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Using Supporting Details In An Essay

Using Supporting Details In An Essay





Using Supporting Details In An Essay

















































supporting detail (composition and speech)

By Richard Nordquist. Grammar & Composition Expert

Richard Nordquist, Ph.D. in English, is professor emeritus of rhetoric and English at Armstrong Atlantic State University and the author of two grammar and composition textbooks for college freshmen, Writing Exercises (Macmillan) and Passages: A Writer's Guide (St. Martin's Press). Richard has served as the Guide to Grammar & Composition since 2006.

Updated February 13, 2016.


Depending on a number of factors (including topic. purpose. and audience ), supporting details may be drawn from research or the personal experience of the writer or speaker.

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Even "the smallest detail," says Barry Lane, "can open up a new way of seeing the subject" (Writing as a Road to Self-Discovery ).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples of Supporting Details in Paragraphs

Examples and Observations

  • "Good writers provide sufficient details such as examples, facts, quotations. and definitions to support their ideas. Writers use this information, known as supporting detail. to explain, clarify, or illustrate their main points. Without such specific material, a writer's ideas remain abstract and unconvincing. Experienced writers try, whenever possible, to show rather than simply tell their readers what their ideas mean."
    (Peter S. Gardner, New Directions: Reading, Writing, and Critical Thinking. 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, 2005)

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  • Supporting Details in a Paragraph on Solitary Prison Cells
    "Supermax prisons are exactingly designed to kill souls. A solitary cell (referred to as the 'hole' or the 'box') is typically between seventy and eighty square feet, and prisoners are kept alone in them for twenty-three hours a day, with one hour alone in a 'yard' barely twice the size of the cell and a shower perhaps three times a week. Practically all human contact is mediated by bars, mesh or manacles, and many cells are windowless, with an inmate’s exposure to the world outside the cell limited to the door slots through which food is passed by the gloved hands of jailers, often in the form of 'the loaf,' a disgusting pressed amalgam of pulverized food. Cells are, in most cases, deliberately colorless (any 'aesthetic' ingredient is considered an inappropriate privilege in an environment that seeks to level all distinctions to the basest level) and are built--bunks and all--from bare concrete; the only furnishing is a stainless steel toilet-and-sink combo positioned to deny privacy. The lighting is never turned off."
    (Michael Sorkin, "Drawing the Line." The Nation. September 16, 2013)
  • Supporting Details in a Paragraph on Baby Boomers
    "The truth is our generation was spoiled rotten from the start. We spent the entire 1950s on our butts in front of the television while Mom fed us Twinkies and Ring Dings through strawberry Flavor Straws and Dad ransacked the toy stores looking for hundred-mile-an-hour streamlined Schwinns, Daisy air howitzers, Lionel train sets larger than the New York Central system, and other novelties to keep us amused during the few hours when Pinky Lee and My Friend Flicka weren't on the air."
    (P.J. O'Rourke, "The 1987 Stock Market Crash." Age and Guile, Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995)
  • Supporting Details in a Paragraph on Segregation
    "In practice, of course, the 'separate but equal' doctrine perpetuated an oppressive and humiliating reality. To express the judgment that African Americans were inferior and that white people needed to be protected from their contaminating presence, black people were consigned to the back of the bus, directed to use distinct drinking fountains and telephone booths, excluded altogether from white schools and hospitals, permitted to visit zoos and museums only on certain days, confined to designated areas in courtrooms, and sworn in as witnesses using racially differentiated Bibles. Under segregation, white people routinely declined to bestow courtesy titles such as 'Mr.' or 'Mrs.' on black people, referring to them simply as 'boy' or 'girl,' regardless of age. Stores prohibited African Americans from trying on clothes before purchase. Telephone directories marked black residents by placing 'col' (for colored) in parentheses next to their names. Newspapers refused to carry notices for black weddings."
    (Randall Kennedy, "The Civil Rights Act's Unsung Victory." Harper's. June 2014)
  • Rachel Carson's Use of Supporting Details
    "For the first time in the history of the world, every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death. In the less than two decades of their use, the synthetic pesticides have been so thoroughly distributed throughout the animate and inanimate world that they occur virtually everywhere. They have been recovered from most of the major river systems and even from streams of groundwater flowing unseen through the earth. Residues of these chemicals linger in soil to which they may have been applied a dozen years before. They have entered and lodged in the bodies of fish, birds, reptiles, and domestic and wild animals so universally that scientists carrying on animal experiments find it almost impossible to locate subjects free from such contamination. They have been found in fish in remote mountain lakes, in earthworms burrowing in soil, in the eggs of birds--and in man himself. For these chemicals are now stored in the bodies of the vast majority of human beings, regardless. of age. They occur in the mother's milk, and probably in the tissues of the unborn child."
    (Rachel Carson, Silent Spring. Houghton Mifflin, 1962)
  • The Purpose of Supporting Details
    "Once you have constructed a topic sentence made up of the topic and its controlling idea, you are ready to support your statement with details. The quality and number of these details will largely determine the effectiveness of the writing. "As you choose your supporting details. keep in mind that the readers do not necessarily have to agree with your point of view. However, your supporting details must be good enough to make your readers at least respect your attitude. Your goal should be to educate your readers. Try to give them some understanding of your subject. Don't assume they know about your topic or are interested in it. If you provide enough specific details your readers will feel they have learned something new about the subject, and this alone is a satisfying experience for most people. Effective supporting details will encourage readers to keep on reading."
    (Sandra Scarry and John Scarry, The Writer's Workplace With Readings: Building College Writing Skills. 7th ed. Wadsworth, 2011)
  • Organizing Supporting Details in a Paragraph
    "Each body paragraph should contain only one main idea, and no detail or example should be in a paragraph if it doesn't support the topic sentence or help to transition from one paragraph to another.

