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What are the Main types of An Essay

Published by at November 1st, 2021 , Revised On October 21, 2022

An essay is a focused piece of academic writing that aims to persuade and convince readers of the author’s argument. While there are many types of essays, they can all be essentially grouped into the following four categories:

Narrative and descriptive essays allow you to be more creative in your writing style. Argumentative and expository essays present arguments that persuade readers to agree with your opinion. In academic writing, an argumentative essay is the most popular type.

Type of essay Assessment criteria Example prompt

Forming opinions based on research

Presents evidence to support the argument

Has distance learning had a positive or negative impact on education?
Descriptive Providing clear and concise information about the topic Describe your first visit to the dentist.

 Building an engaging narrative

 Use creative language

Explain why you have chosen to apply to the University College of London.

Use creative language

Explaining sensual details

Describe how the conquest of Mecca led to the Golden Islamic Age.

You may also be asked to write a textual analysis essay in high school and college, which tests students’ reading and analysis skills.

Argumentative essays

Argumentative essays present an argument using supporting evidence. It requires you to take a specific position on your topic, which is presented in the form of a thesis statement. An argumentative essay aims to persuade the reader to agree to the author’s opinion using evidence and interpretation.

With an argumentative essay, your tutor can evaluate your ability to independently conduct research on a given topic and present your argument and analysis along with supporting evidence.

Argumentative essays are the most common academic essay assignments at the college and university level. The structure of an argumentative essay is divided into the following three parts:

Argumentative essay example paragraph

The following paragraphs are taken from the main body of an argumentative essay on the impact of distance learning on education.

Distance learning is one of the most economical and viable forms of education available to adult students juggling many responsibilities due to financial and time constraints in their lives. The burden of responsibilities prevents adult students from studying in a foreign country or another city. Distance learning enables them to overcome these challenges and complete their education. Learning in a distant mode can also mitigate economic, social, psychological, and cultural difficulties. Distance learning students often achieve better results when compared with on-campus students because the pursuit of knowledge is undertaken for its own sake rather than as an obligation.

Descriptive essays

A descriptive essay presents a sensual description of something – situation, emotion, experience, place, person, etc. This type of essay tests a student’s ability to write an account of a specific experience and use language creatively.

Descriptive essays allow you to be more creative, but the essay’s content should be specific and focused. You can make your descriptive essay stand out by using salient words that paint an unforgettable picture of what you are describing through writing.

A descriptive essay begins with an introduction to the object you aim to describe and ends by painting a complete picture of it. Still, its structure is flexible as compared to argumentative essays. What matters most in descriptive essay writing is the choice of words and language to present a real account of the object.

Descriptive essay example

The following descriptive essay paragraph example from the essay “My first visit to the dentist” can improve your descriptive essay writing skills.

One of my earliest childhood memories is going out with my parents to the dentist. It was early in the morning on a joyful day. The sun was shining bright. I was just four years old when my mom convinced me to see the dentist have my milk teeth checked.

I was excited not only because it was my first visit to the dentist but also because it was the first time I saw a dentist. I thought of myself as a fearless and courageous boy, so I readily agreed to the trip.

While we drove to the dentist, my stomach grumbled suddenly. Mom said, “Shall we get some snacks for you?” So we stopped at the next service area to grab some crisps and juice. I thoroughly enjoyed the snacks and felt at ease thereafter. A few minutes later, we finally reached the dental clinic.

I must say I was a little surprised to see how clean the place was. I immediately asked my mom, “what is this place?”. There was a large reception area with a receptionist behind the counter. There were posters of dental treatment and dental hygiene on the walls.

I looked at the posters and loved them. I wondered again, what could this place be? My curiosity led me to ask my mom, “Mom, where are we? What is this place?”. But my mom didn’t respond and continued to read the newspaper that she had been looking at since we arrived at the place. As we waited for our turn, I went to sleep.

A few minutes later, my mom woke me up, and I went to the dentist’s room with my parents. I saw a stranger dressed in a white overcoat. He had a stethoscope around his neck.

I analyzed his desk and saw a dental syringe and dental drill. I freaked out and quickly ran out of the room at that very moment. My dad came after. I couldn’t escape. I was back in the dentist’s room and tried to muster up some courage. My dad held on to my arms tightly, and the dentist started to examine my milk teeth.

Also read: How to shorten an essay

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Narrative essays

A narrative essay aims to tell a story creatively. The story generally relates to the authors’ personal experience, even though it can also be fiction that describes imaginary events and people.

In narrative essay writing, you will be required to build up an intriguing story in a structured way. Narrative essays allow the author to be more creative in writing than other essays.

A personal statement for college or university admission requires the writer to demonstrate similar skills as a narrative essay.

There is no fixed structure for a narrative essay, but it should start with an introduction to set up the narrative. It ends by concluding the story’s moral – how the experience (s) will help you improve your response to a particular situation in the future.

Narrative essay example

See below a short narrative essay responding to the topic “Explain why you have chosen to apply to the University College of London.”

Scrutinizing nature beyond any limit is a goal shared by both the University College of London and me. I have always found myself fond of disciplines like math and science than humanities. For me, these subjects are of more production value than any other subject.

