What Different Types of Essays Exist?

There are many different types of essays students are asked to write. Some are easy to understand, but most others are either too similar to one another or so complex that even professors’ explanations don’t help much. It becomes a serious hindrance because without knowing what specific essays they’re writing, young people are almost guaranteed to get failing grades.

There are lots of examples of them being assigned an argumentative essay yet writing an analytical paper instead. Their college education largely depends on success in daily academic tasks, so it is vital to learn the difference between assignments. If you feel lost, don’t worry — in our article we will talk about every common type of such assignments in the most detailed way.

Determining What Types of Essay Writing You Need

The first thing students should do after reading their prompt is understand just what type of paper they’re expected to produce. Sometimes it happens instantly: professors explain what type you’ll be writing as they’re passing assignments, so from then on, all you need is figure out how to organize everything.  But there are also times when you only have a topic. For example, your prompt says the following: “Prove which city council candidate has better policies.” The question is clear, but how to determine which type it is? Start by identifying key words. In this instance, we should underline “prove,” “which,” “candidate,” and “better.” The first word points at an argument, the last one points at a comparison, so the majority essay forms are automatically eliminated.

Now, ask yourself questions. What is the goal of this topic? Again, an answer is simple: young writers must prove what candidate offers better policies. Proving something usually falls into an argumentative category, but it could be analytical, too. The next clue lies in additional instructions: study them attentively to understand whether professor expects subjective or objective opinion; should counter-arguments be regarded and addressed? This will help you settle on a specific type.

Four Most Common Essay Forms

There are 4 types of essays assigned most frequently. If you learn about them, you’re set by about 60% — other paper kinds are less specific and far easier to write. Take a look at the list below.

  • Analytical Essay

It is based on analysis, research, and evaluation of findings. Writers could explore any subject, even controversial, but they must do it from an objective viewpoint, analyzing the existing evidence and making the conclusion on its basis.

  • Argumentative Essay

It does resemble analytical papers, but there is a big difference: you should convince your reader that your point is valid by using evidence. Detached objectivity isn’t as crucial here as you could be arguing for the most ridiculous side for fun or out of spite — the goal is to be persuasive and use enough evidence. It could be both a serious and fun essay type.

  • Cause and Effect Essay

The name says it all: you should identify the cause of something, explore it, and demonstrate what effect it has. The link between these two is that you should show how one thing leads to another. Some students like focusing on causes in particular while others pay more attention to effects — both options are acceptable.  

  • Compare and Contrast Essay

This paper is often exciting for college students because it’s an easy and captivating task. Choose two or more things and start comparing as well as contrasting them. Comparison usually concerns differences while contrasting is related to similarities. You could compare/contrast topics, ways of expression, characters’ features, etc.

What Are the Different Types of Essays? 34 Common Kinds

Apart from 4 mentioned categories, there are plenty of other forms of essays. We are going to name them, clarify their main purpose, and list their characteristics. After seeing the table we’ve composed, you won’t have any questions left!

Essay Type


Main Characteristics

Persuasive essay

A writer must convince their audience of the validity of their opinion, encouraging them to accept their viewpoint.

  1. A specific position chosen.
  2. Strong appeal to emotions.
  3. Practical examples offered.
  4. No focus on the opposite views.



Argumentative essay

Similarly, students should get readers to accept the point they’re arguing for by using evidence and strong counter-arguments.

  1. A particular side of debate selected.
  2. Unlike in persuasive essays, solid evidence must be present.
  3. Opposite views described.
  4. Arguments against opposite views presented.


Analytical or Analysis essay

Breaking a subject into parts and studying each of them, explaining links between them as well as evaluating their impact as a whole. 

  1. Objectivity preserved.
  2. Facts presented. 
  3. Logic shown through detailed explanations of interrelations between different parts of subjects. 
  4. Final goal of analysis identified and achieved.

Expository essay types

Explaining a topic in a clear way to an audience who might know nothing about it.

  1. Neutrality maintained.
  2. Detailed information offered.
  3. Clear text organization.
  4. Impersonal voice applied.

Narrative essay

Sharing your story or an experience, usually of non-fictional kind, with readers.

  1. Informal or semi-formal style implemented.
  2. Rich descriptive details included to better show what happened.
  3. Emotions described.
  4. First-person perspective applied.

Descriptive essay

Describing an event, person, item, or process.

  1. Sensory details offered.
  2. Descriptions provided through information, explanations, examples, comparisons, etc.
  3. Specific impression presented and shared.


Literary analysis type of essay

Analyzing the literary work to make a conclusion about it.

  1. Story, play, or book identified.
  2. Background info described shortly.
  3. A book-related theme analyzed (setting, characters, stylistic choices, etc.)   

Rhetorical analysis

Demonstrating how speech or elements from non-fictional story produce an effect on an audience.

  1. Text introduced.
  2. Its background depicted.
  3. Each part analyzed.
  4. Rhetorical methods involved in analysis.  

Personal statement / Personal essay

Building a picture of yourself as a person and student and showcasing your strongest characteristics along with skills for being accepted into college or uni.

  1. Personal viewpoint provided.
  2. Skills listed and explained.
  3. Backstory described and connected to academic accomplishments or strengths.
  4. Explanations as to what makes you a great fit for this particular college.

Statement of purpose

Informing people about your goal.

  1. Professional style observed.
  2. Relevant parts of personal story disclosed.
  3. Goals identified and clarified.
  4. Links between your past and your aims pointed out.


