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[Detail] Preface from Punchinello 1, no.1 (1870).

Expository Writing

Expository writing is writing to explain, inform, or describe. The writer "exposes" information to the reader. Because the writer is trying to convey knowledge to the reader, strong organization is especially important in expository writing. There are many ways to organize information in expository writing; some of the most common are:

  • Sequence: The author lists items in numerical, chronological, or alphabetical order. An example of this kind of organization can be seen in how-to books, which tell the reader how to do something, going through the process step by step.
  • Comparison: The author describes how two or more items are alike and different. This form of organization might be used in an article describing a new invention and comparing it to older inventions.
  • Cause and effect: The author lists causes and then explains their effects. One example of this kind of organization might be seen in a history textbook, in which the author describes an event (cause) and then describes what happened as a result (effects).
  • Problem-solution: The author lays out a problem and then describes possible solutions. An author might use this kind of organization in a self-help book, in which the author describes a common problem people face and then suggests ways of solving the problem.

Sometimes, an article or book might combine several of these forms of organization. For example, a book might use problem-solution organization to introduce the problem and possible solutions and then use sequential organization to describe how to implement the solutions.

Many of the periodicals in the collection feature expository writing. For example, Scientific American includes many articles describing new inventions or explaining scientific principles. Garden and Forest includes articles about how to grow various kinds of plants, as well as results of research on hybridization and other plant-related topics.

Find an example of expository writing in Scientific American, Garden and Forest, or another magazine in the collection.

  • What is the purpose of this piece of expository writing? What audience is the author addressing?
  • How is the article organized? Does it match one of the ways of organizing expository writing outlined above? If you have trouble figuring out how the article is organized, write down the main idea of each paragraph, and then study the pattern of information.
  • How easy is it to understand the main point of the article? Point out words, phrases, or sentences that make the article easy or hard to understand.