How to Start an Explanatory Essay

Explaining things might only seem easy. When you do it naturally, talking to your family, communicating with your friends, mostly discussing simple things, everyday events, and apparent truths – it is easy to believe that you can explain just about anything and your listener will believe you and nod to your arguments.

However, things become a little bit more complicated when you enter college and receive the task of writing an explanatory essay. Suddenly, you find yourself in a highly competitive environment, with knowledgeable peers and faculty members. Your thoughts and arguments are thoroughly analyzed and critically judged, you feel like you are being examined under a microscope.

Dominating over your listener by yelling or interrupting a conversation – these things no longer work! Instead, you are expected to persuade by means of knowledge, exquisite academic language, and unbiased representation of facts.

How To Write An Expository Essay

The Goal

If you feel lost with your first explanatory essay assignment, don’t know how to approach this task and how to come up with good ideas – don’t worry, we will quickly help you get started!

The below guide will provide you with the basic skills on how to prepare for writing and, most importantly, how to start an explanatory essay, where to find a good explanatory essay example, and how to persuade others with explanatory writing in general.

What is an Explanatory Essay?

An explanatory essay is a separate type of essay, which trains students in explaining things, events, concepts, and phenomena to others. As an academic paper, it follows all the rules of academic writing, i.e. has a distinct structure, stipulates usage of a clear and official language, consistency of material, and requires one to follow appropriate rules for citations and document formatting.

Explaining doesn’t equal persuading. In fact, this is a very common mistake that most students commit when following a wrong explanatory essay example and template. When writing an explanatory essay, one doesn’t have to argue or convince the audience. Instead, students are expected to present the topic in focus in an unbiased light and from all angles possible.

A proper explanatory essay language is academically dry and based on facts. Check out an applicable explanatory essay example to see and note how the author approaches the topic. Most likely, you will find there diverse perspectives, comprehensive analyses, and thorough explanations.

A key distinct prerequisite for writing a good explanatory essay is preparation. Even if you are lucky to be familiar with the subject of your essay, don’t just immediately jump into the writing process. Aim to obtain additional facts and competing perspectives, and read the history of your subject if applicable.

Writing an explanatory essay is a common task for students of history, political science, journalism, marketing, and language majors. In an academic setting, an explanation is a description of facts that makes them understandable, and the purpose of an explanation is to improve understanding.

A Good Start Equals Half Work Done

This truth is well-known to many. However, what does it mean for an explanatory essay? Actually, it means several things, as by start we not only refer to an introductory part and the process of writing itself, but also to the preparatory stage. In fact, there could be several of those.

Digging data

To write a good explanatory essay, one has to conduct thorough research first. It is not of the same level and complexity as research for degree work, though a certain search for supplemental materials, facts, and data have to be done. In most cases, it is enough to go online and read about your essay topic as much as you can, even if you think you already know the subject. Additional small things, alternative opinions, debates, and future perspectives – all these things will make you better equipped for writing a good paper.

Checking samples

A single explanatory essay example may turn out to be the booster and inspiration for you to start your explanatory essay. The main question becomes – where can you get one? In multiple places, actually. The best explanatory essay example would be the one that matches your college’s (university’s) style and context. Check out your local library, both physical premises, and online catalogs.

The next thing you can do is conduct a thorough online search, paying attention to professional writing services and their databases. Yes, some of them might grant you access to their files only when you subscribe or even start a trial session.

Making an outline

Once you think you are fully prepared to write a good explanatory essay, take a little time to compose an outline. It might be a simple sketch on a piece of paper of what info you are going to put into each paragraph of your paper. The main thing is to capture your thesis statement (describing the essence of your explanation) and make bullet points of the arguments to support your thesis.

