Welcome to The Muse Of Language Arts feature on the subject of expository prose writing. Here, The Muse explores the nature of expository prose writing and how to get the most from writing or reading it.
At the right, one of the great essayists of all time, Ralph Waldo Emerson.
about expository prose writing
A few definitions:
Many kinds of exposition take place in human affairs. From the perspective of media, aural exposition takes place in fields as diverse as ordinary speech, debate, speechification, poetry reading, dramatization, and legal testimony; written exposition takes place in literary fields as diverse as prose fiction, prose nonfiction, poetry, and drama. Subjects that are expounded in ether media range from technological to political to artistic; information presentation formats range from text to data to graphic to animation.
Expository prose writing is ubiquitous; it pervades virtually all aspects of professional and private life and plays a key role in social, personal, business, and scientific affairs. It's a kind of writing that's found in all languages, regardless of nationality.
Almost everyone who has ever learned how to read or write ordinary prose also regularly reads or writes expository prose. People everywhere consider the ability to read and write expository prose to be an innate human language faculty and a requirement for being classified as literate.
The sensory scope and impact of exposition extends far beyond the visual confines of the eye or of the materials on which the prose is imprinted. Sometimes expositions that are written are read silently to oneself and then forgotten; they live only briefly in the mind. Sometimes they're read and committed to memory. The facts and other information they convey are etched in one's memory.
Expositional writing is not only ubiquitous; it's omnipresent. Much prose exposition that's written down is intended for aural transmission; it's written to be heard, not seen. It's read aloud over radios, broadcast on television or declaimed on stage, or orated at live public proceedings. It's recorded and played back by virtually every medium, from computer screens and cell phones to Braille to billboards, books, and magazines. It plays a role in most art forms and many art objects, not just written ones. It's essential for recording and disseminating the facts and figures produced by all cultural endeavors, from scholarly papers to governmental directives, and from businesses to posters for lost dogs and cats to church suppers and library socials.
Clearly, society has a huge variety of means and methods by which to disseminate facts and feelings; writing is just one of them. And further, society utilizes many different kinds of writing to disseminate facts, not just expository prose writing. There are many writing forms other than expository prose, and most of them permit expository passages.
Then why is the expository prose writing form such an important expository vehicle? Partly because formal prose expository writing involves the exposure of facts and nothing else; it's designed expressly for this purpose. By comparison, ordinary prose, which is one of the most important kinds of prose writing there is—has other important work to do.
Ordinary prose may contain expository passages, but it's not nearly as efficient or effective for communicating facts as is expository prose writing. Ordinary prose is based on the ordinary grammatical structure and natural flow of speech that characterizes the majority of spoken discourse, factual discourse, topical writing, and fictional writing. To do its job, it must be free to wander; it must be free to lie. Novels, for example, employ ordinary prose but are not members of the expository prose writing family because they are entertaining works of fiction, and fiction is not fact.
As we shall see, expository prose writing is a very special kind of writing whose only function is to expound, set forth, or explain facts—information, data, ideas, concepts, and the like. Because of this function, it's one of the most important and prominent kinds of reading and writing in existence.
Expository prose writing is not only a special kind of writing, it's a specific style of writing—a linguistic discipline, a form of literature, and an official literary form in its own right.
How did the expository prose writing style come into existence? It was not consciously invented by a single person, agency, or country, nor was it unique to any particular language; it emerged spontaneously in multiple cultures over the centuries. Its development was driven by the practical need for effective intra- and international factual communication.
As the quality of expository writing techniques gradually improved, the expository prose writing style eventually evolved and became the best one for its mission. People have been writing expository prose for well over two thousand of years and before, as far back as the Bible, Plato, Aristotle, Cato, and Julius Caesar. Some of the styles that hae appeared in the last one or two hundred years are still being used today, only slightly modified; new styles are still emerging. Today, no other writing style is as appropriate for a writer who wants to disseminate facts and nothing else.
