Writing entertains, informs, persuades, explains, clarifies, and gives the author an avenue for creative and intelligent expression. Writers always have a purpose or goal, which dictates the style a writer must use when approaching composition. Essential Writing Types 101 aims to educate readers on six types one will encounter throughout their academic and professional writing careers. Each chapter will outline textual examples associated with the style and describe the characteristics that make these writing styles distinct. Due to the diversity of rhetorical contexts and audiences, understanding each writing style and the relationship between the purpose and its communicative function will facilitate more effective writers and communicators.
The following is divided into six main chapters:
Technical & Scientific Writing
Expressive & Poetic writing
Essential Writing Types 101: Expository Writing
The third installment of the Essential Writing Types 101 series will discuss Expository Writing and how the crucial sub-writing types, analytical and critical, can be often utilized in an expository piece. Critical thinking is one of the most essential skills in academia, professional careers, and interpersonally. It is not merely enough to listen to information. Rather, one must take what is learned and analyze, dissect, and even question ideas when necessary. A writer must research and apprehend a concept or idea before exemplifying that idea and constructing a reasonable agreement for it or counterargument against it. Thus, expository writing is a writing type that one must practice to make thoughtful contributions to their respective industries. This article will define the goal of expository writing, how analytical and critical writing sub-types strengthen expository works, and lastly, explore expository writing examples and how they impact discourse across all fields.
First, the basic purpose of expository writing is quite general and allows for flexibility in writing, admitting other writing types to fulfill its purpose. J. Augustus Richard (2016), an Assistant Professor at PPG College of Education imparts the following definition of expository writing and its purpose as:
To give complete and accurate information on a specific topic/issue which may explain a process or explain cause/effect or compare/contrast or analyse interpret or provide problem/solution (p. 147).
Expository writing allows a writer to introduce and inform on a topic, but the execution is much more complex, because the term expository writing functions as an umbrella term for different essay sub-types that a writer can approach depending on their purpose. For the context of this essay, one can take expository writing one step further by including critical and analytical writing, two sub-types of writing which also have distinct definitions. Merriam Webster defines analysis as: “a detailed examination of anything complex in order to understand its nature or to determine its essential features: a thorough study” (2022), and criticize is defined as: “to consider the merits and demerits of and judge accordingly” (2022). Therefore, in the context of an expository piece, critical and analytical writing provides an analysis of the given media or idea before deconstructing it. Commonly, they are integral to expository works depending on the purpose and goal.
In truth, expository writing frequently incorporates critical writing techniques and is learned in tandem as one of the first writing styles in secondary English classes. In chapter seven of Doug Specht’s (2019) book The Media and Communications Study Skills Student Guide, he describes the goal of critical writing:
With critical writing, you are telling the reader how much you accept or agree with things you have read or watched before writing your essay. You are also telling us whether you think the other writers have offered enough evidence for their argument—or to be cleverer, you are evaluating their contribution to the field (p. 82).
After all, critical writing reflects critical thinking, and ideas generated in expository essays may cement a writer’s argument in the academic debate over a topic. One cannot bring about positive change and advancement without understanding the scope of the current dialogue, acknowledging all relevant arguments, and then effectively establishing new ideas to ponder. Expository writing forefronts the topic at hand, expounding it thoroughly before pivoting to other evidence and details.
In relation to critical writing, a fair amount of critically written essays also incorporate analytical writing. Analytical writing has a linear structure and typically provides a deeper insight into a referenced text, and thus works well within an expository work. Secondary education prepares students for more advanced writing by strengthening their analytical skills through completing writing assignments based on given texts. Previous research studies conducted in the late 1970s and early 1980s observed thinking strategies and analytical essay formats across secondary students to college and adults. Russel K. Durst (1987), a professor and researcher in writing, composition pedagogy, and research summarized the findings:
Results indicate that analysis [writing] requires more planning, pausing, and revising than does narrative writing, providing further evidence that students find analytic writing more difficult than narrative (p. 348-349).
However, these studies lacked an analysis of the structure of the essays produced by students or the measurement of their thinking process behind their approach to expository texts.
For that reason, Durst (1987) produced his own study on the cognitive process of analytical writing and found that students composing essays with analytical components actually took a narrative writing approach when constructing their essays to "cope with the difficult analytical format" (p. 373). Essentially, the more analytical an expository piece, the more intricate the material of the content is versus summary writing. Durst states the following reasoning for analytical writing's demanding structure:
Analytic writing requires not just a knowledge of the thesis/support essay structure, but an awareness of the conventions of argument and an understanding of the issues surrounding one’s subject matter. To analyze a text, one must place it in a broader context, establishing a frame of reference or stance outside the text (p. 374).
Thus, analytical writing is not typically isolated on its own and interwoven with other types. In fact, one could argue that expository writing takes a ‘soft’ approach, meaning that it is used to articulate concepts likely unfamiliar to the reader before conveying a methodical, and sometimes intense, analysis. It gives much more credit to the writer to ease in building an informative (expository) framework before adding intricate (analytic and critical) interior design.
Moreover, novice writers sometimes struggle with this writing type due to the quality of writing preparedness in secondary education versus post-secondary education. Durst's earlier study on student approaches to expository essays using analytical writing components preludes the drawbacks of standardized learning in the context of American education in writing. To explain further, Susan Fanetti, Kathy M. Bushrow, and David L. DeWeese (2010), researchers in English teaching education, provide the following insight: “High school education is designed to be standardized and quantifiable. College education is designed to be theoretical” (p. 77-78). Therefore, everyone must explore levels of autonomy and individuality by finding their own voice, analyzing arguments, texts, and media, and then articulating an analytical and critical response that accurately comprehends the discourse. These opposing educational focuses affect writing and composition. The aforementioned educators, among other instructors in both post-secondary and secondary educational institutions, hold the succeeding general consensus:
Our research offers real, human evidence of the failure of the standardized assessment of the high school model aligned with it. This ‘factory model’ that privileges product over process impedes students from success in college (p. 82).
