To submit requests for assistance, or provide feedback regarding accessibility, please contact


Writing 101: The 8 Common Types of Essays

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 3 min read

Whether you’re a first-time high school essay writer or a professional writer about to tackle another research paper, you’ll need to understand the fundamentals of essay writing before you put pen to paper and write your first sentence.



David Sedaris Teaches Storytelling and HumorDavid Sedaris Teaches Storytelling and Humor

NYT–bestselling author David Sedaris teaches you how to turn everyday moments into seriously funny stories that connect with audiences.

Learn More

What Is an Essay?

An essay is a piece of short-form, nonfiction writing that focuses on a specific topic. Writers typically use the essay format to argue a thesis or to provide their viewpoint on a subject.

Essays come in many different forms—from persuasive essays, which make an argument, to narrative essays, which tell a story. Essays can be any length, ranging from one paragraph to many pages, and can be formal or informal.

8 Types of Essays

To decide which essay style best suits your needs as a writer, check out the list below:

  1. Expository essay: An expository essay, also known as a definition essay, is the most basic type of essay. Expository essays aim only to explain an idea or define a concept, without making an argument. In general, expository essays are shorter pieces that answer a question (for example, “How is paper made?”) as directly as possible.
  2. Analytical essay: An analytical essay is similar to an expository essay in that it describes a concept, but the analytical essay takes the topic one step further by presenting the advantages and disadvantages of the subject to provide an objective analysis. For instance, an expository essay would describe how the president is elected, while an analytical essay would describe how the president is elected and dive into the possible benefits and pitfalls of the electoral process.
  3. Persuasive essay: A persuasive essay, also known as an argumentative essay, is a type of essay that takes a stance on an issue. In a good argumentative essay, a writer attempts to persuade readers to understand and support their specific point of view about a topic by stating their reasoning and providing evidence to back it up. A persuasive essay usually includes an introduction, a thesis statement, body paragraphs that feature a counterargument and data to back up your central thesis, and a conclusion.
  4. Narrative essay: A narrative essay, also called a personal essay or reflective essay, combines personal storytelling with an academic argument. This essay type allows the writer to make an argument or impart a lesson through personal experience. Narrative essays are always nonfiction and are usually autobiographical, often written from the first-person point of view. They are written with a more creative style versus the strictly objective, fact-based language of academic writing or journalism. Narrative essays can be organized in any way the writers chooses to illustrate its main point. Many personal statements, college application essays, and scholarship essays can also be classified as narrative essays.
  5. Descriptive essay: A descriptive essay aims to describe a certain event or object with vivid sensory details (sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound). Similar to a narrative essay, a descriptive essay is often written in a more creative style—but unlike a narrative essay, a descriptive essay usually doesn’t tell a full story or try to make an argument. Many writers choose to write descriptive essays as a writing exercise before they start writing a narrative essay.
  6. Compare and contrast essay: A compare and contrast essay places two things side-by-side and points out the similarities and differences between them, usually to illustrate a larger point. In general, compare and contrast essays have body paragraphs that are organized in two main sections: a comparison section, and a contrast section.
  7. Cause and effect essay: Similar to a compare and contrast essay, a cause and effect essay (often written as “cause & effect”) aims to show the relationship between things—in particular, how something was influenced by something else (e.g., how an unfair law caused a riot). Cause and effect essays are often organized chronologically, first explaining the cause and then showing its effect.
  8. Critical analysis essay: A critical analysis (also called a critical essay) is a literature-based essay, in which the writer breaks down a short piece of literature (often as small as a single sentence) in order to make an argument about what the author is trying to say. Similar to persuasive essays, critical essays usually follow a traditional argument format—introduction, thesis, body, and conclusion—that uses textual evidence and other critics’ writing to back up its ideas.
David Sedaris Teaches Storytelling and Humor
David Sedaris Teaches Storytelling and Humor
Judy Blume Teaches Writing
Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing

Want to Learn More About Writing?

Become a better writer with the MasterClass Annual Membership. Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by literary masters, including David Sedaris, Joyce Carol Oates, Neil Gaiman, Dan Brown, and more.