In this topic I am going to deal with the expository text, its structure and characteristics. I have divided my presentation into four different sections. In my first section I am going to explain what has to be taken into account in order to say that a certain stretch of language is a text. The second one will be about the different types of texts, because, in order to clarify what an expository text is, I am going to start by saying what it is not. My third section will be about the expository text itself, its main structures and characteristics. Finally, in my last section I will reflect upon the importance of expository texts when teaching a foreign language.
Let’s start with a definition of text. A text may be defined as “a stretch of language, spoken or written, of whatever length, which forms a unified whole”. However, we should ask ourselves: “What makes a stretch of language form a unified whole and, therefore, be a text?” Seven criteria or standards are given for textuality, that is, criteria that a sequence of sentences must meet in order to qualify as a text:
- Cohesion is the connection which results when the interpretation of a textual element is dependent on another element in the text.
The store no longer sold porcelain figures. It used to…
The interpretation of “it” is dependent on that of “store”, and the interpretation of “used to” is dependent on “sold porcelain figures”.
- Coherence is the connection which is brought about by something outside the text. This “something” is usually knowledge which a listener or reader is assumed to possess. The best way to illustrate coherence is giving an example of incoherence. Chomsky gave the following example: Colourless green ideas sleep furiously. The listener’s knowledge tells him that the utterance is non-sensical.
- Intentionality means that writes and speakers must have the conscious intention of achieving specific goals with their message, for instance, conveying information or arguing an opinion.
- Acceptability requires that a sequence of sentences be acceptable to the intended audience in order to qualify as a text. For instance, for a teacher it is not acceptable to be told: “You sit down and shut up”.
- Informativeness is necessary in discourse. A text must contain new information. If a reader knows everything contained in a text, then it does not qualify. Likewise, if a reader does not understand what is in a text, it also does not qualify as a text.
- Situationality is essential to textuality. It is important to consider the situation in which the text has been produced and dealt with. For instance, you don’t speak about football in church.
- Intertextuality means that a sequence of sentences is related by form or meaning to other sequences of sentences. For instance, a chapter is a text related to other chapters of a book.
In order to be regarded as a text, any stretch of language must meet all these standards. However, not all texts are the same. Primarily monologic spoken or written discourse may be organized in ways that reveal similar underlying “templates” or “scripts”. Those which have the same or very similar template may be said to belong to a particular “genre” or type of text. Part of a speaker’s communicative competence involves the ability to recognize and manipulate the features of a particular type of text. There are four main genres which are usually mentioned by genre analysts as distinct types: narrative, descriptive, explanatory, which can be either expository or procedural, and argumentative texts. Although these may exist in different languages, there may be important differences between their templates, and in the kind of language that is typically present in each.
Before concentrating on what expository texts are, I would like to show what they are not, by giving an overview of the three other text types. An expository text is different from a narrative. Narratives are written when people want to give information about an event or a sequence of events, typically in the past. Narrative texts have the following components: an abstract (e.g. title), the orientation, the goal, the problem, steps to resolve the problem, the resolution or climax and the coda. The language typically associated with it is time and place indicators, copula sentences, presentatives, identifying or descriptive relative clauses. The verbs are usually stative or intransitive. There is a sequence of temporally ordered clauses and actions.
An expository text is not an argumentative one since this is defined as the process of weakening or supporting another statement whose validity is questionable or contentious. In it, two or more contrasting opinions are discussed. So we need to present both sides equally, discussing the advantages or disadvantages of either argument and take sides and state our view, providing evidence to convince our readers. The most common structure of argumentative texts is presentation of the argument, evidence, conclusion and instruction. The writer will tend to end with the view s/he defends. Part of the key language present is attitude markers, additive connectors, the potential ‘would’ to offer comments and give suggestions for future actions and so on.
Finally, an expository text is not a descriptive one, because a descriptive text is defined by being a spoken or written representation or account of a person, object, or event that can both be connotative or denotative. The former happens when the writer reflects what is suggested to him/her by the object presented to the reader, independently of whether s/he adjusts the description to reality. Literary writing is characterised amongst other things, by connotative description, in which subjective sensations are transmitted. The latter happens when the author adopts an impartial attitude towards what s/he describes; limiting himself or herself to carefully detail the characteristics which best define the object. Scientific writing, for example, is distinguished by its denotative or objective descriptions, due to the universal character that science possesses.
However, the frontiers between these text types are not clear-cut, and any piece of discourse can have details of each type of text. For instance, narration and description complement and combine with each other in literary works. It is impossible to narrate with brilliance and effectiveness without possessing a great sense of observation and description.
Thus, once I have cleared what expository texts are NOT, it is time for me to go on to the third section of my presentation, where I will give an account of what expository texts are, what expository texts are like as well as an account of their main characteristics.
To start with, the aim of an expository text is to present a question with the purpose of getting people to know about it and understand it. This implies having a global understanding of the question one intends to explain, and requires a step-by-step development of the ideas behind it. It is the opposite of “synthesis” which is a condensing of content to a minimum, reducing something to the fundamental. In addition, it is worthwhile underlying that exposition is fundamentally written text including manuals, reports, newspaper articles, academic exams, essays, scientific and specialized texts etc. However, one can also find oral Expository texts like for instance talks, speeches and reports on many different matters.
