What Is and How to Write an Exploratory Essay

Exploratory essays are quite different from your typical argumentative essay. Exploratory essays are, in essence, different from every other type of essay you’ve ever written. Rather than writing with the intent of convincing your readers that your thesis is sound and valid, you are instead writing to learn more about a problem and to, ideally, arrive to some form of initial conclusion as to how that problem might be solved.

That being said, there is another very important element of the exploratory genre. These types of essays are reflective of your cognitive and writing ability as your work your way through a specific problem. They describe when, how and why you conducted certain types of research. This type of exploratory writing focuses on how you are able to work through problems requiring research and writing skill. You will need to be contemplative and think about your thought process in order for you essay to be successful.

Similar to all other essays, the exploratory essay should follow the pattern of:

  • An introduction
  • The body paragraphs
  • The conclusion

The introduction is your chance to clearly outline the problem that you have explored and why it is relevant. Furthermore, you will need to concisely demonstrate a few of the possible causes of the problem, the institutions and the people who might be involved with the problem and, some of the potential solutions for the problem.

The body paragraphs should explain the research or inquiry process you followed when researching the topic.

There paragraphs will consist of the following:

  1. A brief introduction of the source material and why you selected it for your research
  2. Relevant or important information that you’ve uncovered relating to your problem
  3. Why the information that you’ve uncovered is important and relatable
  4. A few personal introspects on how the source assisted you, or enables you to think differently about the problem, or even how it fell short on what you had expected and pointed you in a new direction.

The conclusion is where you will restate the problem that you researched, you should also outline a few of its possible causes and highlight some potential solutions. You might even briefly review some of the people or institutions involved. If you find that you still have questions about the problem (and don’t worry if you do), now is your opportunity to discuss them further. Remember to speak about why your believe those questions exist, where you feel you should look for answers, and what (if any) additional research you might need to do.

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What is Particular About an Exploratory Essay?

Different from other forms of essays, exploratory essays do not take a stance. Rather, they instead explore a problem, and the various vantagepoints relating to the answer of that problem.

What makes exploratory essays different?

The objective of such an essay is to take an objective stance when approaching a topic. The writer must remain neutral. Instead of trying immediately to solve the problem, the essay examines all of the potential perspectives of the issue and endeavors to explain those viewpoints.

Exploratory papers take note of the varying audiences or people who might have an interest in the issue and hope to explore each different outlook while also making mention of any common grounds that might exist.

More often than not, there are multiple sides of an issue that is expressed and debated. This type of essay extends beyond the obvious answers and hopes to find more creative solutions.

The steps involved in writing an exploratory paper

  1. Develop a standard outline, refer to the Outline Format below for help.
  2. Read and re-read all of the articles and Summary – Analysis – Response paper.
  3. Determine how each article you’ve read can be used to clearly support your argument and the points made in your outline. Remember to include all of the relevant source information (in whatever style guide you’ve been asked to follow.)
  4. Discuss your paper with a friend or classmate. Share with them your points and confirm that they understand what you are saying. Are they able to offer you any additional ideas that you might not have thought of? Have them use the Peer Edit Table we’ve posted below.
  5. Try to collect a few visual aids to add to your finished essay.
  6. Write your first draft. Remember to use transitions like: some people think, a different perspective is, one way to look at this issue is, a final thought might be…
  7. Include summarized concepts, paraphrases and relevant quotes from your research into your writing. In an exploratory essay, you largely summarize or paraphrase using your own word the points you describe. Only use quotes that clearly make your point.
  8. Using the questions outlined in the Peer Edit Table below, evaluate your own paper by following the instructions for the writer and asking someone else to do the peer questions.
  9. Create your final draft. Use the results of the peer editing exercise to revamp your final draft.

Elements of an Exploratory Paper

  1. Clearly and concisely define and describe the problem and the argument (the introduction)
  2. Analyze the issue, including relevant texts, readers, author, etc (Body 1)
  3. Identify and summarize no fewer than three key positions on the problem (Body 2)
  4. State your personal interest in the problem and the position that you most closely favor (the conclusion)
  5. Collect a few visual aids to help support your material.

