There are four main types of writing: narrative, descriptive, expository, and argumentative. Each has a unique purpose. Some tell a story, others attempt to alter opinions. You use these four writing types to write different types of essays.
Narrative writing means you’re telling a story from a certain viewpoint, and there is usually a reason for the telling. All narrative essays have characters, setting, a climax, and most importantly, a plot.
When writing a narrative essay, remember to:
- include sensory and emotional details, so the reader will experience the story, not just read about it
- allow the story to support the point you’re making, and make reference to that point in the first sentence
- write in the first or third person
Ready for a little storytelling? Here are some excerpts from narrative essay examples.
"Looking back on a childhood filled with events and memories, I find it rather difficult to pick one that leaves me with the fabled 'warm and fuzzy feelings.' As the daughter of an Air Force major, I had the pleasure of traveling across America in many moving trips. I have visited the monstrous trees of the Sequoia National Forest, stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon and have jumped on the beds at Caesar's Palace in Lake Tahoe."
"Looking for houses was supposed to be a fun and exciting process. Unfortunately, none of the ones that we saw seemed to match the specifications that we had established. They were too small, too impersonal, too close to the neighbors. After days of finding nothing even close, we began to wonder: was there really a perfect house out there for us?"
"The day I picked my dog up from the pound was one of the happiest days of both of our lives. I had gone to the pound just a week earlier with the idea that I would just 'look' at a puppy. Of course, you can no more just look at those squiggling little faces so filled with hope and joy than you can stop the sun from setting in the evening. I knew within minutes of walking in the door that I would get a puppy… but it wasn't until I saw him that I knew I had found my puppy."
The following is an example of a famous narrative written by John Updike, Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.
"The afternoon grew so glowering that in the sixth inning the arc lights were turned on--always a wan sight in the daytime, like the burning headlights of a funeral procession. Aided by the gloom, Fisher was slicing through the Sox rookies, and Williams did not come to bat in the seventh. He was second up in the eighth. This was almost certainly his last time to come to the plate in Fenway Park, and instead of merely cheering, as we had at his three previous appearances, we stood, all of us, and applauded."
Descriptive essays describe the traits and characteristics of people, objects, events, and feelings in intricate detail. What’s being described will be thoroughly examined. For example, if you were describing roses, you might want to detail:
- their origin
- their appearance
- their color
- their fragrance
When you write a descriptive essay, you want to involve the reader’s senses and emotions. For example, you could say, "I got sleepy." Or, you could write, "While I waited for Santa, my eyelids grew heavy, the lights on the tree began to blur, and my head began to droop." The second excerpt provides vivid detail, allowing readers to feel like they’re there.
Ready to dive into the details? Here are three excerpts rife with detail.
"Like his twisted feathers, his many scars, the reliable old owl chose the gnarled, weather-beaten, but solid branch often - it being a companion to the wise alone with the night and the last branch to creak in the heaviest wind. He often came to survey the fields and the clouds before his hunt, to listen to the steady sound of the stream passing through reeds under the bridge, while combing his feathers for the unwanteds - whatever they might be."
A student at Roane State Community College managed to spice up a first visit to a diner. Watch how descriptive things get.
"When entering the door at Lou's, two things are immediately noticeable: the place is rarely empty and seems to consist of a maze of rooms. The first room, through the door, is the main part of the restaurant. There is another, rarely used, dining room off to the right. It was added during the oil well boom of the seventies. Through the main dining room is yet another room; it guards the door leading into the kitchen. This room contains the most coveted table in the place. The highest tribute Lou can bestow on anyone is to allow them access to seats at this table. This table is the family table; it is reserved for Lou's, and her daughter Karen's, immediate family and treasured friends."
Like the diner essay above, this sample excerpt from a student at St. Cloud State spruces up something as everyday as a local pawn shop.
"Billy Ray's Pawn Shop and Lawn Mower Repair looked like a burial ground for country auction rejects. The blazing, red, diesel fuel tanks beamed in front of the station, looking like cheap lipstick against the pallid, wrinkled texture of the parking lot sand. The yard, not much larger than the end zone at General G. Patton High School on the north end of town, was framed with a rusted metallic hedge of lawn mowers, banana seat bicycles, and corroded oil drums. It wasn't a calico frame of rusted parts, but rather an orchestra of unwanted machinery that Billy Ray had arranged into sections. The yellow-tanked mowers rested silently at the right of the diesel fuel. Once red, now faded orange, mowers stood at attention to the left. The oil barrels, jaded and pierced with holes, bellared like chimes when the wind was right. The bikes rested sporadically throughout the lot. In the middle of it all was the office, a faded, steel roof supported by cheap two-by-fours and zebra paneling. Billy Ray was at home, usually, five blocks east of town on Kennel Road."
Expository essays compare, explore, and discuss problems. While there’s a bit of a storytelling element to them, their purpose is greater than that. It’s always to explain some integral concept to the reader. As such, they inform, describe, and explain.