Courtesy of my experience at the World Science Festival Series, I realized science is more than just a hobby for me. It has instilled in me a passion never known before. There is one thing for sure. University College of London Student Science Training Program can mark the beginning of a journey as I set out to quench my thirst to explore this discipline.

I was completely naïve to the World Science Festival until one of my friends introduced it to me. I was sure it was going to be a boring session on scientific theories and ideas that would fail miserably to keep the audience at the edge of their seats. But I was so wrong because the presenter, Professor, and Doctor Brian Greene gave the most interesting and gripping explanation of the Sting theory that sent my brain into a tailspin.

The talk was an unparalleled experience for me and my friend Robert – who said “This is just the beginning of our love for science”, and we were in constant reverence and admiration of it.

The speaker engaged with us on our level instead of indulging in intricate details of complicated scientific concepts. As he explained the superstring theory, the idea that every particle and force in the universe originates from an infinitesimal strand of energy vibrating in 11 dimensions from a beginner’s perspective, I found myself visualizing various forces at play in my surroundings using a string theory lens. As the talk concluded, it had for sure ignited in me a passion for pursuing science than any other subject by then.

The University College of London Department of Physics will help me make the most of my passion for science. As the department is recognized throughout the world for its world-class teaching faculty and unmatched research facilities, I am sure I can continue my journey towards scientific excellence. While this is just the beginning for me, I am confident that, if given a chance, my time at the University College of London will enable me to live my dream true.

Expository essays

An expository essay provides a clear and concise account of a topic. Unlike an argumentative essay, it doesn’t incorporate the authors’ personal opinions. Instead, it aims to provide a balanced and well-informed view of the issue in discussion.

Expository essays are designed to test student skills to organize and convey information without bias. They are among the more popular forms of essay at the high school and college levels.

The structure of an expository essay includes the introduction, the body, and the conclusion.

The introduction states the topic and provides background information. The body presents evidence logically and clearly. The conclusion recaps the details presented.

Expository essay example paragraph

Here is an example expository essay paragraph about the significance of the conquest of Mecca by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his companions.

Before the conquest of Makkah, the Muslims were often subject to abuse and prosecution. Muhammad (PBUH) and his companions had to go through hardships of all kinds at the hand of the Quraysh tribe after they embraced Islam. In 619 CE, the Islamic Prophet and the entire clan of Banu Hashim were expelled from Makkah and forced into exile. The tribal council of Makkah believed that the exile would bring Muhammad (PBUH) and his companions to their knees.

Textual analysis essays

Textual analysis essays test your reading and critical analysis skills. While all types of essays test your writing skills, a textual analysis essay will additionally require you to present information on a topic based on a critical analysis of text to demonstrate how it achieves specific effects.

Literary analysis

Literary analysis involves a careful reading of a piece of literature such as a novel or poem. It presents the key text’s themes by examining the choice made by the author. Unlike a book review, a literary analysis essay provides a careful and comprehensive interpretation of the text.

In a literary analysis essay, things like symbols, themes, characters, and setting are explored to figure out the author’s message through reading and detailed analysis of the text.

Like other types of essays, the structure of a literary analysis essay begins with an introduction that consists of the text, background information, and thesis statement. The main body includes quotations from the text and analysis to back your arguments. It ends with a conclusion to underline how your approach decodes the text.

Rhetorical analysis

A rhetorical analysis essay examines the rhetorical devices used in a persuasive text (e.g., political cartoon, an essay, or speech notes) and analyses their efficacy.

This type of essay establishes how the author has constructed their argument rather than proving it right or wrong.

Rhetorical analysis essays also consist of an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. The introduction includes the text, background information, and a thesis statement. The main body presents the analysis of the text, and finally, the conclusion emphasizes its relevance to broader issues.

If you have been given just a prompt, look for keywords such as explain, describe, argue, examine, etc. The word “describe” suggests a descriptive essay, while the word “explain” implies you are required to produce an expository essay.

An argumentative essay prompt will include words such as “argue”, “examine”, and “evaluate”.

However, in most cases, the college or university will tell you the type of essay you are required to write.

Argumentative essays are the most common type of essays at the college and university level. Most essay assignments will require you to conduct research on a particular topic and present analysis and evidence to support your argument.

There are many ways you can construct an argument. For example:

  • In a science essay, you could present an argument for the validity of a particular scientific theory.
  • A history essay will require you to present your argument to emphasize the significance of a particular event from the past.
  • In a literary analysis essay, you might make an argument for a specific interpretation of a text.

Both descriptive essays and narrative essays allow for more creativity. Similar skills can be used to write both these types of essays.

A descriptive essay presents an in-depth description of a place, person, idea, or event, whereas a narrative essay aims to tell a complete story.

An argumentative essay involves independent research and requires the author to construct an original topic on a certain topic. The thesis statement presented in the introduction must be backed by analysis, evidence, and interpretation.

An expository essay provides clear and concise information on the topic but doesn’t present an original argument. Expository essays are shorter in length as compared to argumentative essays.

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