What is a good topic for an exploratory essay?

In order to be considered well-written and interesting, exploratory essays need to have an arguable questions.

This is a question that is:

  • Not solved
  • Not something that you could easily locate the answer to
  • Something that you are able to find at least three different views on
  • Interesting to people, at present
  • Linked to a weighted issue

What are weighted issues?

Weighted issues, or enduring issues, are linked to current issues and a resulting need. For example, when questioned about how much taxes an individual should pay, the weighted issue might be a question of where the government will receive money when there is a need for a stable government that is capable of meeting the needs of the people.

Sample Essay Outline To Help You


These are the three things that need to be achieved in the introduction:

  1. You need to grab (and hold) the reader’s attention and garner interest in the problem.
  2. You need to make certain that the reader understands the problem and why it is important.
  3. You need to introduce the question – typically at the end of the introduction.

Ideas for an introduction:

  • Share a real scenario
  • Disclose statistics
  • Make up a story – but, let the audience know it is fictional
  • Describe a situation or scene
  • Explain a standard situation
  • Talk about why the argument is important
  • Give a brief history of the concept
  • List out problems
  • Offer several examples of this issue
  • Ask multiple questions
  • Use interview questions and relevant answers


The body is has two parts. The first is normally only a single paragraph explaining the problem or issue. The second is three or more paragraphs that are used to explain the various positions on the problem or topic.


In your conclusion, you will share your own personal views on the issue you’ve explored. You might also choose to explain why you’ve taken an interest in this specific topic.  Your viewpoint may be one that you’ve described in the body of your essay, or it could be something that you’ve come up with on your own. Remember to use some of the techniques or methods that you used in the introduction. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Finish the story
  2. Add any additional or last minute evidence that you believe is the most compelling
  3. Share your conclusions and point of view with your audience
  4. If you are not certain what you think, then say that and go on to explain which points you think are the most important.
  5. Encourage the reader to make their own decision
  6. Outline the main elements that should be considered when making any decisions abut the question; What is important? What isn’t?

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Peer Editing Table

Peer Editing Outline

Once you’ve concluded your written outline, practice your talking points by sharing your ideas in front of a small group. You might choose to take turns having each person share their own outline. Afterwards, the group should respond to questions, suggestions or comments. Here are some questions that should be answered:

  1. Do you find the introduction to be interesting? Are you able to understand the issue and the question(S)?
  2. Do the questions and multiple positions connect? Do you think there are other positions that should be explored?
  3. Is the context of the question clear?
  4. What other supporting evidence can you think of?
  5. Do you find the response to be interesting? Has the writer successfully responded to the ideas and aligned them with their own thoughts?
  6. What do you think is missing or needs to be expanded upon or explained?

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Peer Draft Editing

The best way to improve your writing is by having someone else read it over and provide you with feedback. Find someone who can give you an independent evaluation of your assignment. Have a friend read over your draft and respond to the following:


  • Highlight or underline your question and the three positions
  • Highlight or underline the author tags and citations
  • Write in the margin what you think is best about your essay and any questions you have for your peer editor

Peer Editor

  • Read the paper over and make note of grammar and spelling mistakes, anything that you think is good and where you believe additional support might be needed.
  • Note where better transitions should be used
  • Note where references or citations should have been used
  • On a different piece of paper, write the words Introduction, Body, Conclusion. Under these:
    • Introduction: Was the issue clearly defined and described? Is there anything that should be added? Did you find the opening statement interesting? Is there room for improvement?
    • Body: IS the paper capable of examining the rhetorical situation? Who is the audience? IS anything missing? IS there room for improvement? Does the essay properly summarize three different positions? Is enough supporting evidence offered?
    • Conclusion: Has the writer responded to the issue and provided an interesting viewpoint? Does anything else need to be added?

Remember, exploratory papers are not argumentative essays. Oftentimes, students will be asked to pen argumentative essays that offer a very specific viewpoint and are then asked to persuade readers to think the same way as they do. This is not the point of an explorative essay. Instead, the goal is to look at things through multiple lenses, aiming to help readers come to a common ground.