How to Write an Exploratory Essay

How to Write an Exploratory Essay

Exploratory Essays: How are they different?

Objective: Exploratory essays approach a particular subject from an unprejudiced point of view and try to analyze it comprehensively. Instead of trying to solve the problem, this essay looks at all the viewpoints on the issue and tries to clarify the diverse perspectives on the same subject.

Common Ground: Exploratory essays try to analyze different people's beliefs and opinions on a particular subject, noting all the differences and similarities in these opinions.

Three or More Points of View: there are two or even more sides to a particular issue; this, in its turn, often leads to a debate. Exploratory essay tries to look at all of those objectively and come up with creative ideas on the subject. For instance, an exploratory paper on the issue of illegal immigration could consider the liberal and conservative political perspectives; it could as well as take a look at the debate from the perspective of immigrants and/or board patrol employees.

Steps in Writing Your Paper

  1. Come up with a brief outline for your major arguments.
  2. Carefully read your Summary-Analysis-Response paper and your researched articles.
  3. Decide how each article can be used to help strengthen your point of view on the subject. Make sure to quote the sources in MLA format: the author's last name and a page number in brackets (Smith 5).
  4. Talk out your paper with a companion. Work with a companion or a small group of people. Go through your paper outline together. Convey your points of view and make sure they get a general idea. Do they have any thoughts on how to make your essay more intriguing? Go through any questions and suggestions together.
  5. Optional: you might need to use some visuals (graphs, pie charts, diagrams, etc.)
  6. Compose a draft. When switching between paragraphs, use logical transitions. For example, "a few people trust," "another point of view is," "one approach to take a look at the issue is," "the last viewpoint may be." Don't forget to mention the author's name if you are discussing a specific article or a research.
  7. Make sure to include thoughts, paraphrases, and quotes from your research into your first draft. In an exploratory paper, you will focus on other people's ideas (for the most part). Just use citations which are particularly striking or make a strong point in a way you can't.
  8. Companion Editing: Have a second pair of eyes look at your paper; if you have a fellow student you trust, you can definitely consult him/her. If the professor gave you a list of points to cover in your work, make sure both of you go through the same list.
  9. Final Draft: Use what you've gained from the companion editing stage to improve your final paper.

Basic Elements of an Exploratory Essay

  1. Describe the problem and make an argument (introduction)
  2. Break down the explanatory nature of the issue, including Text, Reader, Author, Constraints (first body part)
  3. Identify and outline at least three noteworthy positions on this issue (second body part).
  4. Demonstrate your own point of view on this issue or highlight the opinion you agree with (conclusion).
  5. Optional: You might support your point of view with visuals (graphs, charts, etc.).

What Makes a Good Topic?

Exploratory Papers focus on argumentative subjects, which implies that the subject:

  1. Has no obvious solution.
  2. Does not have a single right answer to the question.
  3. Is something people disagree about (try to find at least three different points of view on the matter).
  4. Is of relevant interest to many people.
  5. Is an ongoing issue, relevant today.


Your introduction should do three things:

  1. Get the reader interested in an arguable issue. It is not always possible to appeal to emotions here, but you should do your best to get the reader 'hooked' on the subject you are to explore.
  2. Ensure the reader understands the issue and why it is important (a few issues require a lot of clarification; others are pretty well-known so you won't have to dig into detail).
  3. Present the arguable question (usually, at the end of your introductory paragraph).

Introduction ideas

  1. Present the topic
  2. Give a summary of a true story
  3. Give insights
  4. Describe a made-up situation
  5. Draw attention to a typical story on the subject
  6. Clarify a certain circumstance or a case-study
  7. Have a genuine or envisioned discussion about the issue
  8. Discuss what makes this argument critical
  9. Use a fascinating explanation or a quote
  10. Explain the history of this argument
  11. Make a list of issues you plan to discuss
  12. Give a few examples of this problem
  13. Make up a list of questions
  14. Make use of framing technique (use one story or a line in the introduction, and refer to it again in the conclusion)
  15. Use questions and answers


Part one

The body of this essay type has two major sections. The initial segment is, for the most part, one passage that clarifies the problem or the issue. The second part is at least three passages and clarifies the diverse perspectives on the subject (that is why you should aim for at least three different points of view in your outline).

Section One: Explain the Rhetorical Situation:

Text: What sort of research has already been done on this subject? What has been covered so far? Does the news cover this question? The advocacy groups? Is it discussed by the scientific community?

Reader: Who is interested in this topic? What points of view do readers share? Why are the readers keen on this matter?

