Common Essay Types Study Guide

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Updated on Oct 1, 2011

Common Essay Types

I write rhymes with addition and algebra, mental geometry. - ICE–T (1958–  ) RAPPER, ACTOR, AND WRITER

In this lesson, you'll learn about the three most common essay types: expository, persuasive, and narrative.

Now you will learn about the most commonly used essay formats. This lesson gives you practice in planning how to achieve your communication goals by choosing the best essay format for what you actually want to say.

In general, there are three types of essays that are most commonly assigned in middle school, high school, and college. (We will not take up the writing of research papers here because those projects involve a different set of more complicated rules and procedures.) In almost every case, essays you are assigned, or even those you choose to write on your own, will fall into one of the three following formats.

Expository Essays

Expository essays are probably the most frequently assigned format for students. This essay format requires the writer to explain something to the audience. Specific expository writing assignments might include the following:

  • describe a process (how to bake a cake)
  • compare and contrast two ideas or things (compare cats and dogs as pets)
  • explain a cause-and-effect relationship (pollution results in global warming)
  • review something (favorite movie or book)
  • define (how corn grows; how caterpillars become butterflies)
  • discuss (future developments in technology)

As you can see by these examples of expository assignments, the writer's task is to provide exposition, or inform the reader about the assigned subject, which may include providing examples, facts, relevant anecdotes, as well as personal knowledge the writer may have about the subject. Once the writer has clarified the subject to be explained, he or she is free to choose among the many organizational strategies we explored in previous lessons.

Persuasive Essays

Persuasive essays are the second-most common essay format that you are likely to be assigned. In this format, your task is to convince the reader of your point of view on some subject; alternatively, you may be required to convince the reader to take some particular action, such as vote for your candidacy for class president. Here are sample essay topics that require the persuasive essay format:

  • Skateboarding should be prohibited on city streets.
  • Violence on television is resulting in violence on our streets.
  • The voting age for national elections should be raised to 21.
  • Presidential terms should be extended to six years in order to give sitting presidents more time to enact their policies.

As with all other essay formats, it is essential in a persuasive essay that you define your topic narrowly; construct your thesis statement precisely; and offer statistics and facts as well as opinions to support your argument. Additionally, you will make a more persuasive argument for your position if you are knowledgeable about and acknowledge the other side of the argument in your essay.

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