An expository essay asks the writer to present his or her opinions, ideas, and arguments on a particular topic. As with other types of essays, a thesis statement is presented, and the five-paragraph format is usually followed. (See our blog “Acing the Essay: Introduction,” for more information on essays.)
In most cases, the undergraduate essays you’ll be asked to write will be based on a topic provided by your instructor, so we’ll go with that assumption. Let’s say you are writing an essay for a literature class, and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is your primary source material. Your instructor gives you a list of topics from which to choose. Most of them have to do with social class, social customs in England at that time, and family relationships as portrayed in the novel. (Go online and Google “essay topics Pride and Prejudice," and you’ll see that these are very common topics.) You are up to a bit of a challenge, so you choose the topic “Entailment of property was a widespread practice in 19th century England. What effect did entailment have on the Bennet family?”
Whether or not your class has spent time discussing entailment, you’ll want to do some research on the subject so you’ll understand what it is. Next, you’ll think about the specifics of your instructor’s topic as illustrated in the novel and develop some questions related to it. How did the Bennets feel about the entailment of their estate? Did it worry them? Why? How did it affect the events that occurred in the story? How might events have occurred differently if not for the entailment?
Get the drift? You’ll quickly realize that Austen used entailment very effectively in her plot. In fact, you may suspect that she was saying something about her society by showing what entailment could do to a family.
Now for the difference between a research paper and an essay: You won’t merely report on what entailment is and how the Bennets reacted to it. You’ll take it a step further and write your ideas about the implications of entailment for the Bennets and for society as a whole. You are, basically, discussing the subject with your reader. You might point out the good and bad points of entailment, how it affected the plot and characters, and whether you agree with Austen’s point of view. Above all, you’ll say what you think about it.
If you express your thoughts clearly, use concise language, and stick to the topic, you will have a good chance of acing the expository essay.