Have you been assigned an essay and you're not sure what's expected of you? Here's our guide to different types of essay most often given to students.

Five paragraph essay

The basic structure of the five paragraph essay includes an introduction, three supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion.

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Admission essay

Learn how to write your admission essay, helping to identify that you have the capability to do well at the college or university you are applying to.

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Analytical essay

Analytical essays require you to go beyond simply describing or reporting, and analyse the issue in hand.

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Argumentative essay

In an argumentative essays, you will research a controversial topic, take a stance, and attempt to persuade your reader to agree with your position.

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Cause and effect essay

In cause and effect essays, you make a claim for why something happens (the cause) or what the result of something is (the effect).

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Classification essay

Learn how to write a classification essay, an essay in which students define categories within a broader definition.

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Classification/division essay

The purpose of classification and division essays is to encourage you to think critically about the ways in which items or categories of items relate.

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Compare and contrast essay

In a compare and contrast essay, you examine two things and the ways in which they are similar and different.

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Critical essay

In critical essay assignments you examine the work of another writer, artist or creator and judge how successfully that work achieves its aims.

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Deductive essay

Learn how to write a deductive essay, an essay assigned to students to guide students in the process of using deductive reasoning.

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Definition essay

Definition essays require you to define a word. A definition essay needs to go beyond a simple dictionary interpretation, however.

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Descriptive essay

When writing a descriptive essay, you utilise your five senses to describe something as vividly as possible for the reader.

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Dialetic essay

The dialectic essay is typically used in philosophy to explore the whole range of perspectives about a philosophical stance.

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Discursive essay

A discursive essay thoroughly investigates an argument by offering two opposing perspectives.

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A dissertation is a lengthy paper written about a research project that the student has carried out.

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Evaluative essay

Learn how to write an evaluative essay, the purpose of which is to teach students how to think critically and how to use examples to support their points.

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Exemplification essay

The purpose of an exemplification essay is to prove a point through the use of examples.

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Exploratory essay

A discursive essay thoroughly investigates an argument by offering two opposing perspectives.

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Expository essay

The expository essay is a genre of essay that requires the student to investigate an idea, evaluate evidence, expound on the idea, and set forth an argument concerning that idea.

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Extended essay

The extended essay is an independent research project on a topic chosen by the student working in collaboration with their supervisor.

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Familiar essay

The familiar essay is a personal reflection on an elevated topic, such as "people worth knowing," or "How religion informs morality."

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Illustration essay

Learn how to write an illustration essay, the simplest form of argumentative essay. The point of an illustration essay is to prove that something exists.

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Informal essay

Informal essays can cover many topics, and sometimes overlap with other essay types such as the persuasive.

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Literary essay

In a literary essay you choose an element of a story, poem or novel to focus on and consider what examining that particular element can reveal about the story or poem.

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Narrative essay

An example of a narrative essay is when you will create a personal piece of writing about an event in your life.

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Personal statement

Learn how to write a good personal statement, the essay that is usually used as part of the criteria for admission into a graduate program.

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Persuasive essay

In persuasive essays, you attempt to convince your audience to agree with a point of view.

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Process essay

A process essay will explain how something is done. It gives the reader specific instructions.

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A report often evaluates research or interprets facts or events, making a concise record or a recommendation of some kind.

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Research essay

In a research essay, you incorporate the ideas of others, analysing and integrating new information.

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Research proposal

Research proposals are written to convince your audience that the research project is feasible, evidence a project is well-planned, suitable for the assignment, and can be carried out.

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Response essay

Learn how to write a response essays, a precursor to a evaluative essay or to a critique typically written in response to a short literary passage, or similar.

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Review essay

Review essays examine a piece of writing, a film or some other form of art, but differ from literary essays in a couple of key ways.

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Scholarship essay

Your scholarship essay is required for application to private school, university or other private organization, as part of the application process.

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Simple essay

A routine or formula can make writing a simple essay relatively painless. 

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A thesis is the final research project conducted as the capstone to a postgraduate degree.

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Breaking down the essay question

As well as understanding what type of essay you are being asked to write, sometimes, looking at the wording of the question helps you to understand more about the content of the essay that is expected.  These are terms commonly used in essay questions:

Account for

Your tutor is asking you to explain or  clarify an issue, or give reasons for something.


Your tutor will expect you to resolve the essay question into component parts, examining the issues critically and minutely.  It is likely you are being asked to write an analytical essay.


For this type of essay, you are being asked to determine the value of or weigh up a particular piece of evidence, statement or fact.


When asked to compare, you are required to look for similarities and differences between issues, perhaps reaching some conclusions about which is preferable.  See compare and contrast essays.


Your tutor here wants you to set different perspectives in opposition in order to bring out the differences.  See compare and contrast essays.


In a critical essay, you are being asked to make judgments (backed by the discussion of the evidence or reasoning involved).  See critical essays.


As you might expect, here you are expected to state the exact meaning of a word or phrase. In some cases it may be necessary or desirable to examine different possible meanings or often used definitions.  See definition essay.


When asked to describe, you are expected to give a detailed or graphic account of a particular issue.  See descriptive essay.


If your tutor asks you to discuss an issue, you are expected to explain the issue, then give two or more sides of the issue and any implications


If asked to evaluate, you are expected to make an appraisal of the worth or validity or effectiveness of perhaps an issue, statement or piece of evidence in the light of its truth or usefulness (similar to assess).


When required to explain something, you need to make the meaning of it plain, interpret what is set out for you and account for it, i.e. give reasons why something is the case.

How far..?

Some essay questions begin 'How far...?'.  These require that you determine to what extent something is true.  Usually this requires looking at evidence or arguments for or against, and weighing them up.


If your tutor asks you to illustrate something, you need to make the particular issue or point clear and explicit. It is a good idea to use carefully chosen examples.


When required to interpret a particular statement, fact or issue, you need to explain the meaning of it, make everything clear and explicit, and usually giving a judgment or opinion on the issue in question.


When asked to justify something, you need to show adequate grounds for decisions or conclusions, and to answer the main objection likely to be made about them.


Students are often required to outline a particular issue.  This type of essay requires you to give the main features or general principles of the subject, omitting minor details and emphasising structure and argument (similar to summarise).


This type of essay simply requires you to present a particular issue or fact in a brief, clear form.


An essay requiring you to summarise something needs to give a concise, clear explanation or account of the issue in hand, presenting the main factors and omitting any minor details and examples (similar to outline).

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