Common Essay Types Study Guide (page 2)
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 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 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.
Narrative essays tell a story, or report an event, or describe an experience. Usually, but not always, narratives are told from the writer's point of view. Like other essay formats, narrative essays must include a point, a thesis statement that engages the reader as well as sufficient vivid details to make the story come alive.
Not all narratives are written in the writer's voice. You could easily write a narrative in the voice of a character you have invented, or indeed, in the voice of a historical person. (For example, you could write an imaginary letter from George Washington to his parents.) Here are sample essay topics for which you might use the narrative essay format:
- If I could have a super power, it would be _____.
- Are there still heroes to admire?
- the best advice I ever got
- surviving a tornado
- How would you reduce crime in urban areas?
Narrative essays are an ideal place to apply the 5 W questions: who, what, where, when, and why. Because narrative essays are often personal stories, or at least ideas presented using the first person (I believe that . . .), you must be sure that you are writing from a thesis statement. Your thesis statement might not be actually spelled out in your first paragraph, but it must be the guiding principle that makes this story of interest or value to the reader.
Often narrative writers conclude their essays with a summary statement, such as And so I learned from this _____ experience, never to trust _____. Another conclusion of this type might be Be careful, then, when you wish for a super power. My experience having such a power proved _____.
Applying Common Essay Formats To Other Writing Projects
While this lesson has concentrated on essays you might be assigned as classwork, these formats are perfectly adaptable to other forms of writing projects. Here are other ways in which you might use these formats.
- Journal writing. Nothing improves your writing as much as practice. Experiment by writing in the expository form for ten minutes every night for a week. Choose a topic every night and try to write in the third person instead of writing in the first person, which is the one most often used by journal keepers. If no subjects come to mind immediately, use one of the sample expository formats provided in this lesson.
- Poetry. Poems don't have to rhyme, and they don't have to be about love, or pain, or any personal feelings for that matter. If you've never written a poem, try to write one. If you start by choosing a surprise format, such as the persuasive format, you may have fun writing in a new way.
- Text messaging or instant messaging. Instead of writing texts of messages in your usual personal narrative format, try writing your next text or IM in an expository format. Write to your friend and explain something—anything—and see how workable that format can be.
- Songs. Even if you're not a musician, you may be a lyricist (a person who writes the words of songs). Try applying what you've learned about creating a strong thesis statement supported by relevant details to the practice of writing lyrics for a song. You may have fun.
Practice 1: Writing Strong Thesis Statements
In this exercise, you will practice writing strong thesis statements for sample essay topics. In addition to proposing a thesis statement, include the essay format that you think would work well for your thesis.
Choose your favorite three topics from the sample topics provided in this lesson, and write concise, clear, meaningful thesis statements for them.
A chart and sample are provided to help you.
Practice 2: Writing About The First Day of School
In this exercise, write a first sentence in each of the three essay formats discussed in this lesson about the same subject. The purpose is for you to experiment treating the same event in several different ways.
Think about the first day of school—your own first day or someone else's. It can be preschool, kindergarten, or any other grade. Now write interesting, engaging first sentences for each type of essay format.