What is an Explanatory Essay: Definition and Purpose

Honestly, I faced problems trying to figure out the definition of an explanatory essay as, from my point of view, it is similar to an argumentative essay and a narrative essay. So big thanks to Brandon for his help and attempts to explain to me the differences between these papers.

As I understood, an explanatory essay describes your opinion on a person, situation, event, process etc. You just have to present information on a particular topic without judging or trying to convince a reader. It is about informing the reader by providing facts and supporting them with examples.

What are the Various Types of Explanatory Essays?

There are different types of this academic assignment that have their own peculiarities and features. So check the information below to choose the explanatory style and then start searching for a topic.

6 types of explanatory essay

Problem solution essay

The student has to analyze the chosen problem from different perspectives and aspects to propose the best solution in his/her opinion.

Definition essay

This type of explanatory essay requires you to provide an extended definition of a concept.

Compare and contrast essay

Think about similarities and differences that personalities have or compare situations and events (it depends on a chosen topic).

Cause and effect essay

How did it happen? What effects might it have? These are the main questions that you have to answer in the college paper.

Process essay

In this case, you should provide directions on creating or doing something, so in some way, it looks like a guide.

Classification essay

You should divide your paper topic into different parts or categories and explain each one in detail, providing examples, characteristics or features.

Step by Step Guide to Writing an Explanatory Paper

I am sure that after reading the information above, you start wondering about writing explanatory essays and the specifications of this process. Having discussed it with Brandon, we created a 9-step guide that will help to create a powerful explanatory paper of any type.

Choose a good topic

Yesterday Brandon told me, “It does not matter what paper a student has, the first step to a successful essay is an interesting topic.” And I totally agree with him! As for students who already have a specific topic, well, accept our condolences.

But if the professor gave you the freedom of choice, then you can choose any theme on your subject! Just think about your interests and a topic that you would like to delve into. By the way, you could pick a theme that you are not good at to improve your knowledge.

Write down your ideas

Take a piece of paper and think about what you already know and what you would like to share with the reader. It may be difficult at first, but give yourself some time, and ideas will start to flow.

Then write down all the facts and evidence that you remember. I know that many students prefer to ignore this step, but it is a huge mistake. A simple brainstorming will help you organize your thoughts and determine the research path or at least search requests for Google.

Do a research

It is time for the most boring but essential step of the writing process - doing research for your explanatory essay and gathering solid facts. Give yourself enough time to find reliable and relevant sources without rushing because they are the key to a successful explanatory essay.

Our recommendation is to review the information on a new website to know whether you should trust them. Unfortunately, if you present at least one fact from an unreliable source, it will spoil the impression. Make sure that the presented data and different examples are trustworthy and worth the professor's attention.

Make a plan

Before you start writing a 5-paragraph explanatory essay, you should create a sketch of your future masterpiece. And yes, a good paper includes at least 5 paragraphs: introduction, 3 main paragraphs, and conclusion. It means that you should pick the three most interesting and fresh facts from the done research and present them in your paper.

However, if you have quite an extensive topic, then you can add some paragraphs. But remember the main rule of academic writing "one paragraph - one idea". Creating an outline, write down some ideas for your introduction and conclusion to have no weak parts in your paper.

Create a thesis statement

Brandon and I will not stop emphasizing the importance of a thesis statement in academic papers, and it does not matter what type of essay you have. A strong thesis is like the basis of your paper that communicates what you are going to tell about.

Creating a strong and concise thesis is hard work, but there is nothing impossible! You can also check some guides and tips on crafting a thesis statement, as there are dozens of articles on the Internet.

Compose the first paragraph

You should start an explanatory essay with a good hook. One of the main functions of the first paragraph is catching the reader's attention and sparking interest. From the first lines, the professor should have a desire to read the paper to the end but not put it aside and check it last. There are many ways to achieve it, for example, you can find an interesting quote or statistic, ask a rhetorical question, or present an anecdote!

