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Composition can be many things; a liberal art, a loner’s sullen craft, a parliament of one, but never a matter of regulations handed down from above. Ever a dictatorship; nor yet an anarchy, for there are some rules after all-but they are such governing principles as the governed must discover for themselves, in a free society of writing. (Nash and Stancey 1997:182) Starts with life; makes a text; then a revision literally, a second seeing; an afterthought erasing some but not all of the original while writing something new over the first layer of text (Gore Vidal, Palimpsest, in Nash and Stacey (1997).

In this article, we shall discuss expository essays which are another form of writing which you may be required to do as a university student. You need to be versed in writing different kinds of essays because of both current academic challenges and future societal expectations of a person of your calibre. Much is expected of you in the labour market and socially as a citizen of any community. The type of essay described in this unit is such that require in-depth information.

An expository essay is any type of essay or writing that is used to describe, explain or inform the reader on a specific or particular aspect of a topic. This is common in the sciences and the humanities. The student may be required to give in-depth information or demonstrate indepth knowledge of the circumstances surrounding a particular thing or situation. In other words, the writer is expected to bring to the fore some verifiable facts on the topic to be discussed.

Some of the strategies for writing expository essays that will be discussed in this unit are similar in some ways to some of the ones that have been discussed in some of the earlier articles. But because repetition makes for emphasis, we shall still mention some of them in this article. Below are some of the steps we need to take while planning to write an expository essay.

Choosing a Topic

Before you can say you want to write, you must have had a topic in mind. In regular classroom situations, students are usually given topics to write on. But occasionally, students are allowed to choose a topic of their own. Once you have a topic, you have to study the topic very well so that you will know if it requires a short response or a long one. This information is important because your lecturer may be expecting a long essay from you while you think it is a short one. You may loose marks if you do not write up to the required length because it would mean you have not fully discussed some essential points in the essay. In such a situation you have not met the expectations of your lecturer.

You must be sure of what is expected of you in terms of essay length so that the topic can be well discussed. Your topic should also not be too narrow as this will make it difficult for you to get enough facts for the specific length of essay. In your choice of topic selection, you must make sure you choose a topic that is big enough to be discussed but narrow enough to be managed e.g.

  1. The disappearance and reappearance of groundnut pyramids in Northern Nigeria: the need for a reappraisal.
  1. The use of firewood for local combustion in Nigeria- a point to consider.
  1. Empowering women through small scale businesses in Nigeriathe way forward.
  1. Normal and excessive use of drugs.

Developmental Pattern Writing

In the article on writing excellent expository essays; guidelines and tips by, a few steps are highlighted on the kind of developmental patterns that can be adopted while writing expository essays. In this section, some of these tips will be discussed.


You may have to define some terms in your attempt to write an expository essay. For example, writing an expository essay on a topic such as ‘Reminiscences on the Nigerian Civil War’ or ‘The Oil Industry in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria’ require your giving definitions or explanation of terms such as – reminiscences, industry, Niger Delta etc.

You may wonder why you need to define or explain what you mean by Niger Delta when it is so clear to everyone here. The answer is simple. If your work is going on the net, not every body knows where Niger Delta is, so you have to explain and also indicate the location. This will make your discussion of the topic interesting vivid and realistic. You may need to give examples of some of the things you mention so that your illustrations can be clear to the reader.

Cause and Effect

In a developmental pattern you may need to illustrate the connection between events or how one event is dependent on another or how one event is as a result of a previous one. Do not forget that you need to substantiate your points at any point in time. You must not be found to be giving wrong claims. Remember that if your writing is made public, someone else can quote you or refer to something you said later on or some years to come. And you would not want to be misrepresented.


You may need to do some classification while writing the essay. For example, you may have to classify the effect of certain actions taken by the Federal government during the civil war to be able to determine whether they were positive, negative, profitable, devastating or necessary. This may involve listing some observable resultant effects of some decisions taken. But you have to be careful about this. Expository essays are revealing so you must be careful not to run down individuals.

You can use expressions that are not absolutes when you are not too sure. You can use expressions such as- probably—, unconfirmed sources–, an eyewitness’ account—. . But where you are absolutely sure of your claim and you have substantiated facts on the issue, you can refer to such while writing.

Compare and Contrast

You may need to do some form of comparative work at times. As a writer may have to examine the basic differences between the actions taken and actions not taken at times. You can do some form of comparison or a critical analysis of the topic or events or situations.


This has to do with the arrangement of the work as a whole, the number of paragraphs, the points to discuss, the arrangement of the points etc. You have to decide on the number of paragraphs you want but this also has to do with how long the essay is. Most school essays have about five paragraphs whereas some higher institution essays could be up to seven or eight including the introduction and the summary. If the points you want to consider are many, you then have one introductory paragraph, a body of paragraphs and a concluding paragraph. You should discuss each major division of your work appropriately and clearly in paragraphs so that the reader would be able to understand what you are talking about and follow your line of reasoning.

Research Work

Most students start writing essays without trying to find out something about the topic. You need to research on the topic you want to write about. You may have to find out about the origin of a word, the meaning of a concept, the usefulness of an object, idea or concept etc. Researching a topic always enriches your work. Expository essays in particular are meant to dig out facts about a situation or thing and since you are not an encyclopaedia, you cannot know everything. You need to consult books, dictionaries, encyclopaedias, internet etc as resource materials. The internet in particular is a very valuable resource material which you can consult on any area of study. But remember to acknowledge your source of information. That is the hall mark of a good academic. If however, you find it difficult to get good reference materials, you have to take time to think on the topic and go through some local newspapers and magazines peradventure you will find some useful information on the topic.

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