Smarthinking Writer's Handbook

Writing an Exemplification/Illustration Essay

Chapter 1: Section 2, Lesson 11

Suppose you need to file a complaint about a problem at your job or in your neighborhood. What if you need to tell the police that people are driving too fast on your street? To be convincing, you’ll need to be ready to give a few examples. The skill of fleshing out examples is called exemplification or illustration.

In exemplification/illustration essays, writers use specific, real-life examples to illustrate a main belief or concept. An example is a description of a situation or event that the writer saw or experienced first-hand. Some teachers use the term exemplification essay, and other teachers use illustration essay or examples essay. These three terms have the same meaning, so using only exemplification will be easiest. Exemplification essays usually describe a few situations that prove a main idea is true. However, these essays have many variations, so consult your assignment instructions, textbook, or instructor to verify the particular requirements. The elements of the most common types of exemplification assignments are described below.

Essay Structure
Exemplification essays are usually organized into an introduction, a few body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Each body paragraph usually focuses on a different example. For example, a writer who wants to prove that texting interferes with face-to-face conversations could organize an essay into three examples.

  1. Introduction
  2. A description of a date that was ruined by too much texting
  3. A description of a party that was ruined by too much texting
  4. An example of a family dinner that was ruined by too much texting
  5. Conclusion

Each Roman numeral represents one paragraph topic. An exemplification essay need not be limited to three examples, though. The number of body paragraphs and examples will vary according to the required length and the instructor’s expectations.

Introduction Paragraph
Most exemplification essays begin with an introduction paragraph that describes the general belief or concept that will be proven by examples. To prepare readers for the body paragraphs, your introduction will often answer these types of questions.

  • Which particular issue or problem have you noticed?
  • Why should people be concerned about this issue?
  • Why does this issue or problem happen?
  • How can readers recognize it when they see it?

These are just a few possible options, and each topic will require different background information.

Thesis Statement
In most exemplification essays, the introduction closes with a thesis statement that helps readers understand what main idea you’ll be proving and how to prove it. The main idea is usually a belief or an opinion that can be supported by your own experiences and observations. A thesis often includes the word events, examples, or experiences. Consider these examples:

  • My experiences with a date, a family dinner, and a party have convinced me that text messaging interferes with people’s ability to have productive face-to-face conversations.
  • Several recent experiences have shown me that children these days waste too much food.

The first example previews the three body paragraph topics, and the second example generally indicates that the body paragraphs will discuss experiences without listing exactly which examples will be used. When in doubt about what the thesis should include, it’s best to consult your instructor or review the assignment instructions.

Topic Sentences
Use topic sentences to indicate which example each body paragraph will describe. Each topic sentence will summarize the experience or event in a few words and reiterate the main idea from the thesis. For example, the following topic sentences would begin body paragraphs in the essay about food waste.

  • An experience volunteering in the cafeteria at my daughter’s school showed me how prevalent food waste has become for children today.
  • Another experience hosting a pizza party showed me that food waste is often enabled by parents.
  • Finally, my experiences babysitting nieces and nephews has convinced me that food waste is too common.

Each topic sentence begins a different body paragraph and tells readers what kind of example the body paragraph will hold.

Supporting Details
After each topic sentence, the supporting details in an exemplification essay tend to describe a real situation or event. Often, you’ll need to write about events or scenes that you witnessed or experienced directly. When the assignment asks you to use personal examples, you almost have to use personal pronouns like I and me. Your details should be vivid enough that readers can imagine what happened clearly. To describe an event, use plenty of adjectives, action verbs, and precise nouns. If the details are vague, readers are less likely to believe that each situation happened or to see how each situation illustrates the main idea. After describing what happened in each body paragraph, you should explain why the event illustrates the main belief or opinion.

Conclusion Paragraph
Most exemplification essays end with a conclusion paragraph that brings all of the examples together and elaborates on the main idea. For example, if your main idea is that children waste too much food, your conclusion would remind readers that this issue is prevalent with children today. You might say, In closing, food waste is all too common among today’s children. You might also summarize the examples that prove your main idea is accurate. Another way to close an exemplification is by answering these types of questions.

  • What issue or problem have you observed?
  • What should readers do about the issue or problem?
  • What can people gain by recognizing these situations?

These are just a few options. In general, an exemplification essay begins with general information, looks closely at specific situations, and then returns to the general concept or belief.

Think About It

  • What main problem or issue do you want your readers to notice?
  • When have you seen this problem or issue firsthand?
  • Which details will make these examples the most convincing?

You can consider answers to these questions to begin brainstorming ideas about which topic and examples will work best for your assignment.


previous Home Next