Expository responses

This article refers specifically to writing an expository response to context in the VCAA English exam. The other forms of writing to consider are creative and persuasive.

Expository essays are unlike text response essays for a few reasons. Firstly, they are not constrained by a strict structure in the same way. In fact, there are many different possible structures for an expository essay. Secondly, they are not focused on any one thing, but tend to draw evidence from many different sources. Lastly, they are not constrained to make an argument in a traditional sense. Instead, expository essays are more focused on exploring an idea.

Quick tips


  • Integrate the ideas of the texts you have studied with the prompt
  • Explore all aspects of the prompt
  • Look outside of the studied texts to other sources; real world examples, personal experiences and other texts
  • Explore all of your points without narrowing your response
  • Ensure each of your paragraphs relates to the last – they should not appear to be separate entities
  • Incorporate your knowledge from other subjects; if you study subjects like History, Politics or Psychology, you may be able to draw examples from what you’ve learned


  • Structure your expository like a text essay
  • Discuss the prompt purely in relation to the studied texts
  • Think of the texts as “proving” anything about the prompt. The authors/directors explore ideas about context, but an expository is not like a text essay. Using quotes and textual references is good but is not a means of explaining your argument
  • Purely agree or disagree with the prompt – explore its potential interpretations and meaning
  • Use inappropriate examples that the examiner may not be able to relate to
  • Use absolutes (eg. never, always, must, worst, best). Replace them with words like perhaps, often, sometimes and could


There are many ways of structuring an expository essay but it is important to ensure that your format allows you to incorporate ideas and evidence from a range of sources. This is one possible structure you could adopt:


A general discussion of the prompt. Don’t become focused on texts or on a particular example- merely stretch the topic out in the directions that your essay will cover.

Body Paragraph 1

Think of this paragraph as like a sandwich; the general sentences that tie this paragraph back to the prompt are the “bread” and the exploration of themes within the text and other examples forms the “meat”. Taking the time to widen the ideas of the “meat” to a wider world context is like adding mustard for flavor. By thinking of it this way you remind yourself to connect your general ideas about the prompt to specific examples from the text. Another way of thinking of this is:

Topic sentence: a sentence that purely deals with the thematic idea that links the prompt to this particular paragraph.

Body of paragraph: Ideas from the text that links to the prompt. Use textual references and quotes where appropriate, but the focus should be on an analysis of how the text explores the element of context that the prompt raises.

Concluding sentence: a sentence that returns to the purpose of the paragraph outside of the text focus.

Body Paragraph 2

Same as body paragraph 1. If you’re not a fast writer or you feel you would like to explore each idea in more depth, skip this second text paragraph.

Body Paragraph 3

Similar to paragraphs 1 and 2 except that you reach outside of the prescribed texts to another source. Use the same sandwich formula but substitute a “real world” example in the place of the text. This could include but is not limited to; political, historical and philosophical examples.

Body Paragraph 4

This is your opportunity to tie in your creative or reflective writing! Using the same sandwich formula, write about a personal experience that is both mature and related to the prompt. If you don’t want to write personally, focus on another “real world” or external text example for this paragraph. This shows the examiner the breadth of your skill; that you are able to write creatively as well as analytically.


Return to the general style of the introduction. Work to tie together your ideas, but don’t feel you need to “sum up” your ideas to the same extent as a text essay. Try to include an external quote which encapsulates the views on the prompt that your essay has displayed.