Expository writing always sounds vaguely medical to me, perhaps it’s because it sounds like ‘exploratory’. Fortunately there’s nothing painful about it, all ‘expository writing’ explains something, the instructions for a video game are expository writing, but so is something which gives an opinion, the term covers a very wide range.
In life and work, explanations are often necessary, so it’s not surprising that expository writing is on the school curriculum, though it does surprise me that the topics often chosen as ‘expository writing prompts tend to be opinion based. Let me give you an example.
‘What is your favorite animal and why’ is a fairly common EWP (expository writing prompt) but while it’s good to know why you think what you think, this sort of topic doesn’t really teach anyone to explain facts and
processes; the ability to pass on information and skills is an important one, especially in the workplace. The list of EWPs on this page includes quite a number which require the explanation of a process, but before we get into that, let’s talk about expository writing in general, and the different approaches to it.
If you’d prefer to jump straight to the expository writing prompts just scroll down.
Techniques in Expository Writing
Explanations are important, and as with any other form of writing, you need to grab and hold your readers attention. When you’re explaining how something’s done, this is pretty easy; you start by explaining why the technique you’re describing is useful. If you can convince your reader that there is a good reason to learn from you, then you’re off to a good start, but there are many different ways to get your information across.
1. Tell a story. The technical name for this is ‘narrative interspersion’; you get your point across by telling a story, typically about someone with a problem which was solved by mastering the technique you describe. This is often the most successful type of explanation because everything is packaged together, the reader can see from the story that the information is capable of solving problems and is hence important. The story will have characters and events and these will help your readers remember the details of the technique you describe.
2. Make a comparison. This is especially effective when you are describing why something is the best or worst of its class, you can list points of importance and compare, for example, you might write that an ant eater is the best type of wild animal and compare it to a dog, the ant eater has a longer nose and a much more striking appearance. And did you know that Salvador Dali kept one as a pet?
3. Break it down into steps, usually in chronological order. Ideal for explanation of how to do something, show the reader that the process isn’t complicated or lengthy by breaking it down into simple steps. Step 1 is usually ‘assemble the tools and/or materials’.
4. Create a set of frequently asked questions. The FAQ technique is often used on the web. When you’re describing how to do something, your first question could be ‘why is it useful to know this?’ followed by ‘will I need tools for this?’. If, for example, you are explaining how to make a cup of tea, the procedure will vary according to the equipment available, so one question in your FAQ could be ‘Do I need a teatpot?’ or ‘I don’t like to use teabags, will loose tea do?’
5. The Reasoning Process. Another approach is to take your reader through your reasoning process, this is particularly interesting if you want to lead them to an unexpected conclusion. Yes, at school they tell you to state your thesis in the introduction, but let’s face it, you don’t always do what you are told in school. Neither do good writers. Say you were writing about somewhere you really wanted to visit. You could start by explaining that you have always wanted to travel and so decided that Paris would be ideal. Then you explain your decision; you love cities filled with history, so Paris was an obvious choice, just like London, Rome or Berlin. That you enjoy art galleries, which narrowed the choice again, and that you wanted to go somewhere extremely romantic. The choice seems to fall squarely on Paris, but no, at the end you realise you have one more problem, you don’t speak French, the National Gallery, Tate Modern, British Museum and the V&A are world class and you can stay in a genuine 13 th century castle if you visit London. Add in the rain, and how much more romance do you need?
6. Descriptive. This form of expository writing break an item into it’s consiuent parts and then describes them, sometimes by way of a list. You might write that a cat is the best animal in the world by describing it in great detail, its fur, ears, teeth, independent nature, tail and amazing ability to balance, but this is best used when writing about something without the need for evaluation, (which is usually best done by comparison) You might write an expository piece about American government by breaking it down the into legislative, judicial and executive branches and describing each one in turn.
The best way to test a piece of expository writing is to get an outside opinion. If you’re described how to do something, try out the process, but be careful to really ollow your instructions and not to add knowledge you already have to return to the ‘making tea’ example, be sure that if you say ‘fill the kettle’ you first noted that a kettle would be needed, and if you say ‘heat the water’, you say how much to heat it.
Schools seems to love to teach creative writing, and why not? It’s fun. I think it’s sad that once they leave school, many people never write creative fiction again, but expository writing is a far more useful skill. In school, in life and in the workplace, it’s a skill worthy of your attention, and the best way to learn a skill is to practice. Here are some writing prompts you can use to get started.
Expository Writing Prompts
The prompts are divided into several categories
- Prompts for young children
- Prompts for Older Children
- Prompts for ‘How to’ Essays
- Prompts for Entrepreneurs and Business Owners
- Prompts for explaining a point of view
For younger children
There’s no need to wait until children are old enough to write sentences and paragraphs, you can use these prompts to get them thinking and record what they say on video.
- My favorite wild animal
- What I want to be when I grow up
- The best present
- My favorite place
- My best friend
- How to be a best friend
- How to make a paper aeroplane
- How to make a snowman
- How to decorate a Christmas tree
- What I’ll do when I rule the world.
- My favorite TV show
- My favorite pet
- The best sort of weather
- The best color for clothes
- How to get dressed
- My favorite thing to do
- The country I would most like to visit.
- My favorite way to travel (walk, run, ski, sledge, car, bus, train, plane etc)
- What I’d like my name to be, and why.
- What I like about my home/school
Expository Writing Prompts for Older Children
For Practice Explaining how something is done.
- How to make a cup of coffee/tea
- How to smile
- How to boil an egg
- How to find something to watch on TV
- My favorite gadget and how to use it.
- How to tell the time
- How to wrap a gift
- How to cool a drink
- How to tell a story
- How to make a decision
- How to feel better (when you feel bad)
- How to use the Internet
- How to find something on the web
- How to change the world
- How to calculate a percentage
- How to conquer your fears
- How to eat.
- How to paint a picture
- How to grow a flower
- How to choose a car.
Expository Writing for Business Owners
- How to buy something from me.
- Why you should buy something for me
- Why you should give me time and money.
- Why many of my customers return. (If not, why not?)
- Why my last business idea was a bad one.
- The most important lesson I have learned
- How to find the time to run a business
- Why you should find the time to run a business
- Why I enjoy working for myself
- How to get started with a new business project
For practice in explaining a view (though see another post on persuasive writing)
- Why I love dogs or Why everyone should love dogs
- Why XXXX is my favorite television program
- My favorite book (and why)
- My favorite Star Trek Captain
- My favorite film (and why)
- My favorite actor (and why)
- My favorite color.
- My favorite food.
- My favorite animal
- Why School Uniforms are great/rubbish.
- The best thing to do on a rainy day
- The best kind of sport
- History’s most important invention
- Why I love/hate snow
- Why I love/hate rain
- Why I love/hate my Mom
- Why Thanksgiving is important to me (or any other occasion that is important)
- The best gift I’ve ever given, and why
- The best gift I could receive
- My favorite song.
- My favorite cartoon
- How I will change the world and why
- My favorite journey
- The fictional character I’d most like to meet and why
- Where and When I’d go If I had a Time Machine.
- What I’m most afraid of.
- The biggest disappointment I ever had.
- What I like/hate about team sports.
- The most important decision I have ever made.
- The most memorable day of my life.