What Is an Essay and Its Types?

Essay writing is a common activity in the academic world. We write essays to express an opinion, tell a story, or describe a situation. Students get such assignments dozens of times. Yet, this might sound like a daunting task if you are a beginner in academic writing and do not know the essay definition. So what is an essay? 

An essay is a short piece of writing that discusses an idea from a certain angle. Traditional essay examples are based on a five-paragraph outline. It includes an introduction with a thesis statement, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. There are formal and informal types of writing essay. Formal essays are objective and neutral when informal ones allow reflection and subjective opinions. 

All types of essay should present a clear thesis statement and evidence that proves it. Therefore, the writing process involves a great deal of research, analysis, interpretation, and critical evaluation. It teaches students to express their ideas in writing and helps them to dive deep into the topic they discuss. 

Students can either develop a topic for their essay on their own or get a writing prompt from their instructor. The second option is more common in the academic context. Usually, the assignment includes a prompt with key questions that a writer should cover. Depending on the nature of these questions and the purpose of the piece, we can distinguish multiple types. Essays can be narrative, descriptive, expository, and argumentative.

4 Main Types of Essays

All types of essay are unique. Each has its particular purpose and features. Some essays narrate a story. They require you to develop characters and settings. In other types of students’ essay, these elements will be completely redundant. The personal opinion of the author might be compulsory in one paper and completely unwelcome in the other. While the goal of some essays is to persuade the audience, other works will be focused on the objective presentation of facts. So let’s take a closer look at the main types of essay and examples of their use. 

Narrative Essays

A narrative essay type aims to tell a story and create a compelling narrative. Usually, it entertains the reader and provides insights. The narrative type of essays writing may describe a special event that happened in the author’s life or concentrate on an imaginary story. 

Naturally, narrative essays should include characters, plot, setting, and all the elements that might help to tell a story. As for the techniques that you will need for essay writing, examples are the following:

  • monologues;

  • dialogues;

  • setting descriptions (if relevant to the story);

  • flashbacks;

  • foreshadowing;

  • examples. 

Make sure your story has a point. It should have a clear purpose and communicate a certain idea to the reader. Unlike other types of essay formats, narrative essays permit the use of the personal pronoun “I,” Yet, the language should be carefully chosen to make the piece interesting and compelling for the reader.

Descriptive Essays

A descriptive essay is a piece of writing that describes an object, person, situation, experience, or phenomenon. The author should pay attention to detail and use imagery to appeal to the reader’s imagination and evoke his or her senses. Think about color, light, taste, smell, and texture. Use everything that can help the reader to “experience” your story.

If you take a look at several essay writing examples, you will notice that descriptive pieces always include vivid language. For example, turn “isolation” into “solitude” and “excitement” into “euphoria.” Find a couple of good metaphors and use similes to make more expressive comparisons. However, just like other essay types, descriptive writing should be concise and clear. 

Descriptive essay examples can also include the description of emotions, but it should be organized and have a logical purpose. If you want to portray feelings and emotions, choose your language carefully. A descriptive essay is an academic piece of writing that should meet particular standards.

Expository Essays and Types of Expository Essay

It is easy to deduce from the name that an expository essay aims to “expose” a particular subject matter in an objective way. It requires a student to investigate the topic, analyze evidence, and present a clear argument. That is why expository types of essay writing are often used for the assessment of student knowledge.

Expository writing is a wide category that includes different types of essays: 

  • process essays;

  • problem and solution essays;

  • compare and contrast essays;

  • classification essays;

  • cause and effect essays;

  • definition essays.

Depending on the essay type, you might need to define terms, find similar and contrasting features of certain objects or phenomena, present cause and effect relations, suggest solutions, or work on classifications. 

Expository essays should always have a clear purpose and logical structure. This helps to make the argument straightforward. Details, evidence, and supporting ideas make expository writing more comprehensive, which increases your chances of getting the message across.

Argumentative Essay

An argumentative essay is a persuasive piece of writing. It requires an author to choose a controversial topic and take a stance. The goal is to provide enough evidence to get the reader to agree with you. 

Different types of essays require a writer to collect and evaluate evidence. This process should be especially thorough in argumentative writing. Your essay cannot be successful if you fail to provide trustworthy facts and reasoning.

Argumentative essay writing examples are characterized by the choice of a narrow and arguable issue, specific reasoning, and convincing evidence. Besides, when other essay types might not use persuasive techniques, they become a must in argumentative papers. 

There are three types of argument that you can use in your essay: 

  • the Aristotelian argument;

  • the Rogerian argument;

  • the Toulmin argument.

All of them allow you to present your thesis and refute opposing views. Yet, their approaches and angles of argumentation differ. 


Essay writing is a creative process that can take various forms. Naturally, there are some general guidelines that ensure the quality of writing in all types of essay, like conciseness, coherence, clear central idea, evidence, and organization. These are the universal standards of academic writing. However, once you take a look at different types of essays, the diversity becomes evident. 

Each type of essays writing has its distinct purpose and techniques. By understanding their peculiarities, you can choose the methods and approaches that will suit your needs and goals. This even makes writing more enjoyable as you begin to see clear rules and patterns that you can use to create a winning essay.