Since school, I was always familiar with the definition of: an opening or an introduction to something (e.g. a story).


Only yesterday, I found out that there's a totally different definition for it: "a clear and full explanation of an idea or theory."


What's peculiar here is that both definitions from two different dictionaries are totally different(?)

More specifically, in the context of reviewing a paper, what does it mean: "Clarity of Exposition?" Does it refer only to the introduction or the full explanation of an idea or theory? They probably mean clarity of presentation (of the full paper).

  • Don't they both mention explain or explanation? Cambridge secondarily says that an exposition is a show, convention, expo. With a shoresh of expose, meaning show, exposition is explaining (to show and persuade) and presenting a gala show. Dec 5, 2020 at 23:30
  • In the first, it means an opening or an introduction to something. In the second, it means a clear and full explanation of an idea or theory.
    – Zohar Levi
    Dec 6, 2020 at 7:22
  • Cambridge starts with "a setting forth of the meaning or purpose (as of a writing)". I would call setting an idea forward to be presenting that idea—a presentation. A fancy exhibit is a presentation, too. In real life, though, I hear expository writing to mean persuasive material, while exposition is reserved to mean an event ("the Eiffel Tower during the 1889 Exposition"). Dec 6, 2020 at 13:59
  • 1
    @Yosef Baskin, actually, exposition comes from exposit, which is different from expose and gives a better interpretation to exposition.
    – Zohar Levi
    Dec 23, 2020 at 20:16
  • 2
    @Yosef Baskin I am not familiar with the word "shoresh" which you use and italicize in your comment above. What is the meaning of this word, please? An online search suggests that this is a Hebrew word meaning "root". Normally non-English words should not be used in answers or comments here on ELL, except when one is writing about such words and how they are used in English, or have influenced English. Of course English has famously adopted a great many words from other languages, and those can and should be used or mentioned when appropriate. Mar 21, 2023 at 17:30

1 Answer 1


I would think exposition can have distinct specialized meanings not to be confused with each other:

  1. In Literature, the meaning you're familiar with (see Cambridge dictionary):

    Exposition in a written work is the passages which explain where events take place, what happened before the story begins, and the background of the characters.

  2. In Scholarly work (from Cambridge dictionary):

    a clear and full explanation of an idea or theory

    Example (from Cambridge English Corpus):

    Both writers' works contain expositions of the theory of justification by faith alone, a doctrine the king abhorred.

  3. In Music (from Merriam-Webster meaning 2b), the meaning I'm familiar with, where in the exposition section we can hear the theme of the sonata / fugue very clearly after which the theme is fragmented / transposed / inverted / rearranged / recombined / etc. in the subsequent development section (see this video explaining the Sonata Form):

    (1): the first part of a musical composition in sonata form in which the thematic material of the movement is presented

    (2): the opening section of a fugue

  4. In Rubric for reviewing a paper (Source), which is your question, one criteria of evaluation is:

    Clarity of Exposition & Definitions: Do you understand the concepts and use them properly? Have you clearly explained the issues at hand?

  5. In Business (usually shortened to "expo"):

    a show in which industrial goods, works of art, etc. are shown to the public

  6. Etc.

From the above, it seems all meanings share 2 elements: clarity of presentation and explanation of idea.

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