Self Explanatory Essay Prompts

How many times has a professor given you a list of assigned topics and told you to write about one of them?

How many times did you complain that you didn’t like any topics on the list? I bet you’ve done it at least once or twice.

You yearn for the freedom to choose your own topic, wishing you could write about something that interests you.

Here’s your chance. Your professor has assigned an explanatory essay. You can write about almost any topic you like.

The problem is, you’ve already wasted two hours of precious time trying to think of something to write about.

Be careful what you wish for, right?

Worry no more. I am here to grant your wish. I’ll bestow upon you 24 explanatory essay topics that will expand your horizons.

Explanatory Essay Basics

You’ll write an explanatory essay many times in your academic career. (An explanatory essay is also sometimes called an expository essay.)

Like an expository essay, the explanatory essay can take a  number of forms. Some example forms include the example, compare/contrast, definition, how-to, and cause/effect essay formats.

The goal of the explanatory essay is to inform readers of a topic or situation. But it also seeks to clarify any information readers may find confusing.

Don’t include your opinion or try to convince readers. You’re not writing an argumentative or persuasive essay.

Instead, objectively present ideas. Remember, your goal is to inform and educate your audience. You don’t have to convince them of your point of view.

24 Explanatory Essay Topics That Will Expand Your Horizons

You can be assigned an expository essay in just about any class. I’ve divided the topics below into six basic subjects. In some cases, I’ve included a link to an example essay on the topic.

History explanatory essay topics

1. What are the key causes of the Vietnam War?

While the causes of any war are complex, your essay might examine the roles of the U.S., China, and France and various components of the Cold War.

2. What are the causes of the Civil Rights Movement?

A discussion of Civil Rights would most certainly include the civil unrest of the 1950s and 1960s. It would also likely include the roles both Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. played in the movement.

3. Compare and contrast the Great Depression to today’s economic conditions.

An essay that compares these two time periods could provide an overview of the stock market and housing speculations and crashes, the banking crisis, and high unemployment rates. The essay could also look at how these elements affected society during the Great Depression. Then, you could address how those effects are similar to those felt today.

4. How did the British invasion and rule of India affect India and its citizens?

Clearly, this is a large topic. But you might narrow your focus to the religious impact, socioeconomic impact, or economic impact.

Social science explanatory essay topics

1. What are the key causes of poverty?

Consider how aspects such as the economy and educational levels affect poverty.

2. How do child beauty pageants affect children?

Some argue that pageants can promote self-esteem. Others argue that pageants can be harmful by encouraging eating disorders and the sexualization of children.

3. Define laziness.

Sometimes, inspiration for a definition essay might be as easy as looking at the habits of your younger brother or your roommate.

4. How can noise pollution affect society or individuals?

We often become used to loud noises in cities and can even find them comforting. However, noise pollution can be harmful. People can experience hearing damage and sleep disturbances. Wildlife can experience similar problems and may be unable to communicate.

Health explanatory essay topics

1. What are the effects of health or nutrition education on children?

Here, you might explore issues surrounding Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program. There’s also her involvement in school nutrition and lunch programs to consider. You might also choose a different direction. You could, for example, discuss advertising or parental influence.

2. Identify several possible health benefits of drinking red wine (responsibly, of course!).

Benefits of red wine might include a lower risk of cancer and a lower risk of heart disease.

3. How can college students avoid gaining weight?

Sure, you could simply stop eating. You could just exist on ramen noodles alone. But what about other ways you might avoid gaining weight? For example, weight maintenance might involve joining a sports team, visiting the gym, or enrolling in a kickboxing course.

4. Explain positive and negative effects of the Affordable Care Act.

The positive effects might include the number of people now insured. They could also include the fact that more health screenings are now covered. The negative effects might be that some insurance premiums have gone up. Or you could point out that some employers have cut workers’ hours to avoid paying health insurance for their employees.

Technology and media explanatory essay topics

1. How can music influence someone’s mood?

Having a bad day? Put in your earbuds, and play your favorite song. Relax, dance, or sing along. Hey, it’s important to do some research to see how the music affects you, right?

