Essay Types — The Four Main Types

01.03.23 Types of academic essays Time to read: 4min

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Essay writing is a vital part of a student’s academic journey. Various essay types exist in academic writing. Therefore, you would benefit from understanding different essay types and what they entail.

Essay Types – In a Nutshell

  • An essay is a piece of writing meant to inform or persuade its readers. The purpose differs depending on the essay type.1
  • Four key essay types exist. These are argumentative, narrative, descriptive, and expository essays.2
  • The prompts for your essay will help you determine the essay types.

Definition: Essay types

An essay is an intensive piece of writing composed for informative or persuasive purposes. Various essay types exist. However, you can categorize them into four key categories; argumentative, expository, narrative, and descriptive.2

The purposes of academic pieces differ depending on the essay types. For instance, argumentative and expository essay types aim to convey information through clear points and facts. In contrast, narrative and descriptive essay types aim to portray creativity and trigger interest from readers.3

Essay types The skills it tests Example prompt
Argumentative • Using research to form an opinion
• Constructing an argument based on evidence and facts
Has the rise of online learning impacted the education sector negatively or positively?
Expository • Knowledge on the subject
• Conveying information precisely
Explain how colonization influenced African culture in the 19th century.
Narrative • Creative use of language
• Conveying a compelling narrative
Describe a situation where you learned something valuable about your family.
Descriptive • Creative use of language
• Sensory detail description
Describe someone you look up to and value.
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Essay types: Argumentative

Argumentative papers are the most common essay types at the university level. An argumentative essay features an in-depth research and evidence-based argument on a topic with a strong thesis statement. The goal of an argumentative essay is to persuade the reader using evidence and strong analysis. An argumentative essay tests your capability to study and present your view on a topic.4 It is divided into the following sections:

The topic and thesis statement

Your evidence and arguments


Example paragraph of the body of an argumentative essay:

Essay Types - Argumentative essay

Essay types: Expository

Expository essay types focus on providing information on a specific topic without an original argument.1 So, instead of an argument, an expository essay offers a fair and organized view of a topic.2 Expository essay types aim to test how well you know a certain topic and your capability to convey well-organized information.4

An expository essay contains:

Offers a general background on the subject.

Presents balanced and well-organized details on the topic


Example paragraph of an expository essay:

Essay Types - Expository essay

Essay types: Narrative

These essay types narrate a story. It is a personal type of essay that allows you to write about a personal experience. However, narrative essay types may also feature imaginative explorations.4

Narrative essay types test how well you can construct a series of events in an interesting, creative, engaging, and well-structured manner.1 They do not have a standard structure. However, these essay types should always begin with a set-up of the narrative and end by explaining the point of the story.3

Example paragraph of a narrative essay:

Essay Types - Narrative essay
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Essay types: Descriptive

As the title suggests, these essay types provide a more detailed description of something. Like narrative essays, they are more creative. However, they are more strongly focused than narrative essays.3

Descriptive essays should contain:

An introduction of what you want to describe

A conclusion containing an overall picture of your object of description

Example paragraph of  a descriptive essay:

Essay Types - Descriptive essay

Rhetorical analysis

A rhetorical analysis focuses on a persuasive text in terms of its rhetorical devices and its effectiveness. Its goal is to state if you concur with the author’s argument and analyze its construction.1 A rhetorical analysis contains:

Background information and a thesis statement

The analysis

Summary and value emphasis


Sharon’s speech is infused with predictive language throughout. Even before the statement of the facts, the language sets an agenda and reveals the author’s bias. Sharon describes the events as ugly.

Literary analysis

Literary analysis essay types feature a close reading of pieces like novels or poems. They explore the author’s choices and the text’s theme. They’re an in-depth and extensive interpretation of the content.2

A literary analysis article looks at elements like setting, themes, figurative language, and themes. It aims to analyze what the author conveys.4 It contains these sections:

Contains the text, background, and thesis statement

Close readings of the text (quotations) and analysis supporting your argument

Emphasizes the value of your approach in telling more about the text


Dr Mark’s Dark Web is often looked at as a cautionary tale on the dangers of social networking. The protagonist in the tale represents the callous nature of modern science.


The most common essay types in academic writing are argumentative, narrative, descriptive, and expository.

Argumentative essays are longer, convey an original argument, and involve independent research. In contrast, expository essays are objective and do not need an original argument.

Narrative essays aim to tell a compelling story. In contrast, descriptive essays aim to convey an intense description of an object, place, person, or concept.

Your instructor will tell you the specific essay type you should write. However, the prompt will also help you decide.


1 Kramer, Lindsay. “The 7 Types of Essays Every Student Needs to Know.” Grammarly. June 2, 2022.

2 Master Class. “Writing 101: The 8 Common Types of Essays.” June 7, 2021.

3 Elite Essay Writers. “Types of Essays.” Accessed February 6, 2023.

4  Birt, Jamie. “10 Types of Essays: Examples and Purposes of Each.” Indeed. October 10, 2022.