Types of Essays: End the Confusion
Effectively writing different types of essays has become critical to academic success. Essay writing is a common school assignment, a part of standardized tests, and a requirement on college applications. Often on tests, choosing the correct type of essay to write in response to a writing prompt is key to getting the question right. Clearly, students can’t afford to remain confused about types of essays.
There are over a dozen types of essays, so it’s easy to get confused. However, rest assured, the number is actually more manageable. Essentially there are four major types of essays, with the variations making up the remainder.
Four Major Types of Essays
Distinguishing between types of essays is simply a matter of determining the writer’s goal. Does the writer want to tell about a personal experience, describe something, explain an issue, or convince the reader to accept a certain viewpoint? The four major types of essays address these purposes:
1. Narrative Essays: Telling a Story
In a narrative essay, the writer tells a story about a real-life experience. While telling a story may sound easy to do, the narrative essay challenges students to think and write about themselves. When writing a narrative essay, writers should try to involve the reader by making the story as vivid as possible. The fact that narrative essays are usually written in the first person helps engage the reader. “I” sentences give readers a feeling of being part of the story. A well-crafted narrative essay will also build towards drawing a conclusion or making a personal statement.
2. Descriptive Essays: Painting a Picture
A cousin of the narrative essay, a descriptive essay paints a picture with words. A writer might describe a person, place, object, or even memory of special significance. However, this type of essay is not description for description’s sake. The descriptive essay strives to communicate a deeper meaning through the description. In a descriptive essay, the writer should show, not tell, through the use of colorful words and sensory details. The best descriptive essays appeal to the reader’s emotions, with a result that is highly evocative.
3. Expository Essays: Just the Facts
The expository essay is an informative piece of writing that presents a balanced analysis of a topic. In an expository essay, the writer explains or defines a topic, using facts, statistics, and examples. Expository writing encompasses a wide range of essay variations, such as the comparison and contrast essay, the cause and effect essay, and the “how to” or process essay. Because expository essays are based on facts and not personal feelings, writers don’t reveal their emotions or write in the first person.
4. Persuasive Essays: Convince Me
While like an expository essay in its presentation of facts, the goal of the persuasive essay is to convince the reader to accept the writer’s point of view or recommendation. The writer must build a case using facts and logic, as well as examples, expert opinion, and sound reasoning. The writer should present all sides of the argument, but must be able to communicate clearly and without equivocation why a certain position is correct.
Learn How to Write Different Types of Essays
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In the elementary years, young writers get an introduction to essay writing through two courses designed to bring excitement and enjoyment to the writing process. Narrative Writing and Informative Writing take young writers on an animal-filled adventure to beginning essay writing. Our middle school online writing courses, Welcome to the Essay and Advanced Essay, teach students the fundamentals of writing well-constructed essays. The high school online writing class, Exciting Essay Writing, focuses in depth on the essay writing process with preparation for college as the goal. The online writing classes for kids also cover how to interpret essay writing prompts in testing situations. Read what parents are saying about their children’s writing progress in Time4Writing’s online writing courses.
There are various opinions on how to categorize essays and how many types of essay there are. The simplest interpretation says that there are only four types of essays:
1. Narrative essays
2. Descriptive essays
3. Expository essays
4. Persuasive essays
I personally think this is a bit of an oversimplification. I also think there are overly complicated classifications of essays, so to keep things relatively simple, we’ll stick to 10 types. Feel free to disagree with me if you like!
In this type of essay, you’re painting a word picture. You can certainly include some facts, but you’ll focus on the experience, what it feels like, looks like, smells or sounds like. Your aim is to draw the reader in so he or she can experience what you are writing about in the same way you experienced it.
A definition tells you what something is. Although a definition is short, a definition essay discusses a complex concept in much greater depth than you would get from a few lines. They’re most often used to discuss philosophical or abstract topics.
Compare and Contrast Essays
You’ll be given two similar-seeming yet different things to compare. To write this essay, I suggest that you prepare carefully. Which elements are the same? Which ones are different? Once you are sure you know what information you want to include, you’re ready to go.
Cause and Effect Essays
Although the name seems self-explanatory, we need to remember several causes can contribute to a single effect, and conversely, one cause could result in several effects. For example, several factors contributed to the US involvement in the First World War (multiple causes, single effect). However, being in the war had several effects on the US (single cause multiple effects).
If you like creative writing, these will be among your favorite essays. In a narrative essay, you tell a story. Remember, it has a beginning followed by a number of events that lead up to an ending. Plan carefully!
This type of essay involves a step by step explanation of how something happens or is done. Getting your steps in the correct order is important if you don’t want to turn your process into a muddle. Write your process essay in chronological order.
Are you opinionated? Good! The argumentative essay explains your opinions and the reasons why you believe they’re right. You can even look at some possible counter-arguments and why you believe they’re wrong. Ultimately, you’re trying to get your reader to agree with you, so the more facts you can present to support your points, the better.
You don’t have to criticize the thing you’re writing about unless you think there is reason for it, but you’ll be evaluating it critically. You’ll provide reasons why you think something was well done or badly done. If you think it was great, why did you think so? Are there any faults that bothered you? Why did they bother you? What evidence can you present to support your opinion?
You could sum this type of essay up as follows, “Get all the facts, and then interpret them!” You must reach a conclusion, and this has to be supported by your research or personal experience. In higher education, you have to show your ability to research your topic, and you’ll probably be citing experts along the way. In the end, you give your own opinion, but you’ll point out how several sources contribute to it. As long as there is logic in that, your answer can’t be wrong. These essays are exciting because even when you use existing knowledge, you may find yourself obtaining a new perspective or reaching a novel conclusion.
In a way, these are similar to argumentative essays, but they’re not quite the same. An argumentative essay will hit people with the facts, while a persuasive essay has a softer touch and may appeal to moral values or emotions. See it as the difference between winning a debate and winning someone over to support a cause. There are differences, but also similarities.
What Type of Essay to Write?
When looking at an instruction or exam question, study the VERBS your teacher has used. Circle them and think about what they imply. If you’ve just been told to name or list things, give nothing but the facts.
Other words indicating that you should usually give nothing but the facts:
In addition, you want to look for words indicating that you should give your opinion:
- In your opinion…
- What do you think about…
- How do you feel…
If you have any doubt about the type of essay you should be writing, ask. While your teacher likely won’t tell you when assigning, she will explain the correct type of essay to write for the particular situation and how you can figure that out. This should prove beneficial so you can deduct the correct type to write in future situations.