Every essay is different. But we can identify four common types of essay:
Expository essays (i.e., essays that explain something)
Descriptive essays (i.e., essays that describe something)
Persuasive essays (i.e., essays that aim to persuade the reader)
Narrative essays (i.e., essays that tell a story)
These are not always clear distinctions (e.g., a narrative essay may also be descriptive). Nevertheless, most essays fall into one of the categories above, and knowing the differences between them can be useful when planning your work. Read on to find out more.
1. Expository Essays
Expository essays focus on explaining something. The aim is to test how well you can communicate your understanding of a topic. This often involves comparing and contrasting two ideas, or defining something and giving an example. Expository essays are typically structured as follows:
An introduction that sets out the subject matter, how you will answer the essay question, and any key background information.
A series of logically connected paragraphs setting out your understanding of the subject, along with evidence to support your claims.
A conclusion that addresses your essay question.
This type of essay is often used for shorter assignments and exams.
2. Descriptive Essays
Descriptive essays are less about arguing a point and more about creating a detailed picture. The problem is that you need to create this picture with words! These essays are sometimes quite personal or creative (e.g., reflective essays often include a descriptive element). However, they should still be clearly structured and written to make them easy to follow.
Your aim should be to leave your reader with a clear idea of what you are describing. This is a very useful skill to have in any form of writing, in fact, as it will make your work more compelling.
3. Persuasive Essays
Persuasive (or argumentative) essays are a lot like expository essays. They are often structured similarly, for example. And both types of essay ask you to answer a question via research.
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However, a persuasive essay is also about presenting a thesis and backing it up with evidence or arguments. For example, rather than just setting out and comparing two theories, for a persuasive essay, you might need to research different aspects of these theories, address them critically, and argue for one over the other. This may involve in-depth research or an experiment.
As such, persuasive essays are usually longer than expository essays. They are often used as end-of-module assignments in colleges, too.
4. Narrative Essays
Finally, narrative essays tell a story. This doesn’t mean that you have to write your essay as a short story, but it will draw on the conventions of storytelling.
In terms of content, narrative essays are usually quite personal or anecdotal, but they should also have a point (a moral to the story or a lesson that you have learned from an experience).
The language used in a narrative essay should be clear and concise, but it will also be descriptive and emotive. Using the first-person pronoun “I” is much more common in this type of essay than others, too, as you will often be writing about your own experiences.
Finally, whatever type of essay you are writing, don’t forget that having your work proofread is a great way to boost your marks.