Answering Writing Prompts: Writing Review Study Guide

Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Answering Writing Prompts: Writing Review Practice Exercises.

What Is A Writing Prompt?

A writing prompt is basically a set of instructions. If someone said to you, "Write an essay," it would be a bit overwhelming. What are you supposed to write about? It could be anything. Maybe you could write about how elephants communicate with one another, or about what you did on your last birthday, or about how you think your school should have more art classes. All of these topics could make interesting essays, but chances are, the person who wants to read your essay already has an idea of what your essay should be about. A writing prompt directs you to write a specific type of essay about a specific topic.

Fuel For Thought

The word prompt means "to move to action."

Types of Prompts

There are three different types of prompts: expository, narrative, and persuasive. It's helpful to understand each of these, so that when you see them, they will already be familiar to you. Here's a little explanation of each one, with an example so that you get the idea.


An expository prompt directs you to explain or describe something. It could be anything from explaining how to plan a party to describing the best way to get all your homework completed on time. The key words to look for are explain and describe. They will clue you in to the fact that you're reading an expository prompt. Here's what one may look like.

Advances in technology often have significant impacts on our lives. Explain how a new technological innovation has influenced your life.
Fuel For Thought

The word expository comes from the word exposition, which means an explanation of something.


A narrative prompt directs you to tell a story. Maybe it will ask you to describe a time when you were scared or what you would do if you didn't go to school one day. Narrative prompts often use the word time, so that's a key word for which to watch out. Also, event is another key word, because you may be asked to tell the story of a particular event. Here's an example of a narrative prompt.

Sometimes it is said that "Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you," yet words often do hurt us. Describe a time when you were hurt by words.


A persuasive prompt directs you to persuade someone of something. You may be asked to persuade the reader, but you may also be asked to persuade a hypothetical someone, who won't necessarily read your essay. For instance, you may be asked to persuade the mayor of your town of your opinion regarding a proposal for year-round school. This could be a made-up proposal and even a made-up mayor, but it gives you a topic and direction for your essay. So, a persuasive prompt asks you to persuade someone of your opinion about something. The key words are persuade or convince. Here's an example of what a persuasive prompt may say.

A friend of yours has asked you if you think he should get a job. Think about whether or not you think it would be a good idea, and write to your friend to persuade him of your opinion.
Pace Yourself

Try creating your own prompts. What topics do you think would be interesting to write about? Save them in a folder or envelope for future practice essays.

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