Section 1.4


You must explain your ideas adequately in the body of your document; in other words, you must develop them. The reader should not have to labor to understand what you mean; rather, you — the writer — should do the work for the reader.

Thus, complex points must be allotted time and space sufficient for the reader to understand them. General statements should be supported with details and examples.

At first glance, the paragraph below may seem to contain the supporting details needed to explain its main idea, which appears in the first sentence.

The grocery store manager received a negative performance review. According to his supervisor, he had poor people skills, a bad temper, and a negative attitude.

What, however, are poor people skills? And how did the manager’s bad temper and negative attitude manifest themselves?

Now compare the paragraph below with the preceding example.

The grocery store manager received a negative performance review. According to his supervisor, when colleagues disagreed with him, he repeatedly showed an inability to compromise. In addition, he frequently exploded in rage over trivial incidents — for example, screaming at a clerk who accidentally knocked over some cans he had just stacked near the register. Finally, he regularly belittled the store’s prospects, maintaining that the supermarket on the next block would make it impossible for the store to succeed in that area.

The revised version contains concrete details and creates a more complete picture of the problem. The first paragraph did not develop its main idea; the second does.

Now, imagine you are an editor of a college newspaper, reviewing an article someone has submitted for possible publication. The article tells job applicants how to improve their job prospects. One of the body paragraphs reads as follows:

By dressing appropriately, job applicants increase their chances of finding work. In addition, a carefully edited résumé conveys professionalism.

By the second sentence of this two-sentence paragraph, the writer has prematurely abandoned the question of appropriate interview attire for a new topic: the résumé. Since the article was written for a college paper, we can assume that the audience consists of inexperienced job seekers. Therefore, the writer needs to explain very specifically what appropriate attire entails, from ties and suits to shoes and jewelry.

Only when the writer has clarified some of these sartorial details can he or she then move on to the question of résumé editing.