2. How might prescription drug direct-to-consumer advertising affect consumers?

Never mind how annoying prescription drug ads can be and how sick of watching them you might be. Instead, consider whether the ads encourage people to speak to their doctors about health concerns. You might also consider how the cost of drugs is impacted by the extra cost of advertising.

3. How does alcohol advertising impact consumers (especially teens)?

Alcohol ads make everything surrounding their adult beverages sexy, fun, and cool. How might teens be influenced by these images? Are teens more likely or less likely to consume alcohol based on these ads?

4. What are positive and negative impacts of technology in the classroom?

Technology can be a positive influence. It can help students master material. It can make learning more fun and engaging. But it can also be a negative influence. For example, it can distract students. (Think of the temptation to Snapchat or check Instagram during class.)

Literature explanatory essay topics

1. What are three key symbols in Romeo and Juliet?

There’s a lot of symbolism to explore in this play. You might consider the following symbols as a start: death, poison, and love.

2. Compare the American Dream of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman to today’s American Dream.

Willy Loman believes that being popular and liked by others will help him achieve the American Dream. In many ways, his American Dream mirrors that of many people’s American Dream today. Consider how his attitude and his dreams for material possessions compare to the attitudes and dreams of people today.

3. Identify several gender roles in A Doll’s House, and compare those roles to gender roles today.

Nora is expected to be the helpless housewife. Her husband, Torvald, believes he is dominant and the ultimate protector. Despite all that, the play also addresses feminism and Nora’s independence.

4. Explain the most prominent theme of Macbeth.

Most would agree that the most prominent theme in the play is power and its ability to corrupt. Your essay might explore this theme and how it is portrayed in Macbeth. You might also expand the discussion to compare the theme and its portrayal in other works. For example, you could compare the same theme in Lord of the Fliesor Animal Farm.

Science explanatory essay topics

1. What are the causes and effects of a polar vortex?

In basic terms, a polar vortex is caused when a low pressure system pushes cold air into an area. What are the effects? (Besides lots of cold and often miserable people, of course!)

2. Identify several examples why nuclear power may or may not be safe.

An essay about nuclear power might highlight the fact that the risk at nuclear power plants is statistically low. The same essay might also point to the dangers should an accident occur.

3. Explain why GMOs (genetically modified organisms) may or may not be safe for consumers.

Some point to studies that illustrate that GMOs are perfectly safe. Others argue that studies show a link between GMOs and health concerns, such as kidney or liver damage.

4. Explain how to make a cloud in a bottle or how to make a mini volcano in your kitchen.

Either of these is a good topic for a more lighthearted essay that still discusses solid scientific principles. It might be fun to create a volcano in your kitchen too!

Your Wish Has Been Granted

Sometimes, having a list of topics can be exactly what you need to finally pick the perfect explanatory essay topic and get writing!

Don’t tell me. You still aren’t happy with the topics I’ve included here? Read 17 Expository Essay Topics for an Outstanding Paper. Maybe you’ll find one on the list that inspires you.

Remember, once you’ve finished your paper, don’t simply wish for a good grade.

Get help with proofreading, editing, and revising. Send your paper our way, and let us help grant your wish!

Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.

When you want your students to practice explanatory writing, present them with one or more of the following prompts, grouped by difficulty. You can also introduce students to the PAST strategy to help them understand what each explanatory prompt is asking them to do.

Beginning Explanatory Prompts (Grades 4–5)

The following explanatory prompts are meant for students who are moving from paragraph writing to essay writing. 

1. Defining Friendship

Everyone needs friends. What qualities make someone a good friend? How can you be a friend for someone who needs one? Write an essay that explains ways to be a good friend.

2. A Job for Me

People do all kinds of jobs. Some people build. Others serve. Some teach. Others sell. Some people work on ships at sea, and others in skyscrapers in cities. What kind of job would you like to do? As a future worker, write an essay that names a job you would like, describes the work, and tells why you would like it.