Writing an introduction

The right approach to an introduction in an explanatory essay is to spike interest and present intrigue. Check with the explanatory essay example you found earlier to see the contents and volume of an introductory paragraph. Right from the start, you shouldn’t jump immediately to explaining things! Instead, introduce the topic in focus, say how poorly other people understand it, what misperceptions exist, and how important it is to have a good understanding of the subject. Then state your thesis to finish the introduction.

Why Don’t They Understand Us?

There are multiple reasons why people don’t understand us. Knowing them in light of the explanatory essay is crucial.

  1. The curse of knowledge – when we understand something, we know about something, it seems to us that everyone else knows about it.
  2. We ourselves do not understand what we are talking about – as a result, how can we explain something to others without understanding it ourselves?
  3. We want to appear smart – we speak in overly complex language, not caring if we are clear to the audience.
  4. We do not use the power of context – we tell HOW, but do not say WHY.
  5. We do not use the “comprehension scale” of the audience – there will always be readers who have a high level of understanding of the topic, medium and low. You should focus on everyone, not a single category.

essay writing process

How to Explain Effectively?

Start with an agreement

An agreement must be used to establish trust between you and your readers. By starting the story with an agreement, you win over the audience, and let them know that you are on the same wavelength with them.

Be mindful of the context

Context is the basis for your explanation; its essence lies in the answer to the question “why?” That is, you explain to readers with a low level of understanding what you are talking about is important. The effective use of context is one of the most powerful skills of an explainer, as it allows you to interest people, show the value of the subject, and impress.

Tell a story

People like to hear not just dry facts, but live stories. Therefore, it is important to use such a technique as storytelling in your explanatory essay. By adding a main character to the story who faces a problem and then solves it, you not only make the text more interesting – you give each reader the opportunity to see themselves in this character.

Make connections

In order for the concept you explain to be well received by the audience, it is important to connect it with something that is already familiar to them. For the public reacts with suspicion to everything unknown, not understanding whether it is good or bad to deal with it. When you make a connection between your concept and something similar to it, it’s much easier for people to accept it. When two concepts are related, they are similar. In explanation, the use of analogy is the key to understanding things.

Use description

Once you’ve made your audience understand why they need your concept (idea), it’s time to explain how it works. A description in itself is not an explanation. Starting the story with an answer to the question “how?” you will make a mistake – the readers will not understand the context. In a good explanatory essay example, “why” is always followed by “how”.


We tend to complicate things while striving for simplicity. Humanity is somehow so strangely arranged. That’s what positively differentiates those who know how to simplify. Try it too. To do this in your explanatory essay, follow these simple rules:

  • do not fall into the trap of the “curse of knowledge” – do not think that if you know this, then the audience knows it too;
  • speak in simple terms;
  • mentally reduce the scale of the subject of explanation, while trying to cover it as widely as possible;
  • feel free to sacrifice accuracy for clarity;
  • connect your ideas with those that the listeners already understand.

Introduce restrictions

To make your explanation as clear as possible, it is important for you to introduce restrictions. They will allow you not to be distracted by trifles, but to cover truly important points. Try to impose restrictions on your story such as timing, duration, localization, format, the scope of ideas, and language. In explanatory essay writing, this technique helps to structure thoughts and focus on the main thing.


To better convey your key message to your readers, use illustrations. By visualizing the words, you reinforce the power of what is being read. This last pro-tip is hard to find even in a good explanatory essay example.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long should an explanatory essay be?

There are no universal requirements for the length of an explanatory essay. The length of each particular essay assignment is defined by its description, if available.

Is an explanatory essay the same as a descriptive essay?

No. An explanatory essay relies on facts, while a descriptive essay needs a rich description, using poetic, artistic, fiction, marketing, and other linguistic means and devices.

Can I use Wikipedia and other sources in my explanatory essay?

Sure, encyclopedic knowledge is often required in explanatory writing, though each borrowed fact and detail should be properly referenced.

Where can I find a good explanatory essay example?

Check professional writing agencies’ websites and databases. Some provide access for free, while others require paid subscriptions or free trials.