Your topic sentences indicate the major support areas for your thesis, and the guide sentences show how you can develop each paragraph. Still, your paper is far from complete. While you've opened up your main idea to expose its parts, you have yet to get down to giving the specifics, the precise details that will help your reader feel the full weight of your thought. You must show the foundation of specific evidence that your general ideas are built upon. The following suggestions for paragraph development will help you coax forth details that will make your writing solid and substantial.
Give an Example
Examples allow readers to see, touch, hear, taste, and feel the actual stuff your thoughts are made of. Notice how often a paragraph will say, in the second or third sentence, "for instance" or "for example." This is how writers introduce an actual incident or object to prove or illustrate the point under discussion. The example may be a brief physical description:
I can still remember her imitation of a frog. Puffing out her cheeks and hopping around the room, she seemed almost amphibian as she croaked out a mating call.
Or even a story:
Once I'd been suspended from school for a minor infraction, which I won't go into here, and she still wanted me to turn in my tree project, but would give me no credit for it. Even so, I turned it in, doing an extra good job, and she somehow managed to give me a B for that grading period.
Either way, examples get readers involved. Examples allow readers to see, touch, hear, taste, and feel the actual stuff your thoughts are made of.
Examples are also easy to fold into your paper. You can often slip a brief example in between two guide sentences in your skeleton essay, or you can might use one or two extended examples to develop a whole paragraph.
6.10 Illustrate each of the following statements with a fictional narrative or descriptive example.
a. Dan tends to be messy.
b. The furniture was quite uncomfortable.
c. My street needs to be repaved.
d. The food looks unappetizing.
e. The trees were diseased.
6.11 Fold a brief example between two of the guide sentences in your skeleton essay.
Reason 3.2: She is demanding but fair.
Details: Once I had been suspended from school for a minor infraction, which I won't go into here, and she still wanted me to turn in my tree project, but would give me no credit for it. Even so, I turned it in, doing an extra good job, and she somehow managed to give me a B for that period.
Reason 3.3: She stresses practical application of the material.
Offer an Explanation
This kind of development offers refinement of your general principles.
Sometimes a point made in your thesis sentence, a topic sentence, or a guide sentence needs elaboration and clarification.
That is, the reader may pick up the general outline of what you're saying, but a second sentence or two may be needed before the full meaning comes across. The first two sentences of this paragraph work like that. The second one explains the first, and the next two (including this one) carry the process even further. Each sentence, after looking back at the previous one to see if it tells the whole story with perfect clarity, goes on to fill in the gaps and make the meaning more precise.
This kind of development offers refinement of your general principles. It's not unusual, therefore, to see a topic sentence followed by a brief explanation, followed by an example or illustration:
She covers taxonomy. We studied Thomas Linnaeus and his system of binomial nomenclature, learning the reasons for the system as well as the basic principles of operation, and we learned how to classify specific species by careful observation of their identifying characteristics.
Not every topic sentence or guide sentence needs further explanation, but if you've used any words that readers might have trouble with, or if readers might get only a rough idea of your real point, you could probably use a sentence or two of clarification and elaboration.
6.12 Add a brief explanatory comment to make the meaning of each of the following sentences more clear.
a. Shelley is an easy person to be with.
b. Our house can get cold in the winter.
c. This watch is quite valuable.
d. The park is dangerous at night.
e. The new prices were more reasonable.
6.13 Find a sentence in your skeleton essay that could use some clarification. Add to it a sentence or two of explanation. If possible, follow the explanation with an example.
Compare or Contrast
The thoroughness of the comparison depends upon our purpose in making it.
Seeing an object or idea alongside similar one directs our attention to points of likeness and difference. This gives us a better idea of
their distinctive and shared features. Thus, we can give a more exact understanding of what an elk is like by showing how it differs from a deer or a moose than by simply describing the elk in isolation. The thoroughness of the comparison depends upon our purpose in making it. Sometimes just a passing reference will be enough: Ice slabs floated on the river like scattered pieces of a child's jigsaw puzzle.
Other times you may want to be more thorough, devoting a full paragraph to the comparison. Either way, look for definite points of correspondence and difference. These are the foundation of your comparison. In an extended comparison, you can use these points as a basis of organization (point by point structure), moving back and forth from one item to another. Or you can discuss one item fully and then discuss the second (item by item structure), being careful to cover the same points for each. These two patterns are illustrated below:
|Point by Point Structure||Item by Item Structure|
|Point 1: item A, item B||Item A: point 1, point 2, point 3, point 4|
|Point 2: item A, item B||Item B: point 1, point 2, point 3, point 4|
|Point 3: item A, item B|
|Point 4: item A, item B|
Either pattern will work although their effects are different. Point by point emphasizes specific features. Item by item emphasizes the items as wholes. Whichever pattern you select, be sure to keep your attention, and your reader's, on specific features that provide a basis for comparison.
6.14 Use comparison or contrast to develop two of the following sentences. Use point by point organization for one and item by item for the other.
a. Snowshoeing and cross country skiing have much the same appeal.
b. My own vegetable soup is not at all like the canned variety.
c. Bicycles and motorcycles are not so different as you might think.
d. Ants and humans have more in common than most people realize.
e. Seeing a movie in a theatre is totally different from seeing it on television.
6.15 Look over the skeleton essay you've been working on and see if you can find a spot where you could use comparison to develop your ideas.
Present the Facts
Facts, like examples, show readers the concrete particulars your ideas are built on. If readers know your thoughts are drawn from careful and detailed observation, they'll take those thoughts more seriously than they would mere opinion. Two valuable kinds of details are facts and statistics. If you're in doubt about whether informal or formal documentation is best, ask your teacher.
When you use facts and statistics, be sure they're accurate and that your reader can verify them by consulting your sources or other independent sources. Nothing destroys credibility faster than a reader's belief that you're intentionally or unintentionally distorting facts.
For a fuller discussion of when and how to document, see Documenting Your Sources. Often, as in the following example, an informal reference that clearly identifies your source of information will be adequate:
According to Bob Hull, the city's new recycling coordinator, 70% of all homes are participating in the new campaign, and this has resulted in a 30% reduction in the volume of waste received at the landfill.
If you're in doubt about whether informal or formal documentation is best, ask your teacher.