When writing an expository essay, the text needs to:
- be concise and easy to understand
- offer different views on a subject
- report on a situation or event
- explain something that may be difficult to understand
Ready to dive deep into a specific issue? Here are three excerpts that’ll show you how it’s done.
"This family was a victim of a problem they could have avoided-a problem that, according to Florida park rangers, hundreds of visitors suffer each year. 'Several times a month,' Ranger Rod Torres of O'Leno State Park said, 'people get scared and leave the park in the middle of the night.' Those people picked the wrong kind of park to visit. Not that there was anything wrong with the park: The hikers camped next to them loved the wild isolation of it. But it just wasn't the kind of place the couple from New Jersey had in mind when they decided to camp out on this trip through Florida."
This sample expository essay from Thoughtful Learning relies heavily on facts and statistics to explain the important concept of cheating.
"Did you know that 7 out of 10 students have cheated at least once in the past year? Did you know that 50 percent of those students have cheated more than twice? These shocking statistics are from a survey of 9,000 U.S. high school students. Incredibly, teachers may even be encouraging their students to cheat! Last year at a school in Detroit, teachers allegedly provided their students with answers to statewide standard tests."
The University of Victoria uses this sample essay to demonstrate the importance of straightforward clarity in an expository essay.
"Throughout history and through a cross-section of cultures, women have transformed their appearance to conform to a beauty ideal. Ancient Chinese aristocrats bound their feet as a show of femininity; American and European women in the 1800s cinched in their waists so tightly, some suffered internal damage; in some African cultures, women continue to wear plates in their lower lips, continually stretching the skin to receive plates of larger size. The North American ideal of beauty has continually focused on women's bodies: the tiny waist of the Victorian period, the boyish figure in vogue during the flapper era, and the voluptuous curves that were the measure of beauty between the 1930s and 1950s. Current standards emphasize a toned, slender look, one that exudes fitness, youth, and health. According to psychologist Eva Szekely, 'Having to be attractive at this time... means unequivocally having to be thin. In North America today, thinness is a precondition for being perceived by others and oneself as healthy.' However, this relentless pursuit of thinness is not just an example of women trying to look their best, it is also a struggle for control, acceptance and success."
In an argumentative essay, the writer is trying to convince the reader by demonstrating the validity or falsity of a topic. They back up their position with evidence, including statistics or the opinion of experts. In these essays, the writer isn’t merely offering an opinion, but making an argument for or against something, and supporting that argument with data.
To write an argumentative essay, it’s important to research and back up what you say in the text. You may also use argumentative writing in persuasive writing, which uses emotional language and appeals to convince the reader.
When it’s time to stand your ground and make a strong case, allow these excerpts to help get you started.
"Gun control has been a controversial issue for years. A vast majority of citizens believe that if gun control is strictly enforced, it would quickly reduce the threat of crime. Many innocent people feel they have the right to bear arms for protection, or even for the pleasure of hunting. These people are penalized for protecting their lives, or even for enjoying a common, innocent sport. To enforce gun control throughout the nation means violating a person’s Constitutional rights. Although some people feel that the issue of gun control will limit crime, the issue should not exist due to the fact that guns are necessary for self defense against crime, and enforcing gun control is violating a citizen's second amendment right to bear arms."
An argumentative essay from Bogazici University offers a bit of a dramatic flair, which is important to making a strong argument.
"Throw out the bottles and boxes of drugs in your house. A new theory suggests that medicine could be bad for your health, which should at least come as good news to people who cannot afford to buy expensive medicine. However, it is a blow to the medicine industry, and an even bigger blow to our confidence in the progress of science. This new theory argues that healing is at our fingertips: we can be healthy by doing Reiki on on a regular basis."
Essay By Example dives deeply into an argument touting the benefits of online gaming.
"Online games aren't just a diversion, but a unique way to meet other people. As millions of gamers demonstrate, playing online is about friendship and cooperation, not just killing monsters. These games are a viable social network because players focus on teamwork, form groups with like-minded people and have romantic relationships with other players. Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) feature millions of players interacting in the same environment. The games are social in nature as they allow players to band together and complete missions based on a story line, or test their skills by fighting against each other. At the start of the game, the user creates a fictional character, and customizes its physical appearance. Since many games involve combat, players also outfit their characters with armor and weapons, as well as choose their 'profession.' Many popular game titles like World of Warcraft and Everquest follow a fantasy theme, so most professions have magical abilities like healing other players or raising undead minions. While the process seems simple, players may spend hours agonizing over the perfect look for their character, from their armor color to the type of skills to use in battle. Once their character is created, the player is free to explore the vast, digital world and interact with other players; however they must pay on average $15 a month for game content. MMOG users are mostly male - usually between the ages of 18-34 - although titles like World of Warcraft have a healthy population of female players as well. With millions of players, there are plenty of people to adventure with."
Sometimes, writers only want to offer facts and information (informative writing). Other times, they’re seeking to change the tide of people’s belief systems (argumentative writing). Using these writing techniques, you can write many different types of essays.
English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton wasn’t kidding when he said, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” With the right words and a well-developed argument, you can shape other people’s perceptions too.