Journalism Types: Expository Writing

Expository writing is a type of writing that aims to inform, explain, and/or describe. It is common to journalism, as well as to other professions in which informative, clear language is required. In fact, most people will be required to compose expository writing on a regular basis as an adult, which is why it is considered a life skill.

Expository writing should be devoid of emotion or opinion. Rather it should be instructive and covey the message as succinctly and simply as possible. Each of us has been in a position where we have been asked to create an expository piece a number of times in our high school years. Think back to when your teacher asked you to write about the Civil War, or write an essay about how technology has changed humanity, and then you will understand exactly what is meant by expository writing.

Do not be fooled into thinking that expository writing is simple to compose, just because the prompt asks you to explain something in elementary language. Expository writing can be very challenging, because you must give an accurate accounting to the reader, who expects to learn something from your essay. There is a process to developing an expository essay. Once you have internalized it, you should not be intimidated when faced with the prospect of expository writing again in your lifetime. If you intend to be a journalist, it is a skill you must master to move forward in the profession.

An expository essay is generally composed of five paragraphs. The first paragraph introduces the main idea, or thesis, of the composition. The next three paragraphs comprise the body of the essay. Their purpose is to provide the details to support the thesis – one per paragraph. The last paragraph reiterates the main idea one more time, and then connects it to the major points of the essay.

Step 1 – Select a topic

If you are not assigned a topic, then it may seem like an interesting challenge to choose subject matter that is of personal interest to you. However, remember that the information is intended to instruct, and not persuade, so you must keep emotions out of the writing altogether. In light of this, it might be a good idea to choose a topic for which you have no intense feelings whatsoever. Just be sure the topic is also narrow enough to be manageable within the framework of an expository piece of writing. Remember, it is not a dissertation. The purpose is to iterate information clearly and succinctly. The reader should be able to easily identify the writer's purpose and message.

Step 2 – Prewriting

If you are going to be a journalist, then the process of prewriting should become second nature to you. Prewriting is, to the journalist, what warming up is to the runner. It gets the juices flowing, it stretches the muscles, loosening ideas – and revs the creative engine in your mind. One common tool of prewriting is to brainstorm. Create a list of thoughts on the subject you will be writing about.

For example, perhaps you are going to do an expository essay on African American Folk Songs. What are the different avenues you could take? Here are a few ideas that might help to narrow the topic: choose a specific time period, choose a specific folk singer, or choose a specific subject matter. It is obvious that "African American Folk Songs" is far too broad a subject to distill into five paragraphs. However, "African American Folk Songs from the 1850s," or "African American Folk Songs about Family" diminishes the topic to one that is manageable and can be explained in five paragraphs.

Step 3 – Develop the thesis statement

The thesis statement is the main idea of the entire expository essay. It is the most important sentence in the composition. It does not need to be complicated to be effective, in fact many thesis statements are exceptional because they are simple and to the point. Remember, a thesis statement is not an expression of an opinion or position on a subject. It does not make outrageous claims or set the stage for an argument. It is an idea that can be supported with facts. For the writer, the best thing about an effective thesis statement is that the body and conclusion of the expository essay will be easier to develop. It will drive the essay, and the information will flow naturally from it.

What follows are some examples of thesis statements.

*The Vietnam War protests were acts of significant civil disobedience that brought the conflict to an end more quickly.

*The invention of the personal computer changed American education.

*Nanotechnology has revolutionized modern reality.

*Bullying is a pervasive problem in public schools.

Step 4 – Find Resources

This is actually a multi-step process. Now that you know what you want to write about, and you have developed your thesis statement, you should spend several hours researching the subject. Use a broad range of resources, including the Internet, academic research, recently published books on the subject, and even news or magazine clippings, if they include relevant information.

As a prospective journalist it should become second nature to look through an expansive amount of literature on the subject you intend to write about. You should become comfortable in focusing on different works that pertain to your topic, reading through them and taking notes on points of interest that support your thesis. This is all part of the writing process, and if it is the career you have chosen, then you must learn to shut-out the rest of the world while you spend time reading, thinking, reflecting, and note-taking – all before you begin to craft the actual work, itself.

You amass a variety of resources in advance, so that you don't have to stop and start, a disruption to the thinking and writing process that can make your final product choppy and/or slow down the completion of your final product.

When you begin the hard work of reading and note-taking, you should be methodical and organized. For each resource you should write the title, publication information, and author. Then put any notations beneath this with page numbers on which you found the information you think will be helpful to the development of your final expository essay. It will make referencing or the creation of a bibliography easier, as well, because you won't have to go back and relocate your resources.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Journalism course?

Writing is like creating a work of art with words. If you have ever watched an artist work, you see they take their time developing the piece. They add something in one place – then step back and ruminate on how that moves the work of art forward to completion. The same is true for writing. You are developing a piece of work that you will want others to enjoy. So you add, subtract, change, and shape your ideas, until they reflect what you want to say.

