How to Organize an Expository Essay

by Candice Mancini

To remind yourself to stick to your argument and be engaging, think of your expository essay as a debate with a friend. Just as in a debate or conversation -- or even a sitcom episode -- your essay needs a beginning, middle and end and should leave your reader satisfied. If your reader is confused or bored by your essay, you have not done your job.

Thesis: Argue and Then Convince

Your paper must contain a clear, well-defined thesis statement that will shape the rest of your paper. A thesis must argue something. For example, "Jazz music rose to popularity in the early 20th century in the United States," is not a thesis. However, "Jazz has been the most influential movement in music history since the Classical period," is. Place your thesis in your introductory paragraph.

Introduction: Engage, Summarize and Include Thesis

Begin your introduction with an attention-catching statement about your topic. For instance, "In the early 20th century, 'jazz' was considered a vulgar word connected to sex and mayhem." Follow this with important information that introduces the reader to your paper's key topics. Don't forget to include your thesis statement, which some instructors prefer placed in the final sentence of this paragraph.

Body Paragraphs: Provide Evidence, Analyze and Transition

The five-paragraph essay, a common approach to expository writing, is good for beginner writers. Each body paragraph should focus on a subtopic related to your thesis. For example, in one paragraph, discuss the developments of jazz and Classical period music; in another, analyze the influences each had on their societies; and in the last, describe how each influenced future music genres. Analyze each subtopic thoroughly with ample evidence, and connect paragraphs to one another and to the thesis with transition sentences at the end and beginning of each paragraph.

Conclusion: Wrap Up Creatively

Create an overview of your paper's main topics. To avoid being repetitive, place the information in a new context, such as discussing jazz in relation to the broader field of music. Consider including an interesting quotation that sheds new light on the topic. Reveal why your thesis is important, without restating it, such as, "Jazz added clarity and complexity to the ragtime-dominated music scene of the 20th century, just as Classical did during the Baroque-heavy 18th century, allowing for newer, bolder sounds."

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