Author: who has already written on this subject matter? Is there some sort of common ground between the audiences (that is, the writers and readers)?

Constraints: What states of mind, convictions, conditions, conventions, individuals, or occasions restrain us from discussing this subject? Do these constraints create a common ground between different population segments or do they lead to debate?

Exigence: (Context of the discussion on the issue) What factors make people interested in this subject? What is the historical background behind the issue? How has the interest in this matter evolved over time? Are there any moral or ethical issues the debate is based on?

Part two: three or more perspectives on the issue

For each of the at least three perspectives, you will have to write a different paragraph. In each paragraph:

  1. Clarify the argument.
  2. Explain why people share this belief.
  3. Give the best claims to support this perspective.
  4. Clarify how those claims are substantiated.

You can also contrast different viewpoints. That makes a particularly successful transition between the paragraphs. For instance:

  • As opposed to the possibility that vagrancy is caused by an absence of homes, religious organizations regularly claim that relationship issues lie at the core of the problem.
  • A third perspective suggests that it isn't the absence of lodging or poor relations that are the foundation of the issue, but rather substance abuse and mental illness.

Sample Starting Sentences for Body Part Two

Begin each of the paragraphs with a clear sentence expressing the particular point of view. Here are examples of how you can start each one:

Position 1: Many people accept…

What is the perspective? Which articles would you be able to use for this perspective? What part of the article is useful?

Position 2: Others would argue…

What is the perspective? Which articles would you be able to use for this perspective? What part of the article is useful?

Position 3: Another way to approach this issue is…

What is the perspective? Which articles would you be able to use for this perspective? What part of the article is useful?


The conclusion of your essay is the place where you can tell your personal opinion on this issue. You can also clarify why you support this particular point of view. Your perspective might be one of the arguments you have already covered in the body of your essay; or, it might be something different, something you have brainstormed yourself. In conclusion, you can use some of the writing strategies you already used in the introduction. Here are some ideas:

  1. Close the frame you opened in the introduction.
  2. Include the last proof you find especially persuading.
  3. Tell the reader your own opinions and perspective.
  4. On the off chance that you aren't sure what you think, say that and clarify what you believe are the most vital questions to consider.
  5. Ask the reader to choose.
  6. Outline the fundamental things we have to consider when we settle on a choice about this issue — what is vital and what isn't.

Peer Editing Worksheets

Outline peer editing

After you have sketched your outline, get some assistance by discussing your paper with a group of fellow students, or before the entire class. Discussing your outline with students can help you spot out any logic flaws you might have. Plus, brainstorming in a group might give some new ideas on the subject, which is also a great bonus. Here are some points you should focus on while discussing your outline in the classroom:

  1. Does the introduction catch the reader's attention? Is the problem clearly conveyed?
  2. Do the issue in question and the three arguments relate to each other? Is there a difference in the arguments? Are there any other arguments you think should be considered?
  3. Is the unique circumstance/limitations of the inquiry clear?
  4. Are there other supporting arguments you can consider?
  5. Is the topic presentation interesting? Does the author respond to the thoughts that already exist on the subject? Does he/she add any ideas/suggestions of his/her own? How might the writer do it better?
  6. Anything you believe is missing or should be clarified or extended?

Companion editing worksheet

Having another person read your article and give you some input is a great way to improve your written work. Students can work in pairs (switching their papers); or, a group of three or more people can pass their outlines around - here, the best way will depend on the number of students in a given class.

Here is a list of issues students can focus on when reviewing their own papers or helping their peers.


  1. Marking your own paper:
    1. Underline: your argument, the three perspectives, your point of view
    2. Wavy underline: authors' quotes and references.
  2. Write (in your own draft or on a different sheet of paper):
    1. What is best about your essay.
    2. Questions for your companion editor.
    3. What you want the other essay editor to help you with.

Peer Editor:

  1. Read the essay and leave marks about:
    1. Spelling mistakes
    2. What you believe is great
    3. Where the author requires more help
    4. Where the author can improve the argument
    5. Where the author requires references, or extra tags (or any other issues with the referencing material)
    6. Where the author requires more clarification
  2. On a different sheet of paper:
    1. Introduction: was the argument clearly explained? What should be added to make it stronger? Was the intro interesting to read? How can it be moved forward?
    2. Body: How well does the paper look at the expository circumstance? (exigence [reason for this debate], group of onlookers [who are interested in this issue], and imperatives [situations and opinions that influence the debate]). Is any info missing? How can it be helped? Does the paper adequately convey three distinct opinions and clarify them? Who shares these opinions? Why do people trust these opinions? Does the essay give enough evidence for each perspective?
    3. Conclusion: Does the author react to the problem and give a compelling point of view? Does the writer need to include anything else in the paper?