Interestingly enough, a famous writer once said that even after his book had been published and enjoyed by millions, he could go back and read it and find things he would still change. It is fair to say that "a writer's work is never done" -- and journalists are writers.

Remember, in an earlier section you were advised to start and maintain a writer's notebook that could serve as a source of ideas for new stories. The research you do on any expository writing is still another resource that could be revisited in the future and used as a springboard for news stories, as well. You must simply find your own way of organizing the ideas to keep them separate and easily accessible.

Step 5 – Create an Outline

While you are reading and researching, you should be getting an idea of the shape you want your expository essay to take. Start by placing your thesis statement at the top of the page. Then identify three points you want to make about that thesis statement, and number them in an order beneath that statement. The example below should help explain how to create a rudimentary outline.

1. Introductory paragraph

*Bullying is a pervasive problem in public schools.

*What is bullying?

2. Second paragraph – first point

*Bullying statistics in the United States

*The impact of bullying on attendance figures

*The impact of bullying on absentee figures

3. Third paragraph – second point

*Characteristics of a bully

4. Fourth paragraph – third point

*Characteristics of the bullied

5. Conclusion

*Bullying interventions

*Re-state main ideas

*Give a conclusory statement

Now, that wasn't so hard was it?

Step 6 – Choose a method of development.

There are several methods of organizing the essay that will depend on the purpose of the writing. The following are the most common methods of organizing an expository essay.

Definition Some essays focus on offering a clear, and sometimes expanded, definition of a subject. However, there should be no confusion. Definition in an expository essay is stating what a particular object is.

DescriptionLike the previous explanation, description is fairly straightforward. It explains the sight, smell, sound, feel, or taste of a person, place, or thing.

SequenceSequence in expository writing explains the order in which the journalist wants the reader to know how an event occurred. It is usually chronological, or step-by-step – such as with a cookbook or instructions on carrying out a task.There are words that are often incorporated to help move the reader along, such as "first," "next," and "finally," Remember, sequence can also work backwards, from beginning to end, if the writer is looking for a unique way to present an expository essay.

Classification This is an expository writing strategy that groups concepts or things together. For instance, if you were going to write about writing – you could classify it by types, such as fictional, non-fictional, humorous or science fiction. Or you could give subcategories of fiction writing as an example.

ComparisonThe purpose of comparative expository writing is to compare and contrast two ideas, texts, concepts, or subjects. Often the point is to inform a reader about the pros and cons of two different positions – which remaining noncommittal as the writer. Remember, expository writing is not supposed to be persuasive. An example might be to compare the pros and cons of solar and wind energy.

Cause and effect This type of expository writing identifies the reason for an occurrence and the resulting outcome. For example, there was an oil spill in the Indian Ocean and thousands of marine and plant life died, as a result.

As you begin to frame your essay, you may choose one of these organizational tools to guide your writing.

Step 7 – Develop the first draft

Using your thesis and outline, you can now flesh out the writing. Each person will develop their own approach to this over time, but one suggestion is to complete the introductory paragraph and then go in and write a topic sentence for the three paragraphs that make up the body of the essay and return to them, one at a time, to expound upon. That way you have some structure to the composition as you continue to develop it. There is less chance that you will ramble and lose your way in the writing.

After you have completed the body of the essay, re-read it and use it to drive the development of the topic sentence for your conclusion. The structure of the final paragraph could be as follows:

First, re-state your thesis and the main points of the essay. Consider this statement for the conclusion on the essay on bullying.

Bullying is the act of terrorizing, harassing, persecuting, or intimidating another individual. Research shows that nearly 25 percent of students in American public schools are bullied on a daily basis, which leads to absentee rates of 20 percent or higher, a significant number that impacts a student's academic progress. Common characteristics of children that bully include aggressiveness, anger, and lack of self-control. Conversely, the child prone to being bullied may be smaller in size, and have a poor sense of self-esteem. There are a variety of interventions that can help to rein in bullying in public schools, beginning with a proactive, no-nonsense approach to ending bullying. Schools and parents must be vigilant in the prevention and arrest of bullying. No child deserves to be oppressed by classmates. Schools need to be a "bully-free" zone.

This final paragraph has done what is expected. It reiterated the thesis statement and summarized the three supporting topic statements. Then, it ended with a conclusion that wrapped up and emphasized the purpose of the expository essay.

Step 8 – Revise and Edit

As any good writing teacher will tell you, even the most prolific authors do not get it right the first time. When you are writing an expository essay, or any piece of writing, you tend to have a running commentary in your head of what you believe you are committing to paper. But sometimes, in your haste to get your thoughts down, you may misspell or leave out a word entirely, or put your ideas together in a way that is unclear.

So once you have completed the first draft of your essay, set it aside for a day or two. Do not look at it, no matter how tempted you may be. Then when the passion of the writing has left you, take out the essay and read it again with a critical eye. First, be sure there are no obvious spelling or grammatical errors. Then decide if it reads the way you intended and delivers the message in the manner you wanted to. If not, go in and make corrections. If so, send it to your editor for publication.