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Essay Types Explained

Updated: Feb 2, 2017
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Students are assigned so many essays to write in college that it’s a challenge to keep track of how they’re different. But the truth is most essays written at the college level fall under one of four categories: Exposition, Narration, Description and Persuasion.


*Note: While an essay generally falls under one of these main categories, a well-written essay incorporates a variety of these into the same assignment. For example, a Persuasive Essay (Persuasion) must first explain certain facts to the reader (Exposition).


Exposition Essays: attempts to inform the reader about something or seeks to explain something to them.


Narration: tells the reader about a particular event that has taken place, essentially a narrative, or a spoken or written account of connected events.


Description: describes a person, place or event through vivid language so that the reader can literally visualize what the student-writer is sharing.


Persuasion: takes a stand on something and attempts to persuade or convince the reader to adopt a similar mindset or stance on something, most times an issue or idea.

Types of Essays



Expository Essay: The writer explains something to their reader, a specific topic like poverty, through the use of factual information. Or it could be them telling the reader about their favorite place to travel.

Definition Essay: Some words like “Happiness” and “Love” mean different things to different people. Here, the writer defines a word subjectively and offer their personal, extended definition of it according to their own experiences, preconceived notions, and opinions.

Classification Essay: An organization of a particular item, subject, topic, term, etc., breaking it down in several ways (therefore classifying it) into categories, and then expounding on what comprises each category to better understand it as a whole.


Informative Essay: Serves to literally inform the reader about a particular subject, offering their objective, unbiased description (or explanation) of the subject they are informing about – as seen in instruction manuals, encyclopedias, news articles and other types of reference material.

Interview Essay: Like a news feature article, the writer interviews a person then shares what information they gathered in writhing It usually follows a theme of sorts, an angle, or has a narrowed scope.

Reflective Essay: The examination of a personal experience, the student-writer expressing their views on something that has happened to them in order to analyze and possibly learn from what took place.

Process Essay: Like a set of directions, the student-writer explains how something is accomplished or how to achieve a certain result: how something is made, or how something works.

Compare and Contrast Essay: The illustration of the similarities and differences between two topics, objects, subjects, or terms, etc.

Cause and Effect Essay: The student-writer identifies patterns and explains the cause of a specific outcome, then chooses a scenario in which one action or event caused certain effects to take place; finally explaining what took place and why it happened.

Exploratory Essay: The main point is to inquire about an issue or question, gather information about it, the share it with readers. The student-writer, in the end, offers their take on the essay’s issue or question at hand and explains why they came to this decision.




Narrative Essay: A spoken or written account of several connected events; a telling of a story – the student-writer conveys some kind of experience to the reader, often anecdotal, experiential and personal in nature.


Personal Experience Essay: It’s drawn from the student writer's own personal, lived experience, one which they feel carries an important meaning when reflected upon and shared intimately with the reader.




Descriptive Essay: It’s like painting a picture with words and sentences so that the reader can visualize what the writer is describing to them.




Persuasive Essay: The student-writer makes a case for something and attempts to persuade the reader to adopt a certain belief or mentality.


Five-Paragraph Essay: Serves as a way for students to demonstrate they have read, comprehended, and can critically analyze material learned in a course. They are to build an essay that ultimately makes a well-defended argument in the form of a Thesis statement.

Analytical Essay: The student-writer analyzes a piece of literature by investigating and dissecting its various characteristics, elements, and components in order to arrive at a complete understanding of its meaning.

Evaluation Essay: The student-writer literally evaluates a subject, a work of literature, for example, based on a set of criteria, and offers their judgment about this subject.

Argumentative Essay: Centers on a narrowed, asserted Thesis Statement that argues for one side of a debatable issue. It’s very similar to the Persuasive and Five-Paragraph essays because it involves the student-writer defending an assertion.

Research Essay: The student-writer finds ample research on a given topic and conveys what they find to their reader in the form of a well-developed argument.

Critical Essay: The student-writer offers their objective critique on something, a piece of art, literature or a live performance, much like a reviewer or critic would.


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