outcomes
  • How to present uncommon ideas and common ideas
  • How to present inconclusive ideas
  • How to present historical or prior ideas
  • How to present the ideas of others

And most importantly

  • How to keep the I out of academic writing.

Be sure to practise using these correctly—you can’t just shove them in anywhere, some grammatical changes will most likely be required.

Hopefully, your assessor/teacher has given you some general guidance along the way e.g. Give more information about X, You need to clarify what you mean by Y, Your paragraph about Z is too long, etc. Do as they suggest.

Checking and Proofreading Your Essay

Finished writing? Good, but it doesn’t mean you have finished your essay.

You need to check for basic errors—of which there are many—before you submit it. Here are three great ways to check your work and you are guaranteed 100% to find something that needs fixing.

A)  Blank Paper Line by Line:

Get a sheet of blank paper and start at the top of your page/screen. Slowly go down one line at a time carefully reading each line—fix errors as you find them.

This method works very well as it forces your eyes to focus on one sentence at a time—you cannot do this when you have nothing blocking out the rest of the text.

B)  Start at the End:

Go to the end of your writing and read the final sentence, then the one before and the one before and so on, all the way through right back to the beginning.

This method is very good to check the flow and cohesion of your essay and there is a very good chance that in addition to finding errors you may find you need to make a few changes so that it ”sounds” better.

C)  A Virgin Reader:
Give it to a classmate you trust (someone who won’t steal your ideas) or someone else to read and ask for honest feedback. You will have read it dozens of times, so you lack the ability to see all of it clearly, it is amazing what a fresh pair of eyes will find!

Referencing your work using the APA format is something we need to look at separately as it is quite complicated and requires quite a few examples.

Coming Soon to a blog near you!

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