What Is an Explanatory Essay
In an explanatory essay, a writer explains or describes an idea, situation, or person. The writer does not have to agree with the topic written about; he only needs to gather the information and research to explain it sufficiently.
Whereas most essays aim to persuade or argue a position, explanatory essays simply present information about a topic. For these types of essays, you do not have to worry about defending a viewpoint or trying to analyze the topic from multiple angles. Your sole purpose for writing is to inform or educate your readers.
Constructing an explanatory essay involves investigating many different sources. However, do not include your own opinions and beliefs into your writing.
Remember that the point of the essay is simply to present information. Your teachers will be looking for a formal presentation in your essay and will be grading based on how well you follow that format.
Functions of an Explanatory Essay
The primary function of an explanatory essay is to inform, educate, describe, or explain a topic. You are not arguing any point nor persuading the reader. An essay should leave the reader feeling knowledgeable and informed about the topic.
Difference Between an Explanatory Essay and an Argumentative Essay
In an explanatory essay, you are not arguing or making a case for anything. You are only making informative statements, and the general tone is neutral. The reader is simply getting knowledge about the subject of the essay. This is vastly different from an argumentative essay, where the entire purpose is to argue a viewpoint and persuade the reader to your side. From the beginning, it is clear that you want the reader to adopt a particular view. Often the tone is not neutral and is very subjective.
Explanatory Essay Structure
Explanatory essays have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. In the introduction, you present a thesis to light through an attention-grabbing hook statement. The body paragraphs may be simple or complex, depending on your topic. Do your best to maintain one main idea per body paragraph, followed by supporting sentences. The conclusion summarizes the main ideas and leaves the reader with a strong impression.
The standard high-school five-paragraph essay is a perfect template for any explanatory essay. Not only will the simple structure keep you on topic, but it will also force you to write more concisely in the body paragraphs.
Choose a Topic
The first step before you get into the actual writing will be to do thorough and adequate research. With an explanatory essay, you shouldn't produce a complex piece of work; instead, you present all the data and facts surrounding an issue. If you pick a broad subject, then you will likely struggle to expose all of the viewpoints, pros and cons, and so forth. The quality of your essay is how adequately and cohesively you can explain a topic while presenting reliable sources to back up your statements.
Explanatory Essay Topics
If you are allowed to pick a topic of your liking, you must choose something that you already know of, even just a little bit. The majority of topics, events, or situations suit an explanatory essay. You can brainstorm the facts you already know about it or, for the contrary, the things that you are curious about to help you narrow down ideas.
A few examples that you could choose from are:
- The relevance of intercultural education for the 21st century;
- How George Orwell’s 1984 relates to present-day politics;
- The long-lasting effects of Individualism in American Romantic Literature;
- Why torture shouldn’t be used as a counter-terrorism technique;
- Describe the effects of the American Civil War.
When writing an explanatory essay, you should not try to persuade the readers to change their opinion about something. You shouldn't submit an exhaustive analysis or criticism; in fact, it is not necessary to agree with the perspective of the writers you are basing your paper on. You are merely to lay out the facts and details. For this reason, it is of vital importance that the information that you present comes from reputable sources.
You can gather information from academic databases, Google Scholar, accredited News sources, and governmental institutions.
Outline Your Essay
Your essay should follow a logical, well-organized layout. Depending on your topic, you might need to expand on specific parts or arrange paragraphs differently to include the supporting evidence properly. Include all relevant information and elaborate on your explanatory statement.
The easiest, most dependable way to structure your essay is in the five-paragraph form.
First off, your introduction should give your readers concise information about the topic, but it has to be vivid enough to grab their attention.
In the next three paragraphs, use the key ideas that resulted from your brainstorming, join them together in a cohesive manner, and support the statements with the material and evidence that you found. Your citations can include data coming from figures, tables, journals, etc. Make it abundantly clear to readers how the data that you present strengthens your claim, linking them to your initial thesis statement.
Finally, the conclusion should summarize the aspects that you have exposed, highlighting the core ideas, and showing the connection that you have maintained in the body paragraphs. Close with your final statement.
A successful explanatory essay will always have three key components: a captivating hook, some background to the topic, and the thesis statement. The introduction should ease the reader into the topic of the essay. The priority of the opening paragraph is to capture the reader's attention with a hook statement. Learn to experiment with the introduction; the hook can be anything from an interesting fact to a relevant quote from an authority figure.
Then fill in the blanks between the reader's knowledge and the topic you are presenting. Your audience will be on the same page, even if they had little prior knowledge of the topic. Finally, end the introduction with the thesis statement to lead the reader into your essay.
