Narrative essays narrate, argumentative essays argue, and expository essays … expose? Explain? (It’s a little of both). While these essays may use narrative, argumentative, and expository writing styles to make their points, they’re not the only types of essays to do so. In fact, there are 15 different types of essays — all of which narrate, argue, or explain something to their readers.
Narrative essays tell stories from your life or the lives of others. They’re told just like fictional short stories, with characters, a setting, a compelling plot, a climax, and a resolution.
Narrative essays use the third person perspective (it happened to someone else) or the first person perspective (it happened to the writer). Narrative essays should be entertaining and engaging to read, so choose a narrative writing topic that speaks to you.
When writing a narrative essay, a possible structure could include:
- Introduction - Hint at what you or the character learned
- Body - Tell the story from beginning to end, finishing in an exciting or compelling climax in the last body paragraph
- Conclusion - Reflect on what you or the character learned from the experience in the story
Argumentative essays (also called argument essays) investigate topics fairly and thoroughly to present the writer’s argument to the reader. The writer makes a claim and argues why evidence and logic support that claim in a well-structured essay.
Strong argumentative essays use rhetorical devices to strengthen their arguments, and they address the opposing argument (known as a counterclaim) as well. When choosing an argumentative essay topic, select an issue that you care about (or a topic you’d like to learn more about), and begin researching your position with reliable sources.
Expository essays use research and critical thinking to explain more about a topic. Newspaper articles are a type of expository essay — they provide information to the reader in a concise, factual way. Writing expository essays requires a straightforward outline, evidence-based conclusions, and a strong thesis statement.
Most expository essays follow a structure similar to this:
- Introduction - Introduce the topic and hint at a deeper truth
- Body - Explain more about the topic with evidence; expose the truth and/or implications of the topic in a final body paragraph
- Conclusion - Summarize the information and its larger meaning
Like narrative essays, descriptive essays use narration to set a scene for the reader. But unlike narrative essays, descriptive essays don’t tell a story from beginning to end. If a painting could be an essay, it would be a descriptive essay — a written experience that you can almost see.
Descriptive essays use lots of sensory details to describe the way something looks, sounds, smells, tastes, or feels. Well-written descriptive essays also use similes, metaphors, hyperboles, or other types of figurative language to pull their readers into the experience.
When writing a descriptive essay, you can follow this outline:
- Introduction - Introduce the topic you’re going to describe with an engaging, sensory hook sentence
- Body - Describe the topic with rich sensory detail and figurative language
- Conclusion - Summarize your essay and conclude with a memorable descriptive sentence
Persuasive essay writers try to convince their readers to agree with them. You’ll find examples of persuasive writing in both essays and speeches when a speaker, writer, or politician wants the audience on their side.
When you write a persuasive essay, you use similar strategies as you would in an argumentative essay. But persuasive essays use personal anecdotes (stories about yourself or others) and emotional appeals rather than the logic and evidence you’ll find in an argumentative essay. They also include a call to action at the end that inspires their audience to act.
You can structure your persuasive essay in a similar way as your argumentative essay, with a few key differences.
- Introduction - Use an emotional evocative hook to get the reader interested in your position right away
- Body - Use personal anecdotes, dramatic language, and emotional appeals to get the reader on your side
- Conclusion - Finish with a call to action for your reader — what should they do now?
Like expository essays, informative essays (also called informational essays) inform their readers about a topic. But the main purpose of an informative essay is to educate the audience rather than to expose them to the truth.
Informative essays require lots of evidence and strong research. Be sure to choose an informative essay topic that interests you, since you’re going to learn a lot about it during the course of your writing.
Outline your informative essay structure in a straightforward, no-nonsense way.
- Introduction - Introduce the topic with a strong hook (such as an interesting fact or statistic)
- Body - Explain more about the topic with evidence
- Conclusion - Restate your thesis and conclude with a general statement about the topic
Personal narrative essays (also called personal narratives) are a form of narrative writing in which the writer explores how an experience affected or shaped them. They focus on a single event or theme in one’s life, and unlike narrative essays, personal narratives are always true (and always autobiographical).
College entrance essays are a type of personal narrative in which a college applicant considers how a event or person in their past helped them to become the person they are today. Another type of personal narrative is a memoir — a longer narrative about one’s own life.
It’s tempting to write a personal narrative in an unstructured way, but having a solid structure is the key to writing a compelling personal narrative.
- Introduction - Set the scene, both in setting and tone (Where are we? When does it take place?)
- Body - Tell the story with rich detail, beginning to end, culminating in a meaningful climax
- Conclusion - Reflect on the experience and reveal how it shaped or changed you
Reflective essays explore an idea, concept, or observation from a writer’s point of view. They may include humor or emotional writing, but they should reveal a lot about the writer themselves (and about the reader).
Both reflective writing and personal narratives are forms of creative writing. But while reflective essays are personal, they don’t need to be written in a narrative format or tell a story. Think about a well-written journal entry — it probably doesn’t tell a story from start to finish, but explores the way something made the writer feel.
Depending on your topic, reflective essays can be quite structured or more loosely organized. Generally, you can follow a standard format.
- Introduction - Introduce the topic with detail and a thesis statement
- Body - Reflect on the topic (also including detail)
- Conclusion - Restate the thesis statement in a conclusion about the topic
Synthesis essays gather opinions, evidence, and proposals from various sources and present it to the reader as one document. They’re similar to argumentative essays (in that they present a claim) and informative essays (in that they present information), but the goal of a synthesis essay is first and foremost to compile a body of evidence.
That evidence may support the writer’s claim, or it may cause them to reexamine their thoughts about the topic. Either way, synthesis essays include a wealth of sources (all of which must be properly cited, of course).
