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Types of essays

You will be asked to write many different types of assignments during your program, but four of the most common types of essays are described below.To receive similar information via a video, please view "Four types of academic writing" (4:31), which is a section of the "Introduction to Academic Writing" video (also available via Academic Writing). If you are unsure of the type of paper you're expected to write, please check with your instructor.

Personal or reflective essay

This paper asks you to write about your thoughts and experiences. Usually, a personal reflective paper is less formal than a standard research paper, and uses the first person voice. Depending on the assignment, you may be asked to reflect on a reading, discuss a personal experience, apply a theory to a real-life example, or some other focus that asks you to think about and present your  thoughts and experiences. For more information on this type of writing, please see Reflective Writing.

Expository essay

If your paper serves to inform or introduce your reader to a subject, you're writing an expository paper. Think of the expository paper being one that explains things to your reader. In the process of explaining the subject to your reader, you have the opportunity to highlight how much you know about the topic. The expository essay is different from an argumentative essay because the expository essay doesn't take a stance on a position. For example, an expository essay might present an overview of the differing views on what should be done to slow the rate of climate change, whereas an argumentative essay will choose and defend which approach is the most appropriate.

Argumentative or persuasive essay

If you’ve ever tried to convince someone of something, you’re already familiar with the process of making an argument. In terms of academic writing, an argumentative paper strives to convince a reader of a position or stance by using statements to establish a position, and then supporting the statements with research evidence. For example, if I wrote a paper to try to convince you why Royal Roads University has the most beautiful campus of any university in Canada, that would be an argumentative paper because I have presented the argument (RRU has the most beautiful campus of any university in Canada), and then my responsibility as the author is to either convince you of my argument, or at least show you why I believe my statement is true. For more information, please see the relevant resources in Academic Writing.  For more information on creating solid arguments, please refer to Building an argument.

Analytical or compare and contrast essay

Analytical papers, as the name suggests, highlight your critical examination or analysis of a topic in order to interpret the strengths and weaknesses of a debate. The most common approach to writing an analytical essay is to use a compare and contrast format. For example, if you are asked to analyse two models, you would look at each author’s claims, the evidence they use to support the model, consider the assumptions, and then demonstrate how the models are similar and different. For more information, please see the relevant resources in Academic Writing. For more information on how to demonstrate your critical thinking on a topic, please see Critical thinking.

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