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How to Organize an Exploratory Essay

First, it is important to note that an exploratory essay is vastly different from, say, an argumentative essay. In truth, an exploratory essay can probably be described as very different from any other genre of essay that you have ever written or may ever write. Consequently, because an exploratory essay has such distinct features, a lot of students find this type of writing difficult. Therefore, it is important to begin the writing process as early as possible so that you do not end up rushing towards the end. One important thing to bear in mind from the outset is that exploratory essays are not intended to persuade readers to agree with or adopt any opinions or ideas set out in the thesis statement.  

In fact, rather than aiming to convince readers about how valid their thesis is, the writer will be exploring a particular problem. In essence, they will be attempting to find out as much as they can about that problem and, if possible, they will endeavor to put forward some preliminary suggestions as to how that problem can be solved or at least lessened in terms of its impact.   

There is, however, another angle to the exploratory type of essay that is just as important. Essentially, an exploratory essay is a sort of retrospective take on how you think through a problem and write about it. It provides a description of how, why, and when a certain type of research was undertaken. This type of writing puts a lot of emphasis on how one works through a given problem that needs to be researched and then written about. It is important, therefore, to take an introspective view and to consider your entire thought process if your essay is to be the outstanding success you undoubtedly want it to be.

In very rough terms then, an exploratory essay should be structured along the following lines:

Introductory Paragraph

You should use the introductory paragraph to provide an overview of the problem you will be exploring and say why it is an important issue. Additionally, you will need to discuss in relatively brief terms a) some of the possible reasons or causes of the problem, b) the names of the people and/or institutions concerned with the problem, and c) some possible solutions to this particular problem, as you perceive them. You will also need to outline, again in brief terms, the type of sources you looked at in the course of researching the problem.  

The Main Body Paragraphs

It is normal practice to use body paragraphs of an essay to discuss the processes the writer used when they were researching or inquiring into the problem. Body paragraphs should include the elements described below:

  1. A description of the sources used (e.g., the title of the work, the author’s name, the media type, the name of the publisher, the date of publication, and so on). You should also state your reasons for choosing a particular source during the course of exploring the problem.
  2. A description of any crucial information the source provided in respect of the problem.
  3. A description of why that information is reliable and why it is significant in respect of the problem.
  4. A personal perspective or introspective view on why the source was useful and how it helped you. For example, say how it helped you to view the problem from a different perspective, how it did not provide the help you expected, or even how it took your research in an entirely new or different direction. You can then use this as a transition to move on to your next point or source.

The Concluding Paragraph

The concluding paragraph in your exploratory essay should look back at the problem you explored during the previous parts of the text. It should also discuss some of the possible reasons for the problem, acknowledge the people and institutions concerned in the problem, and mention any solutions you believe will remedy the problem. If at the end, you have questions concerning the problem that are still unanswered, which is an acceptable scenario, you can mention them in this last section. Say, why it is you believe you still have some questions about the problem, where you believe you might find the answers to these outstanding questions, and what further research would be required.

Choice of Topic

The nature of an exploratory essay is such that there are plenty of topics for a writer to choose from. It may be that you have the freedom to choose your own topic or your tutor may assign a topic to you. However, if you have a choice in the matter, it is a good idea to select something that you are interested in or even feel passionately about. This is because it is always much easier to write about a topic that interests you and the research element will be more enjoyable since you will be learning new things about a subject that means something to you.

Irrespective of your topic, an important thing is to let your readers know why you have chosen to research this particular issue and how you did your research, e.g., what methods you used. It is also important you provide a timeline concerning the problem and your investigation(s) into it.

General Writing Tips

When students are given exploratory essays or any other types of assignments to complete, it is natural that most of their thoughts and effort are devoted to the writing and research elements. While content and structure (introduction, body, and conclusion) are certainly important, there are a few other things you can do to make the process easier. Here are some additional tips that you should find useful and can apply to your exploratory essay assignment.

  • Create an outline according to the structure recommended above. This will help you to organize your writing and make it easier. An outline will help you work out how all your information and arguments fit together. Do not worry if this is scant at first. As your research progresses, you can keep slotting information into the most appropriate places. If you have a sufficiently good outline, writing your final paper should be no more than filling in the blank gaps.
  • Check the word or page count for your essay and keep this limit in mind as you work.
  • Use brainstorming to generate topic ideas and/or ideas for your essay’s body. When you begin an essay project, you may not even have a topic or know what you will write in your thesis statement. Do not worry. Brainstorming is a great way for helping to get ideas for a topic. It is also a good method for figuring out different ways to approach the topic you eventually choose.

Finally, you should allow enough time at the end to review and proofread your essay. No matter how good a writer you are, mistakes inevitably slip in. So, make sure you have time at the end to identify and eliminate unwanted errors so that your final paper is as flawless and polished as it possibly can be.


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