3. An Admirable Person

We all have people we admire. They might be family members or friends. They might be singers, dancers, or actors. They might even be fictional characters. Whom do you admire most? Write an essay that names a person you admire and describes the qualities that make you like the person.

4. Sweet or Spicy?

Most people have a favorite food. What is yours? Is the food a common one that most other kids would know about, or a really special type? Is it sweet or spicy? In an essay, name your favorite food and describe to your classmates how it looks, smells, and tastes. Tell why you like it so much.

5. My Ideal Home

Most people can imagine a dream home. What would yours be? Big or small? In the country or in the city? How many floors? Would it be underground or up in a tree? As a young person, write an essay describing your dream home to a parent or guardian.

Intermediate Explanatory Prompts (Grades 6–8)

The following explanatory prompts are meant for students who do regular multi-paragraph writing. 

6. Connectivity Culture

Smartphones, tablet PCs, social media, and constant connectivity are changing the ways that people live, think, work, and connect. How do these technologies shape your life? Are you plugged in or tuned out? Why? Write an essay that explains to your fellow students the ways that you connect digitally and predicts how people will connect in the future.

7. Pets vs. People

Pets are not people. After all, dogs don’t go to school and cats don’t hold down jobs. But pet owners often consider their dogs and cats to be members of their families. In what ways are pets like people and in what ways are they not? Write a comparison-contrast essay explaining the similarities and differences between pets and people.

8. Defining Responsibility

A parent is responsible for taking care of children. A criminal is responsible for committing a crime. And teens are encouraged to make responsible choices. Just what does it mean to be “responsible”? Does it mean something different for young people than for adults? As a young person who is taking on more and more responsibilities, write an essay that defines what responsibility means to you, and explain the idea to those older than you.

9. Unique Celebrations

The Chinese celebrate New Year with a dragon dance. How do you celebrate New Year? What other special days do you observe? In an essay, explain a celebration or ritual that you know about. Tell what is usually done and why. Explain it to a reader who is new to the event.

10. Here's How It's Done

What are you really good at? Perhaps you can sink a free throw every time. Maybe you can identify birds by their songs, or make a very delicious homemade pizza. Think of a particular skill you have and could teach others. Then write an essay describing the process you use to accomplish this special feat. Provide enough detail so your reader can learn how to do the same thing.

Advanced Explanatory Prompts (Grades 9–12)

The following prompts are meant for high-school level writers. Students may need to research the topics in order to respond with sufficient depth and complexity. 

11. Addressing Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying involves using technology to harm, intimidate, and embarrass others. One form of cyberbullying called “trolling” occurs when anonymous Internet users intentionally post inflammatory content in an attempt to provoke and upset other users. While much effort has been made to counteract bullying in schools, the online and anonymous nature of cyberbullying makes it difficult to regulate. Write an essay that explains to your fellow students ways to counteract cyberbullying.

12. Moral Dilemmas

Consider a moral dilemma that a character in a novel or other piece of literature must face. It could be an issue you yourself have faced or one that is new to you. Explain what you would do if you were caught in the same situation. Then explain why you would handle it that way.

13. Talking About My Generation

Today’s youth are sometimes perceived as tech savvy, optimistic, and accepting. Other times, they are perceived as spoiled, coddled, and lazy, more interested in checking Instagram than in bearing down and working hard. In an essay, define the general characteristics of your generation. Provide evidence and reasons to support your definition.

14. Fashionable Expressions

Author Sarah MacLean believes “The most confident of women are those who believe in every scrap of fabric they wear.” Indeed, clothing is a form of self-expression for many people. Evaluate the clothing choices that you or someone else (famous or not) makes and explain what these fashion choices express about the person.

15. Comparing Future Career Paths

What do you want to do after you graduate from high school? Attend college? Hone your skills at a trade school? Or go straight into the professional world? Choose two options (college, trade school, job) and write an essay in which you analyze similarities and differences between the two options.

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