You can structure your synthesis essay like an expository essay.
- Introduction - Hook the reader with a strong first sentence, then state your position in a thesis statement
- Body - Support your thesis with the wealth of evidence you have gathered from different sources
- Conclusion - Restate your thesis and summarize how you’ve supported your position
Definition essays define a term or idea. These terms could be vocabulary words, technical terms, abstract concepts, historical words, or any other idea that a writer wants to define for the reader.
It seems like that may only get you a sentence or two, but a well-written definition essay does a lot more than look up word meanings. They can be expository when pointing out little-known facts or implications of the term, reflective when referring to important concepts, and even argumentative if the writer has a stance to defend.
Definition essays have straightforward outlines that make it easy for the reader to understand your meaning.
- Introduction - State the word or concept you’re defining in the first sentence, and provide a general definition in the thesis
- Body - Elaborate on the thesis statement with support, alternate definitions, and implications of the word or concept
- Conclusion - Restate the definition along with the ways you elaborated on it
Analytical essays analyze a topic with strong detail and critical thinking. Also known as critical analysis essays, they use a balanced approach to thoroughly analyze something, whether it’s a passage in a piece of writing (known as literary analysis or rhetorical analysis), a an element from a scientific discovery, or an important historical event.
Like reflective writing, analytical writing is very detailed and focused on a single topic. While that topic may have larger implications in the essay (and it should), each sentence should connect back to the core of the analytical essay.
Analytical essays should follow a strict outline that doesn’t detract from its thesis statement.
- Introduction - Introduce the topic and refer to the levels of analysis you’ve done on it
- Body - Start with your lowest level of analysis and build up to the highest level (preferably in your last body paragraph), tying every sentence back to the thesis
- Conclusion - Restate your thesis and levels of analysis
Compare and contrast essays are analytical essays that examine how two subjects are similar and different. These subjects can be two characters, two historical events, two concepts — any two topics that have similarities (compare) and differences (contrast). Compare and contrast essays often use expository writing to present the information in a thoughtful way.
When writing a compare and contrast essay, structure can be just as important as the essay’s thesis statement. Structuring your compare and contrast essay can highlight the ways your topics resemble and differ from each other. Thanks to the many compare and contrast essay topics available, you’ll never run out of things to compare (or contrast).
Compare and contrast essays rely on a tight structure to analyze topics — but that structure may differ, depending on your topics.
- Introduction - Introduce the topic you’re comparing; find a creative and engaging way to state that they are similar but different in your thesis statement
- Body - Either analyze each characteristic in a body paragraph (Characteristic 1 of Topic 1 is different from Characteristic 1 of Topic 2), or analyze one entire topic before comparing and contrasting it with the second entire topic (Here are Characteristics 1, 2, and 3 of Topic 1; now, here are Characteristics 1, 2, and 3 of Topic 2)
- Conclusion - Restate your thesis and summarize your points
Cause and effect essays, another type of analytical essay, use structure to show the relationship between an event and its consequences. These essays often explore historical events or plot points in a story, though cause and effect topics can vary by subject.
Depending on how you write your cause and effect essay, you can use expository writing to explain how one thing led to another, or you can argue a little-known element of the cause and effect relationship (such as a surprising event, or a seemingly unrelated consequence).
Like compare and contrast essays, the structure of cause and effect essays depend on the topic you’re writing about and how you want to analyze it.
- Introduction - Introduce the topic and make your claim about how the event caused the effects in your thesis statement
- Body - Discuss the event in a paragraph before you discuss the effect, then defend your claim about how they’re related (or, you can spend the entire body section defending the claim, if that’s more reasonable for your topic)
- Conclusion - Restate the thesis and assert how you’ve proven your claim about the relationship between the cause and effect
Evaluation essays use a measured, unbiased approach to evaluating a work, topic, product, or another subject. With sound evidence and reasoning, evaluation essays present the writer’s opinion about the subject. Movie reviews, book reviews, and sports columns are all types of evaluation essays.
Though evaluation essays do thoroughly analyze their subject (think of the detail included in a movie review), they go beyond analysis. You would write an evaluation essay to present an educated and considered viewpoint, which should influence the reader when making up their own mind.
Your opinion is the claim in an evaluation essay, and just like any other claim, you need to defend it.
- Introduction - Introduce what you’re evaluating and state your evaluation in the thesis statement
- Body - Give an overview of what you’re evaluating (such as a summary), then defend your opinion with criteria, reasons, and evidence
- Conclusion - Restate your opinion and final impressions
Process essays are a type of informational essay that explains how to do something (its process). They include a short introduction and conclusion, but the focus of the essay is on its steps and guiding the reader through the process.
Consider the process section of a recipe or instruction manual. A well-written process essay uses technical language to be as clear as possible, refrains from making an argument or claim, and only uses detail when being more specific.
Process essays are some of the easiest to structure, since they go from beginning to end (much like narrative essays).
- Introduction - Introduce the topic and state your purpose in writing the essay
- Body - Write out the steps you need to take to complete the process (each paragraph can be one step, complete with tips and materials needed)
- Conclusion - Restate your purpose and what you’ve just taught your reader
Keeping all 15 types of essays straight can be a challenge. Let us help you keep them all straight with an infographic.
Once you know what type of essay you’re trying to write, there’s only one step left: writing the essay itself. For more tips and reference guides for writing all types of essays, check out:
- How to Write an Essay
- 20 Compelling Hook Examples for Essays
- How to Write an Effective Thesis Statement
- 5 Main Parts of an Essay: An Easy Guide to a Solid Structure
- Background Information Examples for Essays and Papers
- Types of Evidence to Use in Writing and Essays
- 10 Simple Tips on Essay Writing for College Students