Difference between Expository & Argumentative Essays (2019)

What's the difference between argumentative and expository essays?

When your teacher tells you to write an ‘expository’ or ‘argumentative’ essay, you might just freak out, clamp up, and say “What does the word expository even mean!?”

Sometimes these words just make it harder to understand what you need to do. So, in this article, I’m going to show you the exact difference between an expository and argumentative essay.

Let’s first look at what each of these essay types are and some examples of essay questions for each. Then, I will present you with a table clearly breaking down the differences into columns.

What is an Expository Essay?

What's the difference between argumentative and expository essays?

This is the most common form of essay at university level.

‘Expository’ means, simply, to give an explanation of something.

But, it’s not that easy. If you just give a dictionary definition of an idea and move on, you’re not going to get a very good mark. Read on to learn how to get a top mark on an expository essay.

An expository essay presents an informative and balanced exploration of an issue. This type of essay does not require you to take a stance on an issue. Instead, you should present a range of evidence, facts and statistics on a topic.

Your teacher will ask you to write an expository essay in order to prove your deep knowledge and understanding of an issue. This is why these essays are so common at university level.

Let’s say the topic of your course is “Depression amongst Elderly People”. Your teacher will ask you to write an expository essay about depression amongst elderly people not to convince them that it is an issue (they already know that). The teacher just wants you to show-off how deep your knowledge is about the topic.

Therefore, you’re going to want to delve very deeply into the topic and explore some major themes. Here’s some tips the help go deep in your expository essay:

  1. Get Great Information. Use your lecture notes, assigned readings and readings you find from google scholar to show that you have a very deep and detailed understanding of the issue;
  2. Compare Ideas. Ensure you present two sides of an argument and compare them. Use critical thinking strategies like pros and cons lists and Venn diagrams to assist you in thinking deeply about the topic;
  3. Avoid dictionary definitions. Instead, use scholarly definitions from textbooks or journal articles. If there are multiple definitions of a term or topic, compare each of them.
  4. Be objective. You should avoid using first person language (I, we, us, you, our) and do not take a position on the issue. Your job is to inform, not convince.

The essay question in an expository essay usually asks you to compare, contrast, explain how things work, define concepts, or classify them. Note that it does not ask you to ‘convince’ or ‘take a side’, because all you’re doing is presenting your knowledge in an unbiased manner.

Expository Essay Examples

Here is a list of potential expository essay questions:

The ‘How To’ Expository Essay

  1. Explain how emergency room nurses triage patients based on need.
  2. Provide a clear explanation of how an internal combustion engine produces motion.
  3. Explore with evidence how carbon dating approximates the age of the earth.
  4. Examine, with examples, the ways in which nuclear engineers prevent nuclear meltdowns in power plants.
  5. Explore how the judicial system is designed to ensure justice is served in western democracies.
  6. Provide a clear and detailed explanation of how subjective mental health disorders are diagnosed and treated.
  7. Examine the process behind ensuring the structural integrity of bridges in the United States.

The ‘Classification’ Expository Essay

  1. What are the major types of rocks within the earth’s crust?
  2. What are the key fields of study under the broad umbrella of ‘Psychology’?
  3. Identify and classify the different animal species on earth today.
  4. What are the five most influential approaches to art theory in European history?
  5. Explore and explain the different learning styles proposed by Howard Gardner.
  6. How can the Bristol Stool Chart help to categorize and diagnose illness and disease?
  7. What are the main categories of financial assets that help produce wealth in Capitalist societies?

The ‘Cause and Effect’ Expository Essay

  1. How does the cash bail system in the United States disadvantage minorities?
  2. What are the effects of inserting fluoride into public water systems?
  3. What are the multiple projected effects of lowering the corporate tax rate?
  4. What impact does lowering the age of voting have on participatory democracy?
  5. What are the long-term impacts of the death of a parent when a child is very young?
  6. What are the impacts of stereotypical gender representations in Disney films?
  7. How would a carbon tax of $40 a tonne impact the economy?

The Comparative Expository Essay

  1. Compare modernist and post-modernist approaches to art.
  2. What are the major differences between socialism and communism?
  3. What are the key differences between string theory and quantum mechanics?
  4. Examine the advantages and disadvantages of moving from a manufacturing economy to a services economy.
  5. Explore the two major competing explanations for the fall of the Soviet Union.
  6. What are the core differences between Catholicism and Protestantism?
  7. Compare the healthcare systems of Canada and the United states on the key metrics of value for money, social justice, life expectancy and individual liberty.

