4 Main Types of Essays in Academic Writing: Key Features and Samples

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4 Main Types of Essays in Academic Writing: Key Features and Samples
Table of Contents
  1. 4 Main Types of Essays in Academic Writing: Key Features and Samples
  2. What Is an Essay
  3. Four Main Types of Essays
  4. Expository Essay
  5. Main Features
  6. Subtypes
  7. Descriptive Essay
  8. Main Features
  9. Narrative Essay
  10. Main Features
  11. Persuasive/Argumentative Essay
  12. Main Features
  13. Bottom line
  14. Frequently Asked Questions
  15. 1. How do I choose the right type of essay?
  16. 2. What is a hybrid essay?

Whether you are a high school graduate, a college student, or a passionate writer, it is vital to know how to create different types of essays. Depending on the goal, be it a test or a college application, selecting the right type of essay may significantly increase your chances to succeed. In fact, even great content may fail to communicate the main idea if a writer doesn't integrate essential elements. For this reason, you need to distinguish types of writing styles and formats to address a writing prompt.

While academic writing may encompass a number of essay variations, there are only four basic types of essays that lie at the core. Find out more about each category, its features, and structure. All types of essays are followed by attached examples of excellent academic works.

And remember that you always can count on our essay writing service. All you need is to ask "write my essay for me", and we will be eager to help you.

What Is an Essay

An essay is a piece of nonfiction academic writing created to develop a specific idea or support an argument. In general, essays are mainly used to provide some information, share the writer's point of view on a matter, or dispute a thesis statement. Depending on the purpose of writing, the essay tone can be either formal or informal. The essay formatting requirements may also vary – it may be a standard 5-paragraph piece or a lengthy academic work. If you wonder how to write a 5 paragraph essay, read our blog. It has a useful guide to help you with this question.

Four Main Types of Essays

There is a full array of different types of essays. However, the most common classification includes only four major essay categories:

  • Expository
  • Descriptive
  • Narrative
  • Persuasive/argumentative

These types of essays may share similar features. For example, expository and persuasive essays mostly deal with factual information that ensures a clear presentation of ideas. Narrative and descriptive essays are written informally and require a creative approach

Expository essay Descriptive essay Narrative essay Argumentative essay
presents and explains the facts creates a portrayal through descriptions narrates a story from life experience convinces a reader to agree 

Expository Essay

An expository essay is a focused piece of writing designed to explore a particular subject by providing factual information. The primary purpose of expository writing is to analyze a topic without making an argument. Expository essays require a writer to communicate complex information in a simple, easy-to-understand way. Unlike other types of essays, it offers an analysis based on facts. Therefore, a student should use a neutral tone of voice and introduce ideas in a logical order.

Main Features

This academic assignment tests the student's ability to present a clear explanation of an issue. To create an informative piece, you should refer to statistics and find factual examples. Some of the most common characteristics of expository essays include:

  • Instructive: conveys accurate information 
  • Specific: a clear and precise explanation of facts
  • Well-organized: follows the sequence of events
  • Semi-formal: doesn't contain first-person nouns
  • Objective: informs a reader without presenting any subjective opinions

A standard expository essay structure includes the following sections:

  • An introduction presents a topic and gives background information
  • Body paragraphs explain the facts
  • A conclusion sums up the information


As a rule, expository writing is divided into several sub-categories. Some of the most common variations focus on the following matters:

  1. A problem and solution essay is a type of expository writing that determines an issue and offers a range of problem-solving solutions. After exploring the matter in detail, a writer investigates the best ways to target an issue and how such methods can be applied efficiently.
  2. A cause and effect essay explains the way things are interrelated in this world. In this essay type, a writer specifies the reasons why some things happen and discusses possible consequences. This basically means drawing a parallel between specific objects or events. A great example of cause and effect essay can be a piece on the reasons and consequences of the Civil War in the US.
  3. Compare and contrast essay specifies the similarities and differences between specific subjects, people, locations or events to let the reader compare and contrast things. Comparing refers to finding similarities, while contrasting deals with figuring out the differences. In its essence, compare and contrast essay helps to understand more than one topic at a time.
  4. A definition essay is a type of essay that provides an accurate definition of a subject and offers a classification. A writer should include both the official definitions from credible sources and personal understanding of a specific concept or thing.
  5. A process analysis essay explains a specific process step-by-step by providing detailed instructions. Such assignments answer the "how-to" question. The ideas for topics are broad and may focus on any process, such as how the US President is elected or how a chocolate factory makes its best candies.

Below you can view an example of a complete expository essay that has all crucial features and follows a standard structure.