Exploratory vs. Argument

Quite often, students are supposed to write argumentative papers, which are also aimed at analyzing a certain point of view from different perspectives. So, it is not at all surprising that many of them confuse exploratory papers with argumentative ones. However, the two are quite different. Here are the main points you will have to remember not to confuse them:

  • Argumentative Essays aim to prove one point of view: the main purpose of an argumentative essay is to prove one particular point of view. The student is still to analyze different sides of the same argument, but the ultimate goal is to find a solution to the problem that would be the most efficient one. This can either be the author's own perspective or a scientific perspective the writer supports.
  • Exploratory essays take a look at several points of view. Instead of trying to find the best possible solution to the problem, this kind of paper investigates the alternate points of view of the issue and tries to analyze the social setting of the problem. It is the kind of paper you would research before writing a problem solution essay. An exploratory essay is a standard procedure in organizations when they are looking at a certain issue from different perspectives and try to collect as much info on the subject as it is technically possible.
  • Exploratory essays analyze the audience's views on a particular problem and look for common ground in these opinions. This paper researches a wide range of social beliefs concerning the subject, points out the differences in these opinions, and highlights the similarities. So, when writing an exploratory essay, it is advisable to narrow the problem down. Otherwise, coming up with a comprehensive research will take too much time.
  • Exploratory papers focus on at least three different perspectives: Sometimes there are two sides of the same argument, which instigates heated debate. In an exploratory essay, you are supposed to look past the obvious solution and focus on more creative perspectives instead. For example, when writing an essay on capital punishment, you are to analyze the issue not only from the point of view of the society and the government; you can dig deeper, paying attention to prison wards, prison maintenance costs, and even the convicts' relatives.
  • You do not necessarily have to include your opinion in the conclusion of an exploratory essay. You will investigate no less than three sides of the argument, giving reasonable proof for each side. And, even though you are expected to give your opinion of the problem in the conclusion of an exploratory essay, you do not necessarily have to reinvent the wheel here. Instead, you can choose one socially acceptable perspective and simply state that you agree with this particular point of view. In case of an argumentative paper, on the other hand, the writer is supposed to bring something new to the table; in other words, you have to add at least something from yourself.

Exploratory Essay in Academe and Business

The primary purpose of this paper is to analyze a range of perspectives on a certain issue. In other words, you are to present a very detailed research on the subject, which is why these papers are common not only in college but also in real-life business and scientific environment. Here are just a few examples of exploratory essay topics:

  1. What are the reasons behind US Civil War?
  2. How will the "Arab Spring" affect the situation in the Middle East in the next ten years?
  3. What are the ways to deal with the problem of illegal immigration into the US?
  4. Should we find a use for non-fertilized embryos?

In business, an employee might write an exploratory report about:

  1. How different types of advertising affect the consumer's perception of our product?
  2. What is the most common use of our product?
  3. Which products, currently available on the market, are our top competitors?
  4. What are our main advertising outlets and which of them should we focus on during our next marketing campaign?

By analyzing at least three different perspectives, you can get a better understanding of the issue in question and come up with a solution that would be not only creative but also highly efficient.

More exploratory essay topic ideas for college

  1. Do all children of divorce need psychological help?
  2. Is organic food better for our health?
  3. How helpful is technology in the classroom?
  4. Do opposites really attract?
  5. Can we truly make a difference by recycling our trash?

Final Tips on Writing an Exploratory Essay

Whatever your reasons for writing an exploratory essay may be, the research is the most crucial stage of the process. When writing a paper for college, it is often enough to choose three different viewpoints and focus on them. In real-life business and scientific environment, however, you will often have to write voluminous reports and present even more perspectives on the issue.

As you do your research, it is highly advisable to take notes. Remember that all of the presented arguments should have logical transitions, which is why, at the end of your research stage, you'll have to go over your notes and rearrange the arguments in the clearest and most logical manner. This will ensure smooth paper flow and will make your work easier to understand.

Finally, as you get down to writing, try sticking to your original outline. Even though you might get tempted to add or remove some points, it is always better to follow the original plan. After all, adjusting your outline on the go may disrupt the overall logic of your work, which will make the editing process longer.

Speaking of editing, try to get someone else to go over your paper. If you do not have a fellow student or a colleague to help you, you might want to contact a professional on this one.

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