Expository Writing

Mervin James Curl, 2013 - 324 sidor

 Expository Writing

It would not be rash to say that more expository thinking is done than any other kind of mental activity. The child who dismantles a clock to find its secret is doing expository thinking; the official, of however complicated a business, who ponders ways and means, is trying to satisfy his business curiosity; the artist who studies the effect of balance, of light and shade, of exclusion or inclusion, is thinking in exposition; politicians are ceaselessly active in explaining to themselves how they may, and to their constituents how they did. We cannot escape Exposition. The question then arises, since this form of writing is always with us how can we make it effective and enjoyable?


All writing should be interesting; all really effective writing does interest. It may not be required that every reader be interested in every bit of writing—that would be too much to hope for in a world where sympathies are unfortunately so restricted. To peruse a directory of Bangkok, if one has no possible acquaintance in that city, might become tedious, though one might draw pleasure from the queer names and the suggestions of romance. But if one has a lost friend somewhere in New York, and hopes that the directory will achieve discovery, the bulky and endless volume immediately takes on the greatest interest. Lincoln, driven at length to write a recommendation for a book, to escape the importunities of an agent, wisely, whimsically, wrote, "This is just the right kind of book for any one who desires just this kind of book." Wide though his sympathies were, he recognized that not every one enjoys[Pg 3] everything. The problem of the writer of exposition is to make as wide an appeal as he can.


Interest in reading is of two kinds: satisfaction and stimulation. And each of these may be either intellectual or emotional or both. The interest of satisfaction largely arises when the questions which the reader brings with him to his reading are answered. A reader who desires to know what is done with the by-products in a creamery, where the skim milk goes to, will be satisfied—and interested—when he learns the complete list of uses, among them the fact that skim milk is largely made into the white buttons that make our underclothing habitable. The reader who leaves an article about these by-products with the feeling that he has been only half told is sure to be dissatisfied, and therefore uninterested. In the same way, when a reader picks up an article or a book with the desire to be thrilled with romance or wonder, to be taken for the time away from the business of the world, to be wrenched with pity for suffering or with admiration for achievement—in other words, when a reader brings a hungry emotion to his reading—if he finds satisfaction, he is interested.

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