Descriptive Essay

A descriptive essay is a type of writing that provides a detailed description of a chosen literary piece, subject, event, etc. A sensory portrayal, commonly used in descriptive writing, serves two purposes. On the one hand, it helps to visualize things; on the other hand, a detailed description is a tool that allows conveying a deeper meaning.
High school and college teachers assign a descriptive essay to improve student's creative skills. In this type of writing, you shouldn't limit your imagination. Instead, you will want to show your creativity and resourcefulness.

Main Features

Typically, descriptive essays share the features of informal writing. Here are the key characteristics descriptive writing should have:

  • Demonstrative: aims to showcase a subject, not just narrate
  • Vivid: creates an impression in a reader's mind through descriptive details
  • Sensory: the use of expressions that appeal to all human senses
  • Figurative language: analogies, metaphors, similes, allegories, and personifications
  • Emotional: describes issues of sentimental significance

As a rule, a descriptive essay doesn't have specific requirements to its structure. You are free to leverage your creativity to describe an object in the most unusual manner possible. However, this type of essay should contain the following information to address academic objective:

  • A brief introduction of the subject you are going to portray
  • A detailed description
  • A short summary that offers an insight

Take a look at the attached example to have an idea how a perfect descriptive essay should look like.


Narrative Essay

A narrative essay, as the name suggests, tells a story significant to the author. Basically, it's a personal narrative created to share a meaningful experience that profoundly impacts a writer. This type of essay explores different challenges a writer has gone through, and that's what makes it so engaging.

In a narrative essay, a writer would navigate a reader through a story without persuading or proving any point. However, a personal narrative should include an element of a moral so that the audience can take away some valuable insights. By writing narrative essays, a student learns how to apply a creative approach to express their feelings and emotions. And yet you need to be able to preserve a story's consistency.

Main Features

It is common to confuse a narrative essay with a short story: they are not quite the same. In a nutshell, the narrative essay has an academic objective, meaning that it should focus on the personal experience that has actually happened. At the same time, narrative essays share some common features with those of a short story. This type of essay typically contains five elements of storytelling:

  • Plot: the sequence of events
  • Setting: when and where a story takes place
  • Character: a protagonist that triggers all events
  • Conflict: an issue a protagonist tries to solve
  • Theme: a sense of a moral

As well as any other type of academic assignment, narrative essays have peculiar features listed as follows:

  • Informative: narrates a story without proving any argument
  • Subjective: written in the first person
  • Non-fictional: shares the real personal experience
  • Conversational: the use of informal and expressive tone of voice
  • Organized: introduces people and events in sequential order

Check out a sample of a narrative essay written by the experts in the domain. As you read, pay attention to how a narrative piece should be organized and how to integrate the elements of storytelling into this type of writing.


Persuasive/Argumentative Essay

A persuasive essay is a type of essay where a writer has to persuade a reader to adopt a specific point of view. A persuasive essay is otherwise called an argumentative essay, since it has to convince the reader of the truth presented in the argument. Besides, in a persuasive essay, one would take a firm stance on a matter. A writer should then provide supporting evidence and facts to back up a thesis statement.

Argumentative essay writing requires good research and persuasive skills. A college student should be able to communicate their point of view through evidence-driven research. On top of that, it is crucial to refer to the credible sources, otherwise, chances are that a reader will doubt the argument.

Main Features

To establish a steady stance, a writer need to create persuasive essays with such characteristics in mind:

  • Convincing: has a persuasive tone of voice to make a reader agree
  • Accurate: provides valid information and current cases or events
  • Informative: focuses on facts, statistics, and evidence
  • Reader-oriented: conveys information from a reader's perspective
  • Arguable: this type of essay has a debatable topic that triggers discussion

Maybe you will need good persuasive essay topics, keep in mind that you will find them here.

Just like any other type of essay, an argumentative essay should be structured according to academic instructions. As a rule, college teachers and university professors require students to include the following parts:

  • An introduction that presents a topic and a strong thesis statement
  • A body part that includes arguments and supporting evidence
  • A conclusion that wraps up the argument and focuses on its significance

The paper attached below is an excellent example of a persuasive essay provided by our proficient writer.


Bottom line 

A deep understanding of the reader’s intent helps to write along the right lines. Once you determine which of the four types of essays best addresses your goal, you will be able to create an astounding essay tailored to your writing purpose. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How do I choose the right type of essay? 

High school and college teachers usually assign a specific type of essay. But sometimes you may be given writing prompts on the basis of which you have to choose an essay type yourself. 

In such case, you will need to pay attention to the requirements of each assignment - they will give you a hint. For example, the word “convince” means you need to write a persuasive essay, whereas the word “describe” indicates you should create a descriptive essay. The word “tell” suggests you should write a narrative essay. 

2. What is a hybrid essay? 

A hybrid essay is a unique combination of two or more types of essays. Sometimes you may be required to address two objectives at once, for instance, tell about your previous and current experience and compare them. In this case, you will need to write a narrative essay with the elements of compare-and-contrast essay.