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Student Essay Types

A great essay topic idea is only the beginning; before you write a word, you need to choose what type of essay you're going to write. There are 9 essay types, each with certain benefits that will show off your topic in a certain way.

Argumentative essay

Argumentative essays persuade the reader toward a certain point-of-view using facts and research. They are also called “persuasive essays.”

Examples:

  • Why is the death penalty unconstitutional?
  • Why should religion be taught in schools?

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Cause-and-effect

Cause and effect essays describe an event and explain why it occurs. You can approach the topic from either the cause (what will happen if…) or the effect (why did something happen?).

Examples:

  • What causes global warming?
  • How does smoking cigarettes negatively affect your health?

Compare/Contrast

A comparison essay analyzes the similarities and differences between two objects or ideas. Comparison essays may include an opinion if the facts show that an object or idea is superior to another.

Examples:

  • Compare and contrast two political systems
  • Compare and contrast two political candidates
  • Compare and contrast two books by the same author

Literary

Literary essays discuss and interpret a written work, with particular attention given to literary elements and the theme of the work.

Examples:

  • “The Wizard of Oz” as an allegory for economics
  • Symbolism in the works of William Shakespeare

Classification

A classification essay categorizes objects or ideas and explains how they are different. This type of essay is popular in science and history classes.

Examples:

  • Types of animals
  • Styles of poetry

Definition

Like a dictionary, a definition essay explains the meaning of something and provides additional information to help the reader distinguish the object from similar things.

Examples:

  • What is a parable?
  • What is classical music?

Narrative

A narrative essay tells the story of an event. It is usually told from the author's point of view, but it can also be told from a different perspective.

Examples:

  • First day of school
  • Summer vacation

Expository

Expository essays explain an event or idea in an informative, fact-based way. Expository essays can include other approaches, such as classification or cause-and-effect.

Examples:

  • Major Revolutionary War battles
  • Historical treatments of personality disorders

Reflective

A reflective essay shares a personal story from your life and explains how it has shaped who you are. These are popular with school entrance and exit exams, as they require the student to think introspectively about their life experiences.

Examples:

  • Graduation
  • Death of a loved one

The type of essay you choose will depend on your assignment and your topic. Although it is possible to write nearly any type of essay for any topic, your professor may require a certain approach.

For example, if you are writing about abortion, you could write it as an argumentative essay – explaining why you are pro-choice or pro-life – as a cause and effect essay – explaining the effect of abortion on society – as a classification essay – explaining the different methods of abortion – or as a personal essay, such as a narrative or reflective essay.

The approach you take is up to you; just be sure to choose the essay type that best represents what you want to tell your audience.

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Written by Victoria

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