The following patterns of exposition can help with…

organising content

finding content

Patterns of exposition

examples and illustrations 




we describe how to do something or tell how something happens. 

it can be truly helpful – readers will know how to do something that they didn’t know how to do before or they will understand some process that had mystified them before. 

There is a difference between a process essay that tells readers how to do something and a process essay that describes the process by which something gets done by someone else or by nature.

comparison and contrast

– Comparison: the process of showing how things are alike

– Contrast: the process of showing differences

Some general rules to consider before we begin to write a comparison and contrast essay:

is the comparison fair?

Say we have five points of difference between the two things that we want to contrast:

1. Shall we go from side to side, as if our essay were a ping-pong match, or should we dwell on one side before going over to the other side, essentially splitting our essay in half?

2. It is possible to mix these two approaches, but our approach will determine the overall structure, pacing, and effect of the essay.

3. There has to be a good reason to make the comparison. 

Why should we compare this movie to the novel it is based on? 

Why should we compare these two short stories, one by a modern southern American Catholic woman and the other by a nineteenth-century French-Canadian man? 

Will the comparison actually help anyone’s understanding of either one? 

What’s the point of the comparison? 

When we’ve finished going through the various differences and similarities, is the reader left with that horrible feeling, So what? or have we actually accomplished something important? have we provided a unique insight into the nature of these two things that the reader would never have discovered otherwise?

4. the business of a comparison and contrast essay is frequently (but not always) to demonstrate a preference for one thing over another. The trick is to allow the preference to grow out of the comparison without actually stating the obvious. Let the reader figure out the preference from the language we use in the contrast; let the language do its work.


cause and effect

It is intriguing to explore the causes of some event that you always took for granted or to chronicle the effects of some phenomenon in society or nature.

You will have to determine which causes or effects you’re going to write about. 

For instance, if there are too many causes for you to deal with in the scope of your essay, you’ll have to decide what are the main causes, the ones you have to treat, and then suggest to your reader that there are other, relatively minor, causes outside the scope of your essay. 

The cause and effect essay can end in a number of ways. 

It might be enough for your paper to point out causes or effects that people might not have thought of before, or to sort out those causes or effects so that people can grasp them with fresh insight or in a newly organized fashion. 

Or your essay might lead to a call for action based on patterns of cause and effect that you have perceived. 

For example, an essay about antibiotics might end with 

a plea to change the way they use antibiotics in situations where the antibiotics won’t do any good. 

The alternative to this over-use of antibiotics — the consequence if this trend is not reversed — is well spelled out in the essay.

The two strategic points you have to consider are 

1. whether you’re exploring causes or effects or both and 

2. what is the order of the causes or effects you’re going to pursue — from least to most important or vice versa.

classification and division 


A Definition essay will share your special understanding about some idea or thing. 

Sometimes a definition will prove to be a small but important part of an essay; sometimes a definition will be the sole work of an entire essay. 

When it’s the major impetus of an essay, there are several points to remember.

1. don’t rely on that old cliché of the dictionary or encyclopedia definition. 

Even if your intent is to show how inadequate or wrong-headed the dictionary might be, this device has been used far too often to be effective. 

The point of your essay is to provide your reader with a new way of looking at things — your way, not Noah Webster’s.

2. One way of defining something is to say what it is not. 

If you’re defining the idea of “home,” you could begin by suggesting that the old saying “There’s no place like home” is silly because there are, in fact, many places like home — or you could insist that home is really not a place at all. 

‼️ The opportunity to define is an opportunity to exercise your poetic imagination, to show how most people’s sense of something is faulty or inadequate and that there is a better understanding (yours!) to consider.

3. In selecting a topic to define, look for something that you can define within your own experience and that will allow your poetic imagination some room to play. 

It might be a big mistake for your English instructor to define reggae or rap music, but there are many students who could do a great job. 

If you try to define something that is beyond the comprehension of your paper or your own experience, the task will become overwhelming and get mired down in details or abstractions. 

You could write a book trying to define a concept such as conservatism or liberalism and you still wouldn’t have said anything that more than two other people would agree with. 

Students would be wise to avoid abstract notions such as patriotism, beauty, justice, love, or being a good sport.

4. On the other hand, it can be useful — even fun — to take a rather abstract notion and put a spin on it. 

There doesn’t appear to be much point in defining a student, for example, but defining what we mean by a good student could be interesting. Push that definition to the limit to make a special point. 

