What are the seven different types of academic essay?

This is the third and final chapter about Essays. To complete this reader, read each chapter carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Discuss why essays may vary in type

– Describe the seven different essay types

– Provide example essay questions for each type

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Chapter 3

There are many different essay types that you may be required to write throughout your university education, and each type will generally depend upon the task you’ve been set – which is often indicated by the essay question. Of course, the type of essay you’re required to write can depend on the level of education you are in (secondary vs. tertiary) and the courses you are studying (skills vs. content, or arts vs. sciences). The following seven essay types are likely the most common types that you’ll find in academic writing courses.


1. Cause and Effect Essays

The purpose of a cause and effect essay is usually to explain to the reader the connection between an event or situation (the cause) and the result that such an event or situation has created (the effect). Such essay types may well include an evaluation of that cause as well as the general implications or wider impact of those effects – such as what would happen to a select group of people or a particular country in those circumstance. Below is one possible essay question:

About Essay Types 3.1 Cause and Effect Question

2. Compare and Contrast Essays

The main purpose of a compare and contrast essay is to take two or more concepts, events or ideas and compare them for similarities or contrast them for differences. Such essays may cover any kind of topic, although are usually determined by the subject that the student is studying. One such compare and contrast essay question might be:

About Essay Types 3.2 Compare and Contrast Question

3. Descriptive Essays

Descriptive essays are often described as being the essay type which brings a topic ‘alive’ for the reader by describing that topic in significant detail. The idea is that the writer explains a topic in such a level of detail that the reader will be able to hear, see or feel what’s being described. Such essays then will clearly draw on the five human senses and may be more poetic or reflective in nature (and perhaps therefore more restrictive in the types of essay question possible):

About Essay Types 3.3 Descriptive Question

4. Evaluative Essays

Evaluative essays are intended to help the writer present their opinion through criteria and evidence. Although similar to persuasive essays in that the writer will provide a stance on an argument, the focus of an evaluative essay is instead that the writer provides their overall opinion on a topic, a judgement of that opinion (such as its strengths and weaknesses), criteria for arriving at that conclusion, and evidence to support that particular viewpoint. Such essay questions for this essay type are varied, but might look somewhat similar to the following:

About Essay Types 3.4 Evaluative Question

5. Persuasive Essays

Persuasive (or argumentative) essays tend to demonstrate that there are two (or possibly more) opinions to any given topic and provide evidence for both sides of the argument. Commonly, the writer will take a stance in this essay type and provide more evidence for one side of the debate than the other. Despite the writer’s overall opinion, persuasive essays should always include counter arguments to the writer’s argument so as to remain objective, as would be necessary for the following question:

About Essay Types 3.5 Persuasive Question

6. Problem-Solution Essays

The purpose of a problem-solution essay is so that a problem (which may be the writer’s choice or at the discretion of the tutor) may be identified and possible solutions determined for that issue. This essay type usually involves also providing an evaluation of those solutions (such as their strengths, weaknesses and viability) as well as evidence to support them. One such problem-solution essay question might be similar to the following:

About Essay Types 3.6 Problem-Solution Question

7. Process Essays

The final, and perhaps easiest, type of common academic essay is the process essay, the purpose of which is to explain to the reader how something happens or how to replicate a process themselves. Also known as a ‘how-to’ essay, this essay type involves the writer explaining a particular process either through defining it, by showing the particular processes in a step-by-step manner, or by describing in detail how something works. Such essay questions for this type might be as follows:

About Essay Types 3.7 Process Question

Please note that although listed separately here, it is possible that an essay could have aspects of more than one of these seven essay types. Having an understanding of these types will therefore help you to utilise them and hopefully improve your writing. If you’d like to check comprehension of these concepts as explained in Chapters 1 to 3, consider downloading our beginner-, intermediate– and advanced-level worksheets for this topic.

To reference this reader:

Academic Marker (2022) Essays. Available at: https://academicmarker.com/academic-guidance/assignments/essays/ (Accessed: Date Month Year).

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