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
Time4Writing essay writing courses offer a highly effective way to learn how to write the types of essays required for school, standardized tests, and college applications. These online writing classes for elementary, middle school, and high school students, break down the writing process into manageable chunks, easily digested by young writers. Students steadily build writing skills and confidence with each online writing course, guided by one-on-one instruction with a dedicated, certified teacher.
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.
Take a look at these four essay topics, and tell me why they won’t work as a topic for your paper:
- World War II
If you said that all of these are great subjects but they aren’t great topics because they’re too broad, you’re right.
You cannot possibly write a good essay about such a large topic in only a few pages. There’s simply too much information to include and not enough space to put it in. It’s like stuffing five pounds of potatoes into a three-pound sack. It just isn’t going to work.
Don’t know how to narrow a topic that’s too broad? Feel like you’re sinking fast and need some help ASAP?
Hang in there. I’m about to throw you a lifeline and show you how to narrow a topic and write a focused paper.
“Quicksand kitteh needs to think fast” by chwalker01, Flickr.com (CC BY 2.0) /cropped and speech bubble added
How to Tell If Your Topic Is Too Broad
If your mind is racing with so many different options and angles that you don’t know where to start, chances are your topic is too broad.
Here’s an example.
Let’s say you want to write about skateboarding. You have four pages to write a convincing essay about your topic, but what should you write about?
You might write about the origins of skateboarding, skateboarding at the X Games, or skateboard clothing, jargon, tricks, or culture.
See what I mean? This topic is too broad, and you cannot possibly write an effective essay that encompasses everything about skateboarding in only four pages.
You’ll need to narrow it to something more manageable. Luckily, I’m here to help. Let’s dive into how to narrow a topic and write a focused paper, shall we?
Three Strategies for How to Narrow a Topic
Not all strategies work best for all topics, so try a combination of all of these to see which works best for your topic.
Strategy #1: Be more specific
To narrow your topic, think of ways to make your topic more specific by focusing on a smaller aspect of the topic, one key component of the topic, a specific time period, or perhaps a specific location.
Here’s what I mean.
If you want to write about music, consider how you might be more specific. What type of music do you want to write about? Will you write about hip hop, jazz, country, pop, opera, or some other type?
Will you focus on music from the United States, or will you write about music from another country? Will you focus on current hits, music from the 1960s, or music from another era?
For this example, let’s focus on US pop music in recent decades. (See, the topic is already much narrower, right?)
Strategy #2: Ask journalists’ questions
Ask yourself who, what, when, where, why, and how.
Asking these questions will help you focus your ideas and help you consider new angles to your topic.
Let’s apply these to the topic of pop music in the United States.
- Who? Boy bands, female artists, one-hit wonders
- What? Hit records, major fails, highest earners
- When? Current acts, musicians of various decades
- Where? United States
- Why? Compare acts, inform readers, argue who is the best/worst
- How? How did they become so popular? How did their popularity fizzle so quickly?
As you answer these questions, you’ll notice that you still have a lot of information to sort through—and a lot of decisions to make.
Some of these decisions will be made for you by your assignment guidelines. For instance, if you have to write an argument essay, you certainly aren’t going to compare NSYNC to One Direction or tell readers how Taylor Swift rose to fame. Neither of these topics are argumentative.
Instead, you could argue that NSYNC is more talented than One Direction (or vise versa).
Strategy #3: Research
Even though research is listed third on this list, it doesn’t mean you have to research last. You might need to spend some time researching to learn more about your topic even before you figure out how to narrow a topic.
And just because you research once to narrow your topic doesn’t mean the research is over. You might need to return to your narrowed topic and research it again to learn more about that topic. (I know. It feels like a never-ending process, doesn’t it?)
As you research, look for specifics about a subject and check to see what others are writing about. You might just read something you hadn’t thought about that would make a great topic.
If, for example, you were still trying to find a way to narrow your skateboarding topic, a quick Google search might lead you to information about skateparks.
You might have to write a persuasive paper, and suddenly you’re inspired to write your paper about why your local community needs to build a skatepark.
What a great idea! See? A little research can go a long way in when you’re figuring out how to narrow a topic!
Let’s look at the pop music example again.
In this case, a little research can help you narrow the list of countless one-hit wonders to a short list of songs from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.
Here are a few examples to start your list:
With a solid list of examples, you can listen to the songs again and again and start to figure out what they might have in common and why they were so popular. (Your research might also help with the analysis of what made these songs hits.)
If you need more one-hit wonders, here’s a Wikipedia list for inspiration.
Researching a more scholarly subject? Read 5 Best Resources to Help With Writing a Research Paper.
The Narrowed Topic
Once you’ve sufficiently narrowed your topic, put it all together to form the focus of your paper.
In our example, we narrowed the broad topic of music to a comparison of one-hit wonders of the 1980s–2000s and included an examination of what makes the songs popular.
Now, since you learned how to narrow a topic,you have a sense of where you’re going and what you should be writing about. Now you’re on your way to writing a focused paper.
Don’t stop there!
Before you start writing, turn your narrowed topic into an effective thesis statement.
A thesis statement about one-hit wonders might look like this:
From the 1980s through the 2000s, one-hit wonders in pop music have managed to solidify their places in music history through one key musical component: a catchy hook.
Notice how the thesis statement is specific and narrowed to explain to readers exactly the focus of your paper. (This thesis also gives you a clear focus and will make writing your paper much easier.)
Now that you know how to narrow a topic for your paper (and cannot stop singing one of those catchy, one-hit wonders–you’re welcome), you can (finally) start writing.
When you’ve finished your draft, send it our way for review.
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