Expository Writing Definition, Techniques and Examples

Expository Writing Definition, Techniques and Examples 

Definition of Expository Writing

As we know, the major varieties of writings are descriptive, narrative and expository. In descriptive writing, the focus is on describing things as they are or as they appear to be. The narrative writing tries to recreate an actual or imaginary experience in a way that we are also able to experience it mentally. In short, it is a description of events. In expository writing, the focus is on explaining. The writer often combines features of description and narration while explaining. However, expository writing needs to be looked at as a separate variable for the sake of our being able to recognize its distinctiveness in terms of purpose, design and function of language.

Expository writing deals with definition, explanation or interpretation. It includes writing on science, law, philosophy, technology, political science, history and literary criticism. An exposition is a form of logical presentation. Its primary object is to explain and clarify. It presents details concretely and exactly. Expository writing is writing that explains. But we are not interested in writing that merely explains. We are interested in expository writing that can be read as literature. 

The following example is a piece of expository writing:

In the leg, there are two bones, the tibia and fibula. The tibia or shin-bone is long and strong and bears the weight of the body. The fibula or splint bone is an equally long but much slenderer bone and is attached to the tibia as a pin is to a brooch.
(Leonard Hill, Manual of Human Physiology)

This piece clearly defines the two bones, the tibia and fibula. But can this be read as literature?

Now let us look at another example piece of expository writing.

Now mark another big difference between the natural slavery of man to Nature and the unnatural slavery of man to man. Nature is kind to her slaves. If she forces you to eat and drink, she makes eating and drinking so pleasant that when we can afford it we eat and drink too much. We must sleep or go mad: but then sleep is so pleasant that we have great difficulty in getting up in the morning. And firesides and families seem so pleasant to the young that they get married and join building societies to realize their dreams. Thus, instead of renting our natural wants as slavery, we take the greatest pleasure in their satisfaction. We write sentimental songs in praise of them. A tramp can earn his supper by singing Home, Sweet Home.

The slavery of man to man is the very opposite of this. It is hateful to the body and the spirit. Our poets do not praise it; they proclaim that no man is good enough to be another man's master. The latest of the great Jewish prophets, a gentleman named Marx, spent his life in proving that there is no extremity of selfish cruelty at which the slavery of man to man will stop if it is not stopped by law. You can see for yourself that it produces a  state of continual civil war ㅡ called the class war between the slaves and their masters, organized as Trade Unions on one side and Employers' Federations on the other.
 (G.B.Shaw, 'Freedom'ㅡone of a series of BBC Radio Talks-18 June 1935 in Modern Prose, Michael Thorpe, pp 147-148)
Comparing the above passage examples

There is a clear difference between the two passages. Shaw puts across his argument logically and convincingly. He first talks about the natural slavery of man to Nature by giving a series of examples. He then contrasts this with the unnatural slavery of man to man. By use of contrast, this argument is further strengthened. The result is that difficult concepts like freedom and slavery are readily understood. What is, however, remarkable is that his use of simple language, tongue-in-cheek manner and conversational style immediately strikes a sympathetic and receptive chord in the reader. These two passages must have given you some idea about the difference between literary and non-literary expository writing.

Various Techniques of Expository Writing


The term 'exposition' refers to an act of explaining or making it clear. The aim of the writer in the expository writing is not primarily to narrate or describe; it is mainly to explain something - facts, ideas or beliefs. The writer does this by resorting to various techniques of exposition such as:
➤  explanation of a process,

➤  use of examples,

➤  reasons in support of a statement,
➤  comparison and contrast,
➤  classification,
➤  restatement,
➤  definition,
➤  analogy,
➤  cause and effect,
➤ analysis.
Expository writing can be written from the point of view of techniques of development and features of the style and also use descriptive and narrative features of writing which acts as tools of exposition.

Structuring an expository writing
A writer can plan his writing in the following manner:
➤Statement of the case
➤Proof in support of the case

Use of examples and figurative languages
A writer can use both description and narration in explaining and presenting his views. Examples can be used to make an argument more convincing and the use of figurative language helps the communication more effective.

Use of figurative language such as metaphor and simile which improve expression and convey the authors meaning in a more effective and forceful style. An author can also use various rhetorical and textual strategies to make his own line of reasoning about the topic more assertive and convincing.

The use of definition

A definition explains and clarifies the meaning of a word, phrase or concept. Writer's use definition to show readers the meaning of their subject.

Comparison and contrast

Comparison and contrast act as tools of exposition. The comparison has the following uses:
➤to explain related ideas to illustrate a point;
➤to convince in an argument that one element is superior, more important, or more useful than the other.
The use of argument to persuade while explaining.

A very important requirement of a good expository passage is the coherence and inner consistency of argument. An argument should be structured around a central thesis. Though the purpose of expository writing is primarily to explain ideas, facts or beliefs, a writer often uses the argument to persuade the reader to accept the writer's point of view as correct. A writer can lend support to his arguments by citing examples of revolutionary thinkers, scientists, etc.

Also, a subordinate element can be adequately treated as its significance and relationship to the main line of argument can be made clear while maintaining its subordinate position.

The use of synthesis to put together ideas into a conceptual framework.

First organize the ideas skillfully, then determine the order of presenting the argument and finally build it up to a logical and convincing conclusion. A skillful writer should be aware of the various relationships among the ideas about which he is going to write, must establish the order in which he is going to deal with the ideas.  Logical sequencing of ideas in an expository composition relates to the arrangement of ideas in a way that each determines the next as its proper outcome. Moving from less important material to more important material or from easier to more difficult material or from less controversial to more controversial are commonly used as a means of ordering material. We see that a properly formulated guiding purpose plays a major role in determining the order of ideas.

The technique of developing expository writing using antithesis. 

When we talk of antithesis we mean that contrasting ideas can be put together in such a manner so as to produce an effect of balance. Antithesis helps the writer to give equal weight to both sides of an argument so that the reader/audience can make an intelligent choice and come to a logical conclusion.


So expository writing is writing that explains.It can be an explanation of facts, ideas or beliefs.Expository texts could include essays, speeches, journals, government documents, newspaper and magazine article, book reviews, tutorial assignments, instruction among other things. While each type of text shares certain characteristics with the others, they each make their own demands on the reader through the unique use of structure, devices, features, and conventions.

Short Story 'Misery' by Anton Chekhov

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