Provide facts and evidence

Do not forget about the rule that one paragraph has to be devoted to one idea. Moreover, the info in your paper should be presented in chronological order, so pay attention to the date of publication while gathering facts and evidence. Make sure that you have enough proofs for your paper to make it sound credible. Besides, you can also use charts and illustrations to support the presented facts.

Finish with a strong conclusion

When it comes to concluding a paper, most students think, "Well, I will just write a few sentences and it will be done". Nope, guys, it does not work. The first and last paragraphs have the same importance and require a good amount of time.

So if you are pondering, "How to end my explanatory essay and not lose face?" We recommend you three things:

  • Restate your thesis statement.
  • Sum up the main paper points and evidence.
  • Make an overall concluding statement.

Proofread and edit

When your essay is done, it is better to give yourself a few days to rest and re-read the paper with a fresh mind. Find a quiet place and be ready to proofread and correct your essay several times. First, check the clarity and make sure that there is a smooth transition between your ideas.

Then you should correct mistakes and typos, you can also use special software for it, for example, Grammarly. The last step is checking the citation style to avoid plagiarism in your paper. By the way, you can also give your assignment to a friend or family member to get feedback. We often do it, and it really helps to improve the paper's quality.

Explanatory Essay Structure

The Introduction

As you know, a good paper starts with a hook, then you should provide background information and devote the last sentences to a thesis. It should not be large, so try to stay concise while composing the first paragraph.

We have already discussed how to come up with an interesting hook, so I guess you will not face a problem. As for the background information, you should give a general idea of your essay. The last few sentences you should devote to your thesis statement.

The Body

Your essay body should contain no less than 3 paragraphs, but you can also write 4 or 5 if you have a great amount of information. The paragraphs have the same structure and must include at least 4 sentences.

The first sentence is like a thesis that represents the idea of the paragraph. The second one presents information that supports your thesis. Then you provide relevant evidence that you found during your research. The last sentence looks like a small conclusion that summarizes the information from your paragraph.

The Conclusion

The successful conclusion starts with restating a thesis statement that will remind the reader of the main paper's idea and add strength to the information provided in the body. Then you should summarize the main points from the paragraph by emphasizing their significance. The last step is providing an overall concluding statement, and you may also call a reader to action or motivate him to study your topic further.

Explanatory Essay Outline

I totally agree with Brandon that one of the rules of writing an explanatory essay is creating a good outline. When the writing process starts, you may have a lot of ideas and information on your topic, and a good plan will help to organize them.

But do not make a huge mistake by composing a paper, as you just have to make short notes according to a paper structure. We decided to simplify this process for you and made a short version of the paper structure that you could follow composing an outline:


  • Interesting hook
  • Background info
  • Thesis statement

1st Body Paragraph

  • Main idea
  • Supporting evidence
  • Concluding sentence

2nd Body Paragraph

  • Main idea
  • Supporting evidence
  • Concluding sentence

3rd Body Paragraph

  • Main idea
  • Supporting evidence
  • Concluding sentence


  • Restated thesis statement
  • Summary of main essay's points
  • Concluding statement + call to action

As you see, there is nothing difficult in creating an outline, but it will greatly facilitate the writing process.

Finding Examples of Explanatory Essays Online

When I get a new assignment from a professor, I always try to find good assignment samples as it really helps to achieve the desired effect and write a successful essay (Brandon does it too). You may read dozens of guides and writing tips, but the best way to understand essay specifications is to look through different samples. Especially if you write a cause and effect essay or compare and contrast essay, it is crucial to find the right example as you can easily create a paper that sounds like an argumentative paper.

Fortunately, there are many websites and platforms with free explanatory essay samples. You may even find a paper with a similar topic! I also came across some video bloggers and their websites with detailed analyses of college papers and samples. So do not be lazy and search for a library or database with essay samples.