The factory model naturally translates into first-year writing courses as well, but it is a disservice for writers to merely summarize a text and regurgitate it within the confines of a strict five-paragraph essay. Instead, it is more crucial to analyze and internalize an idea and challenge it through a more flexible and organized piece of composition.
Moreover, most of the debate regarding how to teach critical thinking skills and bolstering them through writing, especially expository, has been in circulation since the 80s and 90s with heavy applicability in what today’s workforce demands of applicants. All writing is a process, and the ability to compose expository writing shows industry knowledge on behalf of the applicant and suggests the ability to communicate detailed observations and heuristic capabilities. Shelly J. Schmidt (1999), a professor at the University of Illinois, explains the cultivation and improvement of critical thinking through writing:
It involves both hemispheres of the brain and thus integrates thought in the most basic sense; it helps us formulate, synthesize, and connect ideas; it can be used to communicate to ourselves as well as to others and provides a means of receiving both immediate and long-term feedback; it is active, engaging, and personal (p. 32).
Expository writing with analytic and critical elements is an incredibly active undertaking because of how much a writer must engage with a given idea and their own. They must engage the audience and likely achieve multiple goals of informing, inspiring, or persuading. Inevitably, this sort of participation in discourse will cultivate strong teams of experts who challenge current ideas and conceive new ones, a universally valuable skill in all disciplines.
As aforementioned, expository writing in all its forms is employed in various social contexts due to the socialized nature of humans, as everyone analyzes a current social consensus, and then develops critical responses. Ryan D. Shaw (2014), an assistant professor of music education at Michigan State University, states philosopher Richard Paul’s definition of critical thinking in his article discussing critical thinking (and writing) in the music field:
‘The intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication as a guide to belief and action’ (as cited on p. 66).
To fit the context of music education, Shaw (2014) presents the following question that would coax musicians to write an expository response in the music field: “‘Why do you think an American orchestra would play Dvořák’s New World Symphony in North Korea?’ [...] By hinting at the foundations of critical theory pedagogy, it easily leads to reflection on the relationship between music and diplomacy” (p. 66-68). One would answer the following question through an expository essay involving critical analysis. First, the writer could initiate an analysis of Dvořák’s New World Symphony and what that piece of art represents, and thus how it relates or conflates with the political and social conditions of North Korea. Any piece of art can be politicized, and these circumstances arouse innovative discourse in academia.
In addition, expository writing can also be invoked in scientific and mathematical environments. Scientists analyze results from experiments and interpret what these findings mean in relation to the hypothesis. Similarly, mathematicians analyze functions and sequences of equations and values. Those wielding expository writing can effectively communicate their evaluations, chronicle the technical process, and interpret what the results mean comprehensively. To provide concrete examples, The Eastern Institute of Technology (2021), a government-owned tertiary education institution in New Zealand, presents a writing style guide by their library to overview writing style characteristics and textual passages adapted from other academic sources. The first figure of the study guide outlines compared writing styles that one may see within an expository essay framework. The figure notes that an analytical writing technique “explores relationships of ideas or parts of something” and “provides possible situations and alternative responses”, whereas a critical writing technique “involves making a judgment on the quality of something” and “outlines implications and solutions, draws conclusions and makes recommendations” (Writing styles compared section). Expository compositions state what a given topic, text, or process is, and the critical writing component elucidates that analysis.
Further textual passages were adapted from a research article written by Linda Henderson’s (2012) exploring the ‘invisible barrier’ in early childhood school relationships. The analytical elements are written as follows:
‘Learning how to ‘fit in’ seemed to capture the overall theme of this discussion and that the struggle was about navigating a relationship around the presences of an invisible barrier’ (p. 22) (as cited in Table 4, Example of Descriptive, Analytical, Critical/Evaluative, and Reflective Writing section).
In slight contrast, the critical style example by Hednerson (2012) states:
'These questions must also go beyond just the early childhood school relationships, if boundaries between education systems are to be dissolved’ (p. 24)” (as cited in Table 4, Example of Descriptive, Analytical, Critical/Evaluative, and Reflective Writing section).
Here, the distinction between these two writing styles clearly reveals how they interplay in an expository work. The analysis showcases the author’s apt knowledge of a topic or idea, and the critical writing showcases the personal voice of the author and the ‘call to action’.
In conclusion, while expository writing has a more simple output such as the summation of a topic, the goal of the text may demand a much more complex process. Yet, it is crucial to consider that analytical and critical writing are tools for anyone to demonstrate the question at hand and either confirm or challenge that question. This is the action of expository writing. In the circumstances of political science practitioners, Gamze Çavdar and Sue Doe (2012), professors at Colorado State University, describe a writing assignment they gave intending to challenge students to consolidate analytical and critical writing skills in an expository essay. The essay demanded the student to discuss the health-care debate between social democracy and liberalism ideologies in the United States, which are not distinctly discussed in their textbook, to encourage students to apply more critical analysis to their expository essays. The professors explain: “We encourage other instructors in political science to consider the systematic use of writing, and in particular feedback loops and staged, scaffolded writing assignments, to advance the development of better citizen-thinkers…” (p. 306). It can be agreed upon then, that not only does expository writing is the pathway forward to communicating discoveries and paradigm shifts, but also, builds the personal character and intellect of the writer. On a grander scale, it allows humanity to flourish and create advancements within the knowledge spectrum.
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