Essay Types and Modes Youll Need to Write for College


You Want Us to Write What? Understanding the Task Assigned

Which academic essay writing types we use depends upon which disciplines (or classes) we write for. Each instructor or professor will assign papers that invite us to reveal in writing what we have learned/what we think about the material for that particular class:

* ANALYTIC-A classic style used in art, science, history, psychology, education, and most other disciplines across the curriculum to explore and investigate an idea, process, person, action, or attitude.

* ARGUMENTATIVE-Used in more advanced English classes, in philosophy, and in courses which include theory.

*COMPARATIVE/CONTRASTIVE-Used in most courses where specific analysis of like and unlike elements, characters, and ideas lend themselves to comparison.

*DEFINITIONAL-Written when we apply a more thorough study to a topic, especially an abstract one.

*DESCRIPTIVE-Used to more intensively, more concretely cover an idea, item, or subject.

*EVALUATIVE-Often confused with analytical, the evaluative essay moves beyond the what and how to the how much...we put a value on the topic here.

*EXPLANATORY-Also called the expository essay (though I tend to see all essays as expository, as exposing a truth about something). With this type we further our own and our readers' understanding of the subject.

*PERSONAL-Also called the response essay, the personal style essay is still well written (readable for an audience other than the writer), but is more informal--containing narrative details that entertain.

*RESEARCH-While most essay types will include references or will quote authorities, the research essay is mostly informational, using the findings--the stats and facts--we made investigating the findings of others.


Modes and Types and Modes...Oh Crimeny! Avoiding Confusion

We need not panic when called upon to do a specific type of college paper writing. Why? Because we already use the types...on a smaller scale.

That is, we use miniature versions of the essay types when we write paragraphs for the complete essay. A type and a mode are the same thing, then. One is just smaller, while the other is an extension of the smaller.

For example, we write about the forms and functions of gossip for a sociology paper. We open with a definition paragraph that shows how the word "gossip" originated from the word "gospel." Then we continue to discuss how gossip brings people closer--emotionally, spiritually, and even physically.

Go Easy on Yourself: Your Confusion is Understandable

Just as we might call all writing expository, we call one type and one mode an expository type of essay and an expository mode of writing. So is the piece I'm writing explanatory, definitional, comparative? I include explanatory elements. I use definition and example. I slip a comparison in, too.

Here's one way to look at types/modes:

--We write a paragraph or passage in a certain mode. --We can then turn that smaller piece into a whole essay, into one long, extended mode.

Here's another way to look at types/modes:

We buy a box of gourmet chocolates. We lift one from the box: we understand that the thing we hold in our hands is a chocolate. It also has chocolate in it.

Here's one more way to look at types/modes:

You own a Camaro with a Corvette engine. They're both Chevys.

You're Going to What, Now? Confuse Us All Over Again?

No. Now that we have the types/modes separated enough to understand the difference, I'll just remind you of one more thing: we can and usually do overlap the modes. No one piece of academic essay writing exists in one isolated mode alone. It includes many varied sub-styles to make it more engaging, entertaining, and expository.

And it requires a number of major parts--an opener, a main body of text, and a closer. And you know what? These parts are written in the modes.

I'll add more pages on academic essay writing. Much more. So if you haven't had enough, come back again for monthly freebies. But for now, if you want to check out samples you can use as models for modes/types, click here for mode samples written by college students.

One more thing about college paper writing:

Enjoy the process. Find one thing in it you like and are good at.

N.H.-born prize-winning poet, creative nonfiction writer, memoirist, and award-winning Assoc. Prof. of English, Roxanne is also web content and freelance writer/founder of, a support site for academic, memoir, mental disability, and creative writers who need a nudge, a nod, or just ideas?of which Roxanne has 1,000s, so do stop in for a visit, as this sentence can't possibly get any longer?.

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