A Brief Review of Types of Essays


From high school forward, students are asked to produce essay writing works on a wide variety of topics in almost every course taken. There are three components in writing an effective essay:

1. Understanding the topic or the question/prompt provided
2. Effective writing skills and style
3. The ability to produce the types of essays necessary for specific topics and purposes

The list of different essay types, here you can find guidelines to any



It is the purpose of this piece to describe and discuss the types of essays that students will write so that they have a basic understanding of the format, the development, and the effective presentation of information, content, and opinion.

The Expository Essay

This essay type is rather generic in nature, as the student may be asked to investigate and/or explain a specific concept, theory, event, etc. An opinion will not be required but research and analysis is almost always required, whether the information/data presented is from class lectures, texts, or outside research. The format for the expository essay is basic. It includes an introduction that includes a thesis statement, body paragraphs that present information and/or evidence in a coherent manner, and a conclusion which ties the information/data to the thesis statement.


The Persuasive (Argumentative) Essay

This type of essay relates to a controversial issue in which students are asked to take a stand on the issue and provide evidences that support his/her viewpoint. Often, these types of essays require that the opposing viewpoint are presented and discounted through the evidence gathered. Because factual information and/or data are necessary, research is often a critical component of such an essay. If, for example, an economics class essay assignment relates to the impact of tax cuts on stimulation of the economy, a student may want to look at CBO reports over the past several decades to promote his/her argument and to “debunk” the argument of the opposing side. The thesis (or position) must be introduced in the introduction and the body paragraphs must produce evidence that supports that thesis statement.

The Informal Essay

Students often enjoy this type of essay because it allows for more flexibility and creativity in production. The standard rules of formal English are often suspended so that students may be more creative and personal in their presentations. Personal experiences, humor, and more colloquial language are allowed, as well as, less structured presentation of content, opinion, and experience. However, the format must remain and must include an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion that all relate to the topic addressed. Style is the key to effective presentation and the use of figurative language, sometimes humor, and other attention-grabbing devices should be utilized.

The Literary Essay

Found primarily in English and Literature courses, the literary essay has many forms. From the basic book review to a full analysis of themes in a major work of literature, the literary essay may ask the student to engage in critical thinking, to compare and contrast, to develop and support an opinion, or to engage in research regarding the thinking of others relative to a major literary work. No matter what is asked, the student is required to develop a thesis and to provide an overview in the introduction. In the succeeding body paragraphs, the thesis statement should be developed. This type of essay ends with a conclusion that ties the piece together. The key to a solid literary essay is to understand the topic and purpose and presenting the ideas through the use of formal English.

The Cause/Effect Essay

“What is the most significant cause of climate change?” “What has caused young people to reject the Republican Party?” “What have been the effects of the European economic crisis in the U.S.?” These are some of the prompts/questions a student may face when asked to write a cause/effect essay. As can be quickly discerned, many of these types of essays require research while some require forming an opinion which is supported by factual information or data. Similar with other essay types, the writer needs to form a solid thesis statement which must be reinforced by the body paragraphs. When multiple causes are being addressed, the most important ones must come first followed by the least important ones.

The Comparison/Contrast Essay

Organizing a comparison/contrast essay is best accomplished by the use of Venn diagram so that the writer first obtains a clear picture of the similarities and differences between two things, events, theories, persons, or concepts. Once the diagram is completed, an outline can be now constructed to organize the actual presentation of paragraphs. Again, a strong thesis statement is required in the introduction so that the readers understand not only what is to be compared and/or contrasted but also the writer’s overall purpose for writing the piece. In History course, for example, one might compare and contrast the fiscal policies of Herbert Hoover and George W. Bush and discover that they are amazingly similar. The thesis statement, then, would include the writer’s opinion that both men shared the same economic philosophies while in office. The body paragraphs would then be organized around sub-topics such as regulation of business and Wall Street, the role of the federal government in trade policy, and taxation policies. The conclusion of such an essay would re-state the thesis in a new way.

The Narrative Essay

A narration tells a story and many students enjoy this type of essay more than others since they may include conversation and a less formal language style. Organization is critically important in this essay type because important elements of the story should be all included. Developing a “timeline” of events is an effective organizational tool for such an essay, prior to dividing the events into distinct paragraphs. The introduction must be “catchy” and must prepare the reader for the story. It may also include a type of thesis statement such as something learned from a personal experience. Transitions between paragraphs are crucial in order for the story to flow well.

The Descriptive Essay

Unlike most other types of essays, this one requires great creativity with language, if it is to be well received by the readers. The contrast between a mediocre and a stellar descriptive essay is the difference between “telling” and “showing”. No matter what is to be described, the writer must appeal to the reader’s senses and must be able to “paint” wonderful images through the use of language. The use of analogies, metaphors, similes, and personification can propel a description to great heights and capture the readers’ attention. Such figurative language can begin in the introduction and carry on throughout the body and conclusion. Getting a picture in one’s own mind is an excellent way to begin the process of a descriptive essay. Consider for example the sights, sounds, and smell of a recent concert attended. How would you describe these to someone? To what could you compare these things? These are the components that ultimately form an exceptional descriptive essay.

The Definition Essay

This type of essay is generally assigned relative to complex terms and concepts. For instance, essays defining love, justice, or democracy, may vary greatly. The introduction and thesis statement of a definition essay must provide the perspective within which the writer will present the definition. Body paragraphs may present examples, anecdotes, and/or facets of the definition so that in the end, the reader has complete picture of the writer’s perspective and position. The conclusion should sum up this definition clearly and succinctly.

The Review/Analysis Essay

In many courses, students will be asked to read the writing or view the presentations of others and to provide an essay in response to what has been read or heard. Some of these essays will require an analysis involving breaking down the facets of the original piece and providing a discussion of them. Other assignments will require the students to form an opinion and then support it and others may request the students to summarize the thoughts and/or positions of the original authors. In any case, the introduction must contain a thesis statement and attention-grabbing statements. Formal English should be used in this type of essay with sub-topics clearly and precisely divided into body paragraphs. There should be smooth transitions between them.

Types of essays may often be meshed and a student will find that more than one type is actually being produced with a single assignment. For example, a student may be asked to provide an objective review of a presidential speech on health care and then to develop a subjective position and a persuasive argument supporting that position. This is a complex task since it involves taking the health care law apart, describing each part, and then establishing a persuasive argument for or against each part.

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