About this feature
Virtually everyone trained to read ordinary prose is in a position to acquire the skills needed to read and understand expository prose written by others; everyone trained to write ordinary prose is in a position to acquire the skills needed to create their own well-formed expository prose—prose that is sufficiently clear and expressive to be read, understood, and enjoyed by others. The extent of this facility is fortunate; without a sufficient number of people equipped with these skills, modern civilization probably would break down.
Almost any articulate person can read and write expository prose at a level that's adequate to meet the challenges of everyday living; but not everyone has developed their full potential to do so. This feature hopes to allay at least a small part of that shortfall.
But by no means is what follows in this feature intended to be a course of instruction on reading or writing expository prose. Instead, this feature is focused on exploring the fundamental nature of written prose exposition as a literary and linguistic phenomenon.
In addition, this feature attempts to stimulate interest in expository prose reading and writing by motivating visitors to publish their own, original expository prose works.
Why bother to understand the nature of expository prose and how to fashion it?
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expository prose—who writes with it?
People and agencies that create, use, and care about expository prose include:
Expository text is the most frequently used type of writing by students and teachers in colleges and universities. Sources like those in the above list choose expository prose over other forms of writing when they place a premium on getting their message across, when they have large amounts of unambiguous and objective information to convey in a compact space, or when mistakes, misunderstandings, or accidents by readers would be dangerous, harmful, or costly. Expository prose helps them explain how and why to do certain things and the reasons for doing things a certain way.
In cases like these, creators benefit additionally because expository prose allows them to disseminate objective information more quickly, easily, cheaply, and efficiently.
Many schools, businesses and colleges use expository prose writing exercises to test their students or employees.
expository prose—who reads it?
The people and agencies who write expository prose pieces tend to be intense readers of expository prose writing themselves; they consume large numbers of words, sentences, and works per writer, per reader, and per agency. On the whole, it's likely that individuals around the world who are employed by these and similar kinds of agencies consume more expository prose per person than do any other individuals in any other group anywhere.
But on a whole, by far private individuals who are unaffiliated with agencies comprise the largest number of consumers of expository prose writing in the world; they read the largest numbers of words, sentences, and works written in the expository prose style. That's because: 1) private parties far outnumber the people who work in agencies who produce, publish, and read expository prose works, 2) private parties read a high percentage of the expository works produced by individuals employed in agencies, and 3) private parties are mass producers and consumers of expository prose all by themselves.
What kinds of expository prose pieces do private individuals produce if or when they're not at work in agencies? They range from casual notes to flyers to posters to high school and college reports to briefings to formal speeches. (A formal speech that's written down, read on a teleprompter, or memorized in advance is normally composed in an expository prose style.)
Because it's primary purpose is to inform, readers often ignore pieces written in expository prose if their subject matter is not directly relevant to their interests; they tend to become bored quickly if a subject doesn't help them assemble their new store-bought crib or turn them on to their current hot button.
The half-life of expository prose is often brief because information ages quickly. As a consequence, much expository writing is looked at and promptly discarded, even if it is relevant, at least for a while.
But there can be more to expository prose than serious subjects and clear, content-laden sentences and paragraphs. Not only can expository prose writing be intensely informative, as it is in technical journals, cake baking instructions, manuals on how to drive a car, fishing licenses, or computer user manuals: if well written and if subjects are interesting, expository prose can be entertaining, uplifting, and stimulating; some of it can be worthy of close attention, widespread dissemination, and perpetuation.
If you doubt this, consider Wikipedia or the Encyclopedia Britannica. Even a dictionary can provoke a few laughs if you know how to look for them. Add to that Playboy or Playgirl, your favorite newspaper or magazine, funny posters or billboards, text books, and biographies or histories.
Expository prose works are compositions written with the expository prose writing style.
Works written with expository prose are ubiquitous; they're found almost everywhere. Examples of expository prose works include directions for finding a route or destination while driving, instructions for starting a fire in the woods, instructions on how to fly an airplane, instructions on how to wash clothes, or corporate policies and procedures manuals.
Here are a few additional examples of different kinds of expository prose works in widespread use today:
Selected Expository Prose Works
NOTE: Don't be mislead by names for kinds of expository works:
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