The body is the main content of the essay, where you will break down the thesis statement. Each body paragraph must contain its idea unless the idea is complex and requires more explanation.
Even though each paragraph refers to a different idea, the format for writing should be the same. The first sentence of the paragraph is known as the topic sentence. It contains the main idea within the paragraph.
The topic sentence should transition the logical flow of ideas from the previous paragraph to the current one.
Next, show the connection this point has with the thesis statement. Remember that the audience is waiting to see how you prove your original point in the introduction. Support the connection with facts and data you have researched, increasing your credit and validity. The last sentence summarizes the connection of the main idea to the thesis statement, while also transitioning into the next paragraph.
Just as the introduction, a solid conclusion will have three major components that bolster its efficiency. The first component is restating the thesis. It reminds the audience of the central point of the essay.
Next, summarize the points in the body paragraphs. Readers will mentally tie everything together. Sometimes they may understand the main ideas better when they have been stated more directly in conclusion.
Finish your conclusion strong with a concluding statement. This statement should present a bird's eye view of the topic, zooming out to gain a broader perspective. A call to action, a strong anecdote, or a prediction based on the facts leave an impression in your audience's imagination.
It can be easy to get carried away with your style writing an essay but do not forget the purpose of an explanatory essay. You are writing to discuss the facts and research and present your reader with an informed, educated essay. Avoid the tendency to add your own opinion into the writing, or from the essay becoming a personal story. It is okay to suggest different ways of thinking about the subject, but do not goad readers into your mindset. Also, consider the audience's preferences when choosing words and style.
Explanatory Essay Types
Writers may use Explanatory essays for different reasons. These are five different types of explanatory essays:
- Problem and Solution;
- Cause and Effect;
- Compare and Contrast;
- Definitions and Classification;
What Each Type Means:
Problem and Solution: The main purpose of this essay is to point out a particular issue that the writer sees and to provide a viable solution as a remedy. A writer may explain that throwing away plastic bottles is terrible for the environment using statistics and data. Afterward, he or she will then move forward to provide a solution to the plastic waste problem.
Cause and Effect: This type of essay analyzes an event or situation and then details the possible outcomes. An environmental writer may present the issue of plastic waste to the public and go on to detail how it is affecting the environment and wildlife using evidence. Cause and effect essays can also be used to analyze historical events.
Compare and Contrast: The author works to compare two ideas or objects and point out the similarities, then move on to contrast and point out the differences between them. You may compare two countries' solutions for an economic issue. She can build an essay comparing and contrasting the methods used by both countries, explaining what worked and what failed.
Definitions and Classification: It is probably the most straightforward explanatory essay. Simply, the writer will define something and provide facts that back up his statements. An example would be writing an essay about what a Bluetooth headset is and how it works.
How-to/Process: Featured on several DIY and homestead websites, this type of essay provides instructions for a particular process. It can take various formats, but generally, there is an introduction of the process and what it needs, the steps to follow and carry it out successfully, and finally, a conclusion section for any lingering questions.
These tips can help you stay focused when writing an explanatory essay. Include them in your essay to increase retention.
Use a strong introduction to hook in readers.
Your essay needs to grab the reader's attention immediately so they will read the entire essay. Consider using any of the following in your introduction as a means to hook readers in:
- A powerful quote, proverb, or saying;
- A colorful description;
- A bold, controversial opinion;
- A startling statistic;
- An unpopular fact;
- A thought-provoking question.
Diversify your sources to explain your topic from different angles.
You will retain a reader more if you have various types of facts that spark their imagination. These are some ideas, but there are many more ways to get facts:
- Mind-blowing facts about the topic;
- Personal stories;
- Using definitions;
- Numbers and statistical data.
The transition between your ideas smoothly.
Create a logical flow for your reader to follow easily. They will find it easier to jump from one idea to the next if the essay progresses in a perceivable order.
End on a good note.
Your conclusion is your final say to the audience. Make it something lasting and impressionable. You do want to summarize, but also leave readers with something to take away from the essay. Some examples are:
- Resolve a story you started in the body;
- Your own experience or another's anecdote;
- Questions that your essay brings up.
Effective transitional phrases/words:
- To begin with;
- At this point;
- For example/instance;
- For this reason;
- As a result.
No one reads an explanatory essay to hear someone else's opinion. No matter what you think or believe, stick to recording and writing the facts of your research. If there is a conclusion to be drawn, let the facts speak for themselves.
Show the reader some respect by considering the counterarguments to your research. Every story has a second script. Let the reader know why you have decided the facts you have chosen are correct over the others. You can confirm and express your confidence in your decision by accruing multiple sources that agree with your point.