Depending on the type of audience to whom the text is addressed to and the author’s intentions, two types of expository texts can be distinguished: factual mode and specialized mode. On the one hand, in the so-called factual mode (also called general) the author informs in the clearest and most objective way on a topic of general interest. It is aimed at a wide audience, reflected in the clarity of the terms used. On the other hand, the specialized mode requires a particular knowledge of a science or scientific field on the audience’s part. Today, this type of writing is very popular due to the progress in sciences. For this reason, it is also named as “Scientific Exposition” as opposed to simply Exposition.
Both types of expository texts share some characteristics. First, it is said that in both cases, the author goes straight into the subject, perhaps with a brief explanation of why the topic is being addressed. In addition, the second characteristic is that in both types of texts, great care is taken to present the content in a logical way, starting from a central idea and continuing with evidence or examples. This may be done in one of two ways, either deductively or inductively: In the case of deductive expository texts, an explanation is provided giving general information and gradually moving on to more specific information. An inductive exposition, however, supplies cases or samples from which a general conclusion is arrived at.
According to classical guidelines, expository texts will follow three main steps: introduction, development and conclusion, which will be structured in different paragraphs. However, the structure is not always the same, as we will see later on. One may start from the end to continue with the development of the process which is meant to be explained. The election of the chronological and logical order depends on the author’s communicative intention.
The introduction presents the concept to be explained. It may also inform about the main objectives, temporal and spatial setting, bibliography…The development may involve several paragraphs. Finally, we get to the conclusion, which is a summary of all the information given about the subject. It usually reflects the author’s position with respect to the issue.
Expository texts offer rigorous information on the most diverse topics, in clear, precise language; these texts, in which objectivity prevails over aesthetics, tend to use simple structures. On the one hand, these texts can be analytic, in which a main idea is presented and is then demonstrated or corroborated with data. For example, a text of this type would be for instance on how harmful smoking can be to our health corroborated with different illnesses and pathologies. On the other hand, an expository text can follow a synthetic structure, in which the content is presented in such a way that the final idea concludes or is deduced from the previous ones. An example of this could be for instance a text dealing with health problems derived from smoking ending with the deduced idea that smoking is bad for our health. Finally, an expository text can conclude with the last idea reaffirming what was presented at the beginning. This type of structure is called inset. An example of this kind of text would be, for instance, an exposition starting with the idea that “money helps, but does not bring happiness” giving reasons for it and concluding with this same idea, either with these words or different ones.
It is also important to take into account the kind of syntax, lexis and lexical pattern found in expository texts. The syntactic structure of a text should adapt itself to the character of expository texts. Thus, statements of an explanatory character are frequent, as they facilitate communication and understanding of the message. An example of this would be the use of clarifying sentences like “as it is well-known” “such is the case of”, “that is to say” etc.
On the other hand, specific lexis is used, depending on the subject matter and the level of the audience. In expository texts, terms used should not be ambiguous but rather denotative, as the exposition of ideas must be precise and not confusing. Although connotation may appear at times in authoritative texts, it may not in scientific essays since they communicate results and are not subjected to opinions. It is worthwhile mentioning that scientific and technical texts normally belong to the text types of exposition and argumentation, characterized for having their own terminology. In this century, scientific and technical terminology is abundant and complex, enriching the language more and more. In addition, expository texts are very fond of synonymy and anaphoric reference since both phenomena avoid repeating unnecessary terms.
It is important to pay attention to the words used to enhance the effectiveness of the exposition: declarative verbs such as explain, clarify, define or classify; adversative, summative or causal connectors; and specific syntactic structures, and so on. Connectors play an essential role in expository texts since they reflect cohesion within the discourse and show a logical development of the discussion.
Finally, I am going to move on to my last section, in which I will highlight the importance of teaching how to write expository texts. When learning a foreign language it is really important to learn how to write in that language, and to be aware of the writing patterns of the language, as these may vary from one language to another. It is important, moreover, to guide our learners through the process of writing. They should be provided with samples of each type of text, which should be broken down to pieces and analysed before asking them to produce their own texts. Expository texts are really useful in order to help students express themselves in an objective way using a particular kind of language. We should not ask our students to write expositions about topics they are not familiar with, as they will not be able to write coherently about something they do not know well. Moreover, we can provide them with some ideas about which they can write. Expository writing may be a useful way to help our students organize and clarify their own ideas. Moreover, by asking them to write about certain topics, we will make them reflect on them, and that may be a way of educating them. For instance, we may ask our students to write about the consequences of taking drugs or alcohol, the importance of rejecting violence and any other controversial topics that help them become aware of some moral and ethic issues. We can’t forget that our task as teachers is not only teaching a foreign language, but educating our pupils, making them grow up into responsible and open-minded adults.
To sum up, in this topic I have dealt with the expository text, its structure and characteristics. I have divided my presentation into four different sections. In my first section I have explained what has to be taken into account in order to say that a certain stretch of language is a text. In my second section I have presented the main text types in order to establish what expository texts are not. My third section has been about the expository text itself, its main structures and characteristics. Finally, in my last section I have reflected upon the importance of expository texts when teaching a foreign language.