What Is Composition? Definition, Types, and Examples

A composition, which derives from the Latin “to bring together,” refers to how a writer puts words and phrases together to produce a text that is both cohesive and meaningful. The composition may also refer to the writing process, the subject matter of writing, the writing itself, or the name of a college course a student must take. This article focuses on writing exercises.

Key Takeaways

  • Composition in writing refers to the way a writer organizes a text.
  • Description, narration, exposition, and argumentation are the four types of writing defined in the late 19th century.
  • Multimodal compositional features may be found in good literature.

Composition Definition

A writer, like a musician or an artist, determines the tone of a composition according to its intended purpose, making choices about what that tone should be to create a structure. Anything may be expressed via writing, from ardent rage to the use of cold rationality. A piece of writing could use clear, concise language, floral descriptions, or analytical terminology.

English authors and educators have been debating how to categorize forms and styles of writing since the 19th century so that beginning writers would have a place to start. Description, Narration, Exposition, and Argumentation are the four literary genres that rhetoricians settled on after decades of debate. These genres still dominate Composition 101 college courses.

Types of Composition Writing 

Description, narration, exposition, and argumentation are the four traditional writing styles; they are not always categories. They are best regarded as writing modes or individual styles that may be merged and used to make a whole since they would seldom stand alone in a piece of writing. In other words, they may provide information for a piece of writing and serve as solid foundations for learning how to organize a piece of writing.

The famous line “A rose is a rose” from the American poet Gertrude Stein’s 1913 poem “Sacred Emily” is the basis for examples of each of the composition styles listed below.


A description, also known as descriptive writing, is a claim or narrative that gives a reader a verbal portrait of something or someone by enumerating distinguishing qualities and essential details. As a depiction of a person, place, or thing in time, descriptions are grounded in the tangible, realism, or solidity of an item. They give you as many details as you want while giving them the appearance and feel of actual objects.

The color of the petals, the scent of the rose’s perfume, the location of the rose in your garden, and whether it is in a simple clay pot or a hothouse in the city are all ways to describe a rose.

A description of “Sacred Emily” can discuss the poem’s length, composition, and publication dates. It can list Stein’s illustrations or discuss how she employs alliteration and repetition.


A narration, also known as narrative writing, is a personal tale the author tells the reader. It may explain a set of facts or events presented in chronological order and make connections between the various phases. It may even be theatrical, allowing you to depict each scenario with dialogue and movements. You might insert flashbacks or follow the sequence strictly.

A rose’s story can include how you first saw it, how it ended up in your garden, or why you went to the greenhouse that particular day.

A “Sacred Emily” narrative might describe how you came across the poem, such as in a class or a friend’s loaned book, or you could describe how you looked into the origin of the phrase “a rose is a rose” online.


A person, place, object, or event is expounded upon or explained in an exposition, also known as expository writing. Instead of merely describing something, your goal should be to give it a reality, an interpretation, or your beliefs about what it means. In some ways, you are formulating a proposal to clarify your topic’s overarching idea or abstract concept.

An explanation of a rose could include its classification, scientific and colloquial names, who created it, the results of its public release, and how it was spread.

An explanation of “Sacred Emily” may include the setting in which Stein wrote her residence, her influences, and the book’s effect on critics.


An argumentation, also known as argumentative writing, tests one’s ability to compare and contrast. It is the logical or formal presentation of opposing arguments utilizing a methodical approach. The conclusion is constructed to justify why item A is superior to object B. The substance of your arguments is what you mean by “better.”

A rose could be the subject of an argument over why one rose is superior to another, why you choose roses over daisies or vice versa.

Arguments against “Sacred Emily” could compare it to other poems by Stein or poems that deal with the same subject matter.

The Value of Composition

In the 1970s and 1980s, there was much discussion in college theoretical rhetoric as academics sought to escape what they saw as the constricting conventions of these four writing forms. They continue to be a staple of several collegiate writing courses.

These four traditional forms provide beginner writers with a basis for building a concept and a technique to intentionally influence their writing. They could, however, also be restrictive. Use the conventional forms of composition as a guide to help you improve your writing, but keep in mind that they should only be seen as beginning points rather than strict guidelines.

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