A good student is not necessarily one that earns good grades or even one that does his or her best; a good student is one that makes the teacher feel like a good teacher. 

Or try defining a good teacher, a good parent, a good doctor, a good lover. In any case, if you are going to define something that everyone else has some idea about, you will need to shed fresh, even surprising light upon your subject.

A definition can be developed in a number of ways. 

A definition of a business management concept such as Total Quality Management (TQM), for instance, could begin with a history (a kind of process paper) of its inception in Japanese management systems, its migration across the Pacific, its implementation and transformation in American systems, and its predicted demise. 

It could also (or instead) include examples of the kind of labor conflict that TQM is supposed to eliminate or alleviate. 

Or it could describe TQM as a process, the steps involved in its implementation, or involve an analysis of its principles and its place in management theory. 

Contrasts to other management theories might be appropriate, demonstrating what TQM is not as well as what it is. 

We could even think of it as a Cause and Effect situation in which we describe how TQM responds to certain needs in the workplace. 

A definition essay is not limited to any one method of development and it may, in fact, employ more than one method at once.

Some rhetorical points about defining things:

Avoid using the phrases “is where” and “is when” in your definition: “Total Quality Management is when management and labor agree to. . . .” “A computer virus is where . . . .”

Avoid circular definitions (repeating the defined term within the predicate, the definition itself): “A computer virus is a virus that destroys or disrupts software . . . .”

Avoid using a too narrow definition, one that would unduly limit the scope of your paper: “Reggae music is sung on the Caribbean island of Jamaica. . . .”

Principels of organisation

Chronological order

Items, events, or even ideas are arranged in the order in which they occur

Chronological order can suit different rhetorical modes or patterns of exposition. 

It naturally fits in narration, because when we tell a story, we usually follow the order in which events occur. 

Applies to process in the same way, because when we describe or explain how something happens or works, we usually follow the order in which the events occur. 

But chronological order may also apply to example, description, or parts of any other pattern of exposition.

– Associated Patterns of Development or Rhetorical Modes

narration, process, examples and illustrations, cause & effect

– Sample Transitions

next; later; the following Tuesday; afterwards; by noon; when she had finally digested the giant burrito; as soon as; in 1998

Spatial order

In this pattern, items are arranged according to their physical position or relationships. 

In describing a shelf or desk, I might describe items on the left first, then move gradually toward the right. 

Describing a room, I might start with what I see as I enter the door, then what I see as I step to the middle of the room, and finally the far side. 

In explaining some political or social problem, I might discuss first the concerns of the East Coast, then those of the Midwest, then those of the West Coast. 

Describing a person, I might start at the feet and move up to the head, or just the other way around. 

Spatial order is pretty common in description, but can also apply to examples, to some comparisons, some classifications, some narrations [meanwhile, out on the prairie], and other forms of exposition as well.

– Associated Patterns of Development or Rhetorical Modes

description, examples & illustrations

– Sample Transitions

just to the right; a little further on; to the south of Memphis; a few feet behind; directly on the bridge of his nose and a centimeter above his gaping, hairy nostrils; turning left on the pathway

Climactic order (order of importance)

In this pattern, items are arranged from least important to most important.

This is a flexible principle of organization, and may guide the organization of all or part of example, comparison & contrast, cause & effect, and description.

– Associated Patterns of Development or Rhetorical Modes

examples & illustrations, description, comparison & contrast, analogy

– Sample Transitions

more importantly; best of all; still worse; a more effective approach; even more expensive; even more painful than passing a kidney stone; the least wasteful; occasionally, frequently, regularly

Topical order

This is sort of a catchall pattern. It refers to organization that emerges from the topic itself. 

– For example, a description of a computer might naturally involve the separate components of the central processing unit, the monitor, and the keyboard, while a discussion of a computer purchase might discuss needs, products, vendors, and service. 

– A discussion of a business might explore product, customer, and location, and so on. 

Topical order, then, simply means an order that arises from the nature of the topic itself. Transitions in this pattern will be a little vague—things like another factor, the second component, in addition, and so on.

– Associated Patterns of Development or Rhetorical Modes

classification & division, comparison & contrast, analogy, definition, examples & illustrations

– Sample Transitions

the first element; another key part; a third common principle of organization; Brent also objected to Stella’s breath

Polti's 36 Dramatic Situations