Expository Writing: Getting Started | RU Screw'd

Expository Writing: Getting Started

Expository writing will be difficult for many of you, but there are certain things that can help alleviate the stress. We will be using the essay as an example: Juhani Pallasmaa – Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses

So if many of you are having trouble getting started, it will probably be for one of two reasons:

  1. You have no idea what the reading is actually about
  2. You have no idea what you want to write or how you want to go about writing it (check our our step-by-step guide!).

If you don’t know what you’re reading:

Understanding the story is the first thing you can do, but make sure you read the prompt before you read the actual excerpt/essay.
Be sure to avoid telling yourself you can’t do it. The surest way to fail expos is to give up before attempting to read.

  • When you are reading, take it sentence by sentence and try summarizing it to yourself to see if you really are understanding the text. While you are reading, be sure to take notes on the margins or on a notepad (reference page number, paragraph number). This encourages active reading so that you may better understand the text.
  • You will need to include quotes into your essay to support what you are saying based on the author’s arguments and supporting details. Be sure to highlight these as you go, it will be a HUGE hassle to try to do it later on, so get it out of the way while you can. NEVER include a quote for the sake of putting one in. Always explain the relevancy of the quote to your argument. 
  • Remember to cite all your quotes. In-text citations are usually what your professor is looking for. For example: “This is my lovely quote by some awesome author.” (Last name of author, page #)
  • Look up all words, phrases, and terms that you don’t understand. These words that may be confusing to you were chosen by the author to help convey a certain message that another word may not have been able to. It is extremely important that you know what every word means and how it fits into the context of the sentence. This is also a great way to expand your vocabulary!

If you don’t know how to start:

A great way to organize your thoughts is to start with an outline. Some teachers require it and it really helps to kick off the paper and put your ideas out in front of you. Try using the following guide to a simple outline:


  1. Be sure to include the name of the passage/excerpt and the author.
    For example: Juhani Pallasmaa’s essay, “The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses,” or “The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses” by Juhani Pallasmaa… 
  2. It’s okay to summarize in the intro. Your essay should be understood by people who haven’t read the essay or passage. You should tailor your summary so that it relates to your thesis.
    For example: “The author uses architecture as a means to help explain one’s sense of self.” You can also define what you believe the sense of self/being means to you so that it makes for a great transition into your thesis.
  3. Thesis. For many of you this is a scary word. A thesis answers the question at hand. This can be one or two sentences but for expos/basic comp professors like to see this as the last sentence. A thesis would be point of everything I’m going to say and the argument that I am trying to make in the following paragraphs.

It is very important to transition between all your paragraphs. Here is a great list of transitions for the different instances you may need to use them. You will need to use transitions within each paragraph to help your thoughts flow both concisely and clearly as well as from paragraph to paragraph.
Transition sentence can be the same sentence as your first topic sentence. For example: Therefore (to show consequence or result) one’s sense of self is affected by many of the subtle environmental signals that one may notice.

Body 1

  1. Your first topic sentence.  This sentence allows the reader to understand what they’re about to read, this idea should frame all your supporting arguments. Your first topic sentence might be explaining what the sense of self means according to the author.
  2. Include at least 2 quotes, but 3 is optimal, from the author in order to support your argument/first topic sentence. Explain the quotes in your own words and how they relate to your argument.
  3. Tie this back to why it supports your thesis. You should be doing this at the end of all your body paragraphs.

Body 2

  1. Again the first sentence should be a transition from your last paragraph. Is this paragraph showing similarities, differences, or showing a consequence? Choose your transition word/sentence appropriately to help the flow of your paper. Your topic sentence this time around might be explaining what the sense of being means to the author.
  2. Again, support everything you are saying with quotes from the actual passage.
  3. Tie the point you made in your topic sentence to why it is still relevant to your thesis.

Now, depending on the length of your paper you might need some more paragraphs.

Body 3 – In this paragraph you can note the similarities or differences between the sense of self and being. Be sure to keep this relevant to your thesis as you DO NOT want to go off on a tangent.

  1. I can’t stress to you enough how important transition sentences are to your paper. Your professor will be looking for this and you will be glad you did so. Don’t worry you will get better at transitioning as you write more papers.
  2. At this point you’re pretty much doing the same thing as the other paragraphs, support your arguments with quotes from the text!
  3. Make sure you refer back to your thesis to keep your arguments relevant to point of your paper.

Body 4 (contrast paragraph) – This paragraph is usually optional, but shows strong writing ability. You always want to show different viewpoints on any type of argument you’re making. This invites a different perspective, which means you are considering any arguments that can be made against your own. When you take contrasting arguments your own argument will be stronger because you have already addressed the weak points of your argument and how you have addressed them. It’s a defensive writing tactic that most skilled english professors will appreciate.

 – DO NOT bring up any new points that you did not mention previously.

  1. Restate your thesis
  2. Sum up your points that you made that support this thesis
  3. What does your argument imply, or involve, or suggest? Be sure that your conclusion answers the question of the prompt in one or two sentences. How does your argument relate to the answer that you were looking for?

From this general outline, you can build the meat of your paper rather easily. By the time you’re done the outline, your quotes will have been highlighted and documented, so finding the facts will be easy. Spreading the work of an essay out over a few easy steps is a great way to conquer expos, as well as any future writing assignment.

Hope this helps!

5 Responses to "Expository Writing: Getting Started"

  1. Anonymous  September 5, 2011 at 3:52 am

    So is it helpful?

  2. Anonymous  September 5, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    For the MLA format, how are we supposed to write our teacher’s name? Mr./Ms. ___ or Professor ____? 

    • Anonymous  September 6, 2011 at 12:33 am

      Professor Last Name

  3. Anonymous  September 8, 2011 at 2:52 am

    helps a lot. thank you so much!

  4. Anonymous  September 8, 2011 at 2:52 am

    helps a lot. thank you very much!!


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