This type of essays writing explores topic by analyzing evidence, collecting facts, and using credible sources for support.  

  1. Objectivity maintained.
  2. Evidence provided and described.
  3. Many academic sources used.
  4. Findings clearly demonstrated.

Profile essay

Students should inform readers about a person or item in a scrutinizing manner.

  1. Introduce an object you’re profiling.
  2. Describe their features.
  3. Ensure there are many descriptions.
  4. Be clear and use details richly.

Scholarship essay

Proving you deserve financial support based on your personality and accomplishments.

  1. Explain why you want scholarship.
  2. Disclose why you deserve it.
  3. Give examples of your accomplishments.
  4. Offer personal examples.

College application /


Such kinds of essay respond to a prompt and providing details for forming a clear image in readers’ mind.

  1. Format followed depending on a given prompt.
  2. Rich details supplied.
  3. Determined/passionate style used.


Informative essay

Letting an audience know about something.

  1. Objective tone used.
  2. Subject introduced and defined.
  3. Background and features described.
  4. Clarity ensured for facilitating explanations.

Definition essay

Identifying and explaining an object or a process by breaking it into parts and giving details.

  1. An object identified and described.
  2. An identified object divided into parts that are explained one after another.
  3. Detailed descriptions provided.


Response essay

In these types of college essays, students explain how they feel about a specific object by describing it and linking it to their reactions.  

  1. Mentioning and briefly describing movie, book, play, etc., that’s being responded to.
  2. Formulating your opinion in a thesis.
  3. Describing parts of an object and then providing a reaction to them.

Compare and contrast essay

Drawing parallels between two or more subjects and explaining their differences together with similarities.

  1. Explaining what two objects are.
  2. Describing their features.
  3. Discussing similarities.
  4. Discussing differences.

Cause and effect essay

Explaining why an event happens and what effects it has.

  1. Defining an event.
  2. Describing reasons for its emergence.
  3. Analyzing its effects.


Such types of essay combine many different sources to prove a point.

  1. Point selected and introduced.
  2. Many diverse sources used for forming a single picture.
  3. Multiple perspectives used as evidence.
  4. Conclusions drawn.

SAT essay

Explaining and analyzing a piece of text you were assigned.  

  1. Referring to the read text.
  2. Analyzing its relevant points.
  3. Answering questions on it if they are given.

Biographical essay / Autobiographical

Outlining the story of your or someone else’s life by focusing on crucial events.

  1. Descriptive style used.
  2. Objective and truthful facts provided.
  3. Chronological order maintained in most cases.

Classification essay

Relating a subject to specific group or family.

  1. Listing things to be covered.
  2. Defining categories where they belong.
  3. Offering examples and reasoning justifying this relation.

Illustration essay

Informing an audience about something and defining as well as explaining this topic.

  1. Neutral style implemented.
  2. Info summarized and explained.
  3. Numerous detailed examples presented.

Critical thinking / Critical analysis 

These types of academic essays explore a subject by applying analysis, logic, and evidence.

  1. Introducing a topic.
  2. Making concrete points.
  3. Using reliable sources repeatedly to illustrate each claim.
  4. Drawing parallels between points, analyzing links and making logical conclusions.

Process essay

Guiding an audience so that they could perform or understand certain process.

  1. Explanatory style applied.
  2. Process and its final goal defined.
  3. Process divided into stages.
  4. Each stage elaborated upon.

Tok essay (Theory of Knowledge)

This interesting essay requires students to answer  questions related to people’s knowledge through reasoning, emotions, perception, etc.

  1. Assigned/chosen title of an essay addressed.
  2. Ideas, theories, and illustrations presented.
  3. Key points outlined and sources for strengthening arguments used.

Reflective essay

These are different kinds of essays focused on expressing your opinion on something. You could reflect on a movie you watched, case study or book you read, or situation you experienced.

  1. Experience or a subject introduced.
  2. Personal opinion presented.
  3. Recommendations expressed / learned lessons concluded.  

Evaluation essay

You have to assess subject and form conclusion about it.

  1. A subject explained.
  2. Its assessment offered (including negative and positive sides, usefulness of features, relevancy, etc.).
  3. Conclusion made.


Proposal essay

Suggesting a topic for further research and exploration; making an offer to address some problem.

  1. Problem or topic formulated.
  2. Suggestions outlined one by one.
  3. Details supplied.
  4. Research used to support everything.

Exemplification essay

Providing detailed and thorough examples to make a point.

  1. Topic chosen and presented.
  2. Specific claim made.
  3. A big variety of detailed examples proposed.
  4. Strong credible evidence used as support.

Photo essay

You should shoot a series of pictures that would reveal a coherent story to viewers.

  1. A theme for the story chosen.
  2. Things or places for shooting are selected.
  3. Camera used to take pictures.
  4. Photos combined in a manner that tells a story.

Explanatory essay

Making an issue clear for the audience with the help of definitions and examples.

  1. Problem defined.
  2. Objectivity applied.
  3. Each part of the issue disclosed in a detailed manner.
  4. Clarity of expression, voice, as well as organization.

Exploratory essay

Students examine a situation and gather information about it, combining it and presenting it to their readers.

  1. Describing a situation.
  2. Presenting information on it.
  3. Regarding the existing theories.
  4. Offering a possible illustrated.

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Elizabeth Baldridge
Elizabeth Baldridge

Elizabeth provides educational materials, conducts research, explores and solves student challenges. Her posts are always helpful, innovative, and contain interesting insights.

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