The Problem and Solution Expository Essay

  1. Examine five potential solutions to the problem of automation taking the jobs of truck drivers in the mid-west.
  2. What solutions are on the horizon for bureaucratic bloat in the European Union?
  3. What are the three key ways society can overcome resource scarcity in the coming century?
  4. What are the major viable solutions to the opioid crisis in the United States?
  5. Which approaches to foreign policy could present a solution to the oppression of women in some East African nations?
  6. How can society help to increase the democratic participation of children?
  7. Explore three potential diets that could help prevent diabetes among middle-aged men.

What is an Argumentative Essay?

What's the difference between argumentative and expository essays?

An argumentative essay is also often called a persuasive essay. Persuasive / argumentative essays take a position on an issue and try to convince their readers to accept your arguments.

In other words, the major difference between expository and argumentative essays is that argumentative essays try to convince, while expository essays do not.

In an argumentative essay you can take a position. You can say things like:

  • “This essay will show that the best course of action is…”
  • “It is evident that the best course of action is…”
  • “The position of this essay is that…”

Argumentative Essay Tip #1: Avoiding Bias

Just because you need to take a position, that doesn’t mean you can be biased in an argumentative essay. ‘Bias’ means to be prejudiced or narrow-mindedly convinced by only one side, despite evidence to the contrary.

To avoid bias in argumentative essay, you need to convince your reader that you have taken a close and open-minded look at the evidence on both sides of an issue, weighed them up, and come to your conclusions based on an informed understanding of all the issues.

Argumentative Essay Tip #2: Going Deep

You should show deep insights into the topic to avoid bias in both expository and argumentative essays. To show an in-depth understanding of the topic in an argumentative essay, you can compare and contrast two ideas and then make a value judgement after showing all sides of the issue.

My favourite approach to help you go deep is to use a pros and cons list for each of the different sides of an argument. You could, for example, brainstorm different perspectives like this:

Perspective 1

Perspective 2

Pros

Cons

Pros

Cons

Pro 1

Con 1

Pro 1

Con 1

Pro 2

Con 2

Pro 2

Con 2

Pro 3

Con 3

Pro 3

Con 3

“Having examined the pros and cons of each perspective, on balance the most convincing argument is Perspective 1. Therefore, it is the position of this essay that Perspective 1 is the most valuable perspective.”

Here, you can brainstorm a ton of different things to discuss about the topic. Then, once you have shown a thoughtful discussion of both perspectives, you can take an informed position.

Showing deep understanding and comparing perspectives before taking a position makes your argumentative essay … more persuasive!

Argumentative Essay Examples

Argumentative Essay Examples

  1. Take a position on the argument between raising and lowering taxes on the wealthy.
  2. What is the best course of action for obtaining peace in Syria?
  3. Persuade your reader about the importance of decreasing the voting age to 16.
  4. Take a position on the statement: “There should be more men in nursing.”
  5. Are current drug laws good or bad for young men of colour?
  6. Who should be the next nominee for the Supreme Court and why?
  7. What is the most appropriate management style for improving productivity, health and job satisfaction in your workplace?
  8. What is the best course of action for decreasing the amount of plastics in the Pacific Ocean?
  9. Should there be laws mandating the installation of solar panels on all new homes built in California?
  10. Should GMOs be banned?
  11. Should there be limits to freedom of speech?
  12. Should Pluto’s status as a Planet be reinstated?
  13. How many refugees should the United Kingdom accept per year, and why?
  14. Convince your reader of the relevance or irrelevance of Freud’s ideas about child development for the 21st
  15. Should financial advisors be forced to take a course on ethics before taking clients?
  16. After weighing up the benefits and negatives of the issue, take an issue on whether we should colonize Mars.

What’s the difference between Argumentative and Expository Essays?

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Now, let’s take a look at a summary of the key differences and similarities between expository and argumentative essays:

Expository Essay

Argumentative Essay

1. Should not make value judgements

1. Is allowed to make value judgements

2. Should only use Third Person Language

2. Sometimes allows First Person Language (I, we, you, us, am)

3. Does not provide a personal position on the issue

3. Attempts to persuade the reader of the author’s personal position on the issue

4. Should go into depth on the issue and look at it from multiple perspectives.

4. Should go into depth on the issue and look at it from multiple perspectives. Then, it should take a position on which perspective is most appropriate.

5. Should use referencing to back up all points.

5. Should use referencing to back up all points.

6. Should have an introduction, body and conclusion

6. Should have an introduction, body and conclusion

7. Should not use sub-headings

7. Should not use sub-headings

As you can see, there are more similarities between an argumentative and persuasive essay than differences. Remember, your argumentative essay and expository essay both provide in-depth, balanced information on the topic. However, the argumentative essay goes one step further and lets you take a personal position on the issue once you have presented the key information.

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