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Within a scholarly context, an exposition is the process through which the writer develops his ideas and communicates them to the reader in a coherent way. Within a narrative context, exposition refers to the development of background or key themes that will be foundation for the further progression of the narrative. What both of these usages clearly have in common is the basic concept of systematic development.


Exposition is a literary device which is used to introduce background information in a story or piece of writing. This information may concern fictional characters, events, settings, or environmental or historical facts that relate to the plot or action in some way. Exposition is derived from the Latin explicates meaning explanation or literally “showing forth.” Exposition is an essential part of any story, for words taken out of context can have very different meanings than an author or speaker may have intended. Methods of providing exposition may vary, but include monologues dialogues, and discourse; in-universe media such as reports, journals, newspaper articles, and letters; or thoughts of the protagonists, antagonist, narrator, or other characters. Exposition is one of the four rhetorical modes of communication (the other three are argumentation, description, and narration). The first known use of exposition was in the 14th century.

Examples of exposition

Exposition is often used in literature, creative writing, and film in order to convey information to the audience without demonstrating or including every detail of the past or a previous event for character or scene development. In plays, the first section of the play is often exposition, in the form of notes for the producers or actors, or in the form of a monologue or dialogue between one or more characters which serves to set the scene and often the conflict. For example, in Shakepeare’s Othello, the opening scene is a furious argument between the characters of Iago and Roderigo concerning the imminent death of Othello. The exposition, or argument, serves to make Iago’s dark, scheming nature obvious; reveal the main conflict of the play (Iago’s bitterness toward Othello due to a lack of promotion); and introduce the themes of racism and equality that are present in the play. Additionally, the end of Act I in Othello includes expositional details about Othello that make his character clear to the audience.

Exposition is necessary throughout literature and art, as well as in everyday life. Exposition is necessary everywhere from your local coffees shop proprietor and a description of the available coffees that morning to the instructions on how to install software onto your tablet or smartphone. Exposition is, if anything, even more necessary in modern times than it was before the advent of technology and the Internet. Exposition allows us to learn about new techniques, ideas, and processes much more quickly than we might without the background provided by how-to websites and web documents.


In universities and learning institutions, exposition is used to provide background and context for research papers, examination essay questions, and other academic documents. Because knowledge is so abundant and information floods our everyday lives, exposition is necessary in order for us to quantify and categorize information in a useful way.

Successful writers have a special talent related to exposition; after all, the beginning of an article, paper, or blog must hook the reader in or compel the reader to continue reading. In this way, exposition is the primary resource and initial requirement for excellent writing, regardless of the topic or story being told. Good exposition relates the necessary information, but not too much, and taps into the interests and thoughts of the targeted readership.

Expositional skills are necessary across many fields of writing, from entertainment writing (plays and film scripts) to academic writing (research paper backgrounds) to informational writing (blogs and how-to web articles) to healthcare writing (medicine instructions and possible side effects). Exposition is also a necessary talent for good public speaking, as the audience must understand the context of a speech, comment, or joke in order to find a speech interesting. Part of exposition is learning and researching a topic, and the resulting piece of writing or speech directly affects the amount of effort put into the expositional process before the writing is even complete.

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