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7.4.3: Exposition

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    There are four traditional modes of rhetorical discourse: Argument, Description, Exposition, and Narration. The most commonly used of these modes, Exposition (expository writing), aims at presenting information and/or ideas in a clear, objective manner and in many cases, this is the mode used for professional, technical, or non-fiction writing.

    Expository writing uses many of the same techniques used in creative non-fiction writing, such as characterization, irony, figurative language, suspense, pace, storytelling, style, scene setting, and so on. However, in expository writing, everything must be factual; based on the truth and nothing fabricated. That means that all artifacts have to (or have) exist and all events must have occurred. Accuracy is the foundation of expository writing. Some examples of this include professional documents, scientific and business reports, encyclopedias, journals, and essays of individual experiences and/or opinions.

    For one to adequately use the expository mode of writing, they must take into consideration the three rhetorical appeals:

    Ethos - credibility as a speaker and writer.

    Logos - intellectual power of one’s speech or writing.

    Pathos - emotional power of one’s speech or writing.

    Additionally, they must consider the five rhetorical canons:

    Invention - pattern for the work’s purpose (see definitions below).

    • classification
    • definition
    • illustration
    • analogy
    • cause and effect
    • comparison and contrast
    • process analysis

    Arrangement - organization of writing.

    • chronological
    • flash back or flash forward
    • specific to general (or vice versa)
    • most to least important (or vice versa)
    • spatial

    Style - expression of ideas.

    • detail
    • diction
    • imagery
    • syntax
    • tone
    • figures of speech (see types below)

    Memory - making writing memorable.

    • acronyms
    • patterns
    • repetition

    Delivery - conscious use of expression.

    • factual information
    • no fabrication

    Methods of Exposition


    • Classification is the division or placement of a subject into the whole of which it is a part.
    • Definition , in rhetoric, is the meaningful extension of a logical definition in order to answer the “What” to its fullest extent and as clearly as possible.
    • Illustration is the use of illustrations, examples, and specific instances in order to add to the concreteness and vividness of writing. The idea explained may be either stated or implied. The individual member of a class must be a fair representation of the distinctive qualities of the class.
    • Analogy is a method of development that explains something abstract or difficult to understand by comparing it to something simpler and more concrete.
    • Cause and Effect is the development of either the cause of a particular effect or the effects of a particular cause.
    • Comparison and Contrast is the presentation of a subject by indicating similarities between two or more things (comparison) or by indicating differences (contrast). Comparison and contrast are often used in definition and other methods of exposition.
    • Process Analysis is a method of exposition by logical sequence, applicable to any process. Processes may be described technically, professionally, and factually or impressionistically and selectively, and may be explained in terms of their characteristic function. Analysis may also be concerned with the connection of events and what effects will follow.
    – Adapted from The Essay by Michael F. Shugrue (1981)

    Figures of Speech

    Tropes (artful deviation from ordinary or principal signification of a word)

    Reference to one thing as another:

    • Metaphor

    • Simile

    • Synecdoche

    • Metonymy

    Word play/puns:

    • Personification

    • Onomatopoeia


    • Hyperboles

    • Litotes

    Semantic Inversions:

    • Rhetorical questions

    • Irony

    • Oxymoron

    • Paradox

    Schemes (artful deviation from the ordinary arrangement of words)

    Structures of balance:

    • Parallelism

    • Antithesis


    • Ellipsis

    • Asyndeton


    • Alliteration

    • Assonance

    • Anaphora

    • Chiasmus

    – Adapted from Modern Rhetoric

    Why Teach It?

    Exposition is an important mode of writing, and should be treated as such. Why is it important? Because, exposition is everywhere. Everywhere meaning that exposition resides in all forms of writing. Whether fiction or non-fiction, essay or thesis, exposition exists within the text. Even within an argumentative essay, one must first be capable of explaining that which he/she is arguing for/against before the author can take a stand. Without exposition, an argumentative essay would be solely based on opinion rather than fact.

    In Class Exercise

    An important aspect of exposition is the necessity to be clear in one's explanations. A common rule of thumb should be to assume that one's audience knows nothing of what the author is speaking of. A fun way to illustrate the necessity of clarity in description is an in class exercise that involves making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in front of the class.

    • Step 1. Bring the basic ingredients of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to class (bread, peanut butter, and jelly) along with a plate and knife.
    • Step 2. As the teacher, ask the class to instruct you to make a PB&J sandwich.
    • Step 3. Do EXACTLY as the class tells you.

    This exercise, though fun and somewhat unorthodox, reveals to students the necessity of clarity and comprehensiveness in their explanations. For instance, if the class first instructs the teacher to simply put the peanut butter and jelly on the bread, how would this help? If the instructor simply places the jars of peanut butter and jelly on top of the bag of bread after the class's initial instruction, it would reveal to the class the necessary steps to be taken in explaining how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. First, one must remove the twist-tie from the bag of bread, remove two slices of bread from the bag, separate the two pieces of bread, and place them on the plate, etc.

    How does this help students write?

    This exercise can be easily translated into writing by drawing a parallel between the clarity in directions and clarity in writing. It also aids students in acknowledging the audience reading an expositional essay. As priorly stated, while writing an expository essay, one must assume the reader has little to no knowledge regarding the subject written on. It is through this mindset that writers can write a complete, and cohesive exposition essay.

    Sample Assignments

    Below are examples of exposition essay assignments/exercises.

    Comparative Expository Essay

    In a comparative expository essay, students are asked compare two or more subjects, and tell how they are alike or different.

    • Exercise- Give a list of five seemingly unrelated objects at the end of class. Have your students pick three of the five subjects. Using the three chosen subjects, have students write a brief paragraph explaining how the seemingly unrelated subjects ARE related.

    For example,

    1. Cats

    2. Christmas Trees

    3. Hockey

    4. Bacon

    5. Television

    A student could choose hockey, bacon and television and state that violence is a linking factor. The student would then have to elaborate on the idea of violence being a central theme to hockey, bacon and television.

    This exercise can be used as a creative aid for students in developing their comparative skills.

    • Essay Assignment- After writing a brief description of how the three chosen subjects are related, expand the evaluation into a brief two page essay explaining the linking factors between the seemingly unrelated subjects.
    The Five-Paragraph, Cookie-Cutter Essay

    A good formula to follow while writing an expository paper is the standard fire paragraph essay. This essay includes an introduction with a clearly stated thesis, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion which restates the thesis of the paper.

    Sample Layout

    Introduction: Thesis- Though television, bacon, and hockey are seemingly unrelated, violence is a common thread that weaves throughout the three subjects.

    Body 1- Television promotes violence by showing aggressive subject matter within broadcast programs. Example: Dexter.

    Body 2- Bacon is harvested through slaughter houses which utilize violent treatment toward pigs before, during and after their execution.

    Body 3- Hockey is a sport that celebrates violent fist fights.

    Conclusion- Though, in many ways, they seem unrelated, television, bacon and hockey are linked with a common thread of violence.

    7.4.3: Exposition is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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