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How To Write An Expository Essay Outline

If you want to write an impressive expository essay, you should always create an effective outline first. An outline gives your essay structure. And without a solid structure, your expository essay will be difficult for readers to comprehend. 

What is an expository essay?

An expository essay is one of the four main types of essays. It requires you to investigate an idea, piece of literature, or moment in history, evaluate evidence, and expound upon it. The goal is to explain a topic in a straightforward and digestible way. Writing should always be in the third person.

In the classroom, you’ll most often be asked to write expository essays on literature, social issues, or historic events. The expository essay is also the type of essay on the SAT.

“Expository” is essentially a catch-all term for many different types of essays, including the compare and contrast essay, the cause and effect essay, and the descriptive essay.

Expository essays test your critical analysis skills. And, depending on the subject, expository essays may require a great deal of research. The outlining process, however, is pretty simple, as there is a general formula.

What should you do before writing your outline?

After reading a passage or researching an event, for instance, you’ll likely have all types of notes that you’ve jotted down. But, chances are, those notes lack a coherent order. 

So, before you get started on creating your outline, you need to organize. 

Take a moment to group your notes into categories and then arrange those categories in a way that best supports your thesis.

In essence, the notes and ideas that you consider to be the most important should serve as topic sentences of each body paragraph. Then, supporting details should be used to reinforce your topic sentences.

UNC Chapel Hill’s writing center suggests asking yourself the following questions:

  • “Do some of my notes naturally cluster together?”
  • “How many clusters are there?”
  • “Which ideas are more important or general?”
  • “Which ones are more like supporting details?”
  • “What order should the ideas be in?”

Structure of an expository essay outline

I. Introduction 

A. The hook: The expository essay must start with a hook. It needs to be catchy and relate closely to the topic.

Let’s say you’ve been tasked to write an expository essay analyzing how J.K. Rowling uses character development techniques to make the characters in the Harry Potter series so compelling. You could start with a rhetorical question pointing out how ironic it is that Hagrid — a bearded giant who plays with spiders and dragons — is such a lovable character.

B. Introduce your points: Right after the hook, you should introduce your main points. The body of your essay is where you will provide detail and further explain these points. Here, though, each point should be introduced in no more than one or two sentences.

C. Thesis statement: The thesis statement of an expository essay is where you express the conclusion you’ve come to after conducting research on a subject or reading literature. Your goal is to inform your reader, not persuade them. Think of yourself as a reporter. Your thesis statement in your expository essay is, essentially, the same as a lead in a news story.

Using the Harry Potter example, your thesis statement could fall along the lines of: “J.K Rowling’s usage of unique adjectives and her desire to emphasize intellectual qualities and ethics over physical attributes makes her characters compelling.” 

II. Body 

In the body of your expository essay is where you get to fully explain what you’ve gathered to your readers.

A. Paragraph 1: Building upon the Harry Potter example, the first paragraph should dive into Rowling’s word usage. Your topic sentence, for example, should explain that Rowling uses unique adjectives to describe her characters. Then, in the following four or five sentences, you should use examples from the text to back that up.

You could, for example, explain that Rowling describes Hermoine as having “frizzy, untamable” hair. Frizzy and untamable, conveniently, also very much describe Hermoine’s personality.  

B. Paragraph 2: In the second paragraph, you should restate and provide backing for your point that Rowling emphasizes intellectual qualities and ethics over physical attributes. Use examples from the text. And, make sure you focus on more than one character. 

You could, for example, start by explaining that Hagrid’s actions are extremely notable, even more so than his size and facial expressions. One of his first actions in the series is flying Harry to safety following the death of James and Lily Potter.

C. Paragraph 3: In the third paragraph, you could explain how Rowling’s characters evolve over time, learning and growing from their experiences. This makes characters relatable, as real humans progress this way as well. 

You could, for example, reference how Ron is timid at the beginning of the series and brave at the end. Find an evolutionary moment in the series and use that as an example of a turning point. 

III. Conclusion

A. Restate your thesis: As you would when writing a persuasive essay or argumentative essay outline, you should make the first sentence of your conclusion a restatement of your thesis.

B. Summarize your main points: You also want to summarize your main points in the conclusion, but you should do it in an original way. You never want to introduce new information in this section.

C. The final sentence: The final sentence you use should vary depending on the type of expository essay you’re writing. However, you should always put time and effort into sculpting your final sentence. It is your last opportunity to leave an impression of your point of view on the readers.

Sticking with the Harry Potter example, you could end the essay with something along the lines of: “Due to Rowling’s ability to develop characters, an entire generation of children feels like they personally know and can relate to Hagrid, Harry Potter, Hermoine Granger, Ron Weasley, and the many others included in her groundbreaking series of books.” 

In summary

Outlining is an essential component of writing a good, compelling essay. Without an outline, your writing runs the risk of lacking structure. So don’t underestimate the importance of your outline, and certainty do not skip over it. Take time before the writing process to outline, and it will save you the frustration of having to extensively edit and revise after you’re finished.