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What is an exploratory essay and how to write it?


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Writing an exploratory essay on a laptop

Not many students know the exploratory essay definition, which is quite important for the general understanding of the task. This is a very special type of essay, which requires a scholar or a student to research a certain problem or a question in a free manner. It is being written from a first-person viewpoint and shows the way the topic was explored step-by-step.

Such an assignment is a preparation for future university papers like dissertations and theses. However, it is a lot easier as the writer should not necessarily reach any real conclusions: the paper just needs to be informative and consistent. If you want to understand how to approach this task properly and learn everything that needs to be done to submit an A+ paper, keep reading! We have prepared a few useful tips and guidelines that will make you an exploratory essay writing guru!

How to write an exploratory essay?

The first thing you need to focus on is a topic. Teachers rarely give them out, leaving students some space for creativity. There are certain requirements for the topic choice, as you need to pick only debatable and controversial ones to have an opportunity to gather different opinions and discuss how valid and logical they are.

It is better to avoid overused topics like global warming, gun control, or abortion. Teachers read hundreds of such essays each year, and you can hardly bring anything new to these problems. There are plenty of exploratory essay topics, and you should not limit yourself to a standard set.

Think of something interesting for both yourself and your readers, like music or identity issues. These subjects are broad enough to choose from and are always replenished with new data. Also, your teacher might have a few good exploratory essay topics in mind, so if you are completely stuck making a choice, try asking him or her for help.

Exploratory essay outline

Outline is an important aspect of our writing process. Having your ideas and points organized, you will definitely write a decent exploratory paper. Why is it important to make exploratory paper outline? Sometimes you feel like thoughts are literally popping out of your head, and it’s hard to catch them. If you start writing without having any plan, your paper will likely turn out to be a mess.

The outline for exploratory essays is very similar to those of other papers you have already written. However, while the structure may look simple from the first glance, but the content is far from being typical. As evident from any exploratory essay example, the work still includes a thesis statement and a hook; however, they do not resemble the same parts in an ordinary essay, as you do not need to follow any strict rules in your narrative. You can use this outline sample structure to organize the writing:

  • Introduction, which gives necessary background information and presents the subject of research.
  • Body paragraphs that show what you used to study the problem and the variety of viewpoints on it.
  • Conclusion, which restates the topic of discussion, shows what point of view you prefer, and leaves a reader with something to think about.

Such example of the structure is widely used in essays of any type. However, what really matters in the process of writing an exploratory essay is how these sections will flow and continue one another. It is really difficult to make a smooth transition between paragraphs when writing is a mix of a story and research. However, if you make your outline detailed from the get-go, it will allow you to stay on track and it’s not likely you will have to revise much after writing the paper.

Tips from experts

Meet our advisors

Read the essay question carefully!

Look for these words:

  • Describe/summarize means give the facts
  • Explain means analyze the topic
  • Argue means to reject/accept a viewpoint
  • Discuss refers to presenting a point of view
  • Critique means give both positive/negative sides
  • Compare and contrast discuss similarities/differences

Structure an essay

Beginners use the five-paragraph structure with references. Advanced writers use a variation of this method.


Write the first ugly draft – using first/third person depending on the requirements. Know how to paraphrase and summarize. Don’t plagiarize – everyone checks if the essay is unique.

Editing & Formatting

I use the chainsaw and surgical methods. Chainsaw cuts material that isn’t relevant. Surgical involves fine-tuning spelling and grammar.

What is the formatting style? APA, MLA, or CMS? What is the word/page count? Follow the rubric.

Penny J. Larsen

College professor with 30 years of teaching experience


Introduction gives your reader a general impression of your essay. And of course, it has to be favorable. What can you do to achieve that effect?

  • Amaze your reader with some interesting fact or statistic.
  • Reinforce it with the hook phrase.
  • Provide some background on the topic.
  • Finish with a clear and strong thesis statement.

Thesis statement

Here are some rules of a good thesis statement:

  • It’s specific. Avoid vague statements as they are unacceptable for a thesis.
  • It’s strong. A good thesis statement has to assert the topic clearly.
  • It’s neither narrow nor broad. Your task in this case is to be brief yet informative.

And, last but not least, remember that your thesis goes in the end of your introductory paragraph so make sure that the transition into it is smooth.

Body paragraphs

The next section is the body of your essay, which is the biggest one in the whole paper. Here, you have to show the results of your research, and for it, you need to:

  • Look through as many sources as you possibly can.
  • Choose a few relevant ones that include different or opposite opinions.
  • Make sure they are credible (preferably books and journal articles).

Each body paragraph of your paper will focus on one informational piece at once and include your personal evaluation. Your paper needs to provide a reader with details and examples and exploratory arguments to show that you have studied the topic thoroughly. Also, remember that it is not recommended to write more than 5-6 paragraphs, and each of them has to include introductory and conclusive sentences.


It is better to finish the paper by restating the question or a problem. The conclusion may say what you have learned from the research and what your opinion about the problem is. Also, this work may have raised other questions, and you can briefly discuss them in this part. Basically, you can conclude the paper in any way you want as long as you keep your audience interested.

Finally, it is important to check whether exploratory essay format is correct and if the structure is logical. You can look up a template to understand what options you have when it comes to outlining the work or check out our Samples section to see how professional writers formatted similar papers.

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