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Academic Writing

Types of Essays


At Sheridan, you are likely to come across four types of essays. Each essay types has different requirements and produces different outcomes. In this section, you will find descriptions of the four essay types: Expository, Argumentative or Persuasive, Reflective, and Descriptive.

Expository Essay

The purpose of an expository essay is to inform, describe, or explain a topic. It requires you to help the reader understand a topic through your own insights and ideas. Using information from credible sources, your essay should provide definitions, facts, explanations, and details about the subject. The essay may also include examples, comparison and contrast and analysis of cause and effect.

Many academic and workplace writing assignments are expository. These topics, for example, often require expository type of writing:

  • A medical or biological condition.
  • A social or technological process.
  • A marketing strategy.
  • Life or character of a famous person.

Argumentative or Persuasive Essay

The purpose of an argumentative essay is to persuade readers on a certain point of view, opinion, or position on a topic. It requires you to identify key issues, present the common or existing arguments about the issues, evaluate evidence behind these arguments and argue why your position on the topic is more convincing or stronger than the opposing view. The subject you choose for an argumentative or persuasive essay needs to be debatable.

An argument is an evidence-based opinion supported and explained by sound, credible sources. "To argue in writing is to advance knowledge and ideas in a positive way" (Warkentin & Filipovic, 2019, p. 207). A well-thought-out argument is one that considers facts and various opinions, some of which may be opposing to each other, and analyzes strengths and weaknesses in each. An argumentative essay should not present only evidence on the position you are supporting. It is more convincing when the information presented is not biased towards a position.

Reflective Essay

This type of essay is more personal because you have to consider or "reflect" upon your own experiences and perspectives on the topic you are writing about.

Experiential reflection is commonly assigned in college courses. It involves reflecting on an experience by connecting theory and practice. For example, in an essay about a field placement experience, you may be asked to assess a theory or concept based on your observations and interactions. This type of writing is common in fields such as social work, health care, and business.

Another type of reflective writing involves examining what shapes your perspectives on an issue. The process helps you examine how your thoughts are shaped by your assumptions and environmental factors and may help you understand and appreciate the experiences of other people. Also, you may be challenged to re-examine your preconceived ideas and judgments.

Descriptive Essay

A descriptive essay allows you to describe something, usually an experience, in details so that the reader can get a good impression of it. Similar to the reflective essay, this type of writing is more subjective although information or data from sources may be incorporated to provide more context and support your descriptions. This type of essays tends to be brief. For example, describe an observation in one to two paragraphs.