    "[H]ere's the way to organize a paragraph: Topic sentence

    First supporting detail or example

    Second supporting detail or example

    Third supporting detail or example

    Concluding or transitional sentence You should have several details to support each topic sentence. If you find that you have little to say after writing the topic sentence, ask yourself what details or examples will make your reader believe that the topic sentence is true for you."
    (Paige L. Wilson and Teresa Ferster Glazier, The Least You Should Know about English, Form B. 10th ed. Wadsworth, 2009)
  • Selective Supporting Details
    "Select details carefully. Good storytelling requires the purposeful selection of details. Some beginning writers include either the wrong details or more details than the effective relating of the event requires. In your narrative writing you should select details that help you to convey to your readers the point of your essay. This is what [George] Orwell did in the passage from "A Hanging" [paragraphs 9 and 10]. The detail of the condemned man avoiding the puddle of water related to Orwell's purpose in telling the story and to the meaning he saw in it."
    (Morton A. Miller, Reading and Writing Short Essays. Random House, 1980)
  • Unity in Paragraphs and Essays

    Supporting Details

    To introduce supporting details.

    To explain how to provide details that support the topic sentence.

    To explain how to provide supporting details that are relevant to the audience and purpose of the paper (e.g. arguing, persuading, comparing, etc.)

    This packet should help a learner seeking to understand how to structure a paper and who is confused about how to write effective supporting details. It will explain how to write supporting details that are appropriate to the audience and purpose of the paper.

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    Supporting Details: Prove it!

    If you make a statement, you need to support it.

    You want people to believe what you are saying or writing, so you need to back it up with proof. In an essay or paper, this is what supporting details do for you.

    When you are writing about something, you often start with a general statement, then back it up with specifics that are the proof that your original statement is valid or correct. These are your supporting details.

    Once you have established what your paper is all about, you have a thesis; now you need to explain yourself in a way that leaves no room for doubt that you are correct. You will want your paper to be organized and easy to read, so you will create paragraphs that contain topic sentences. For each topic—which is a general statement that conveys one of the main ideas of your paper—you will want to include at least two details that strongly support what you are claiming in that topic sentence.

    Supporting details should be convincing.

    Facts alone do not make a paper worth reading. Statistics help to strengthen a claim, so it’s always good to add some when you can; however, you don’t want to rely completely on numbers to explain what you are talking about.

    You want your reader to be intrigued, even moved, by what you are claiming. So include examples to help us understand what you are saying, to help us imagine what it means in concrete terms. Tell us a story from your own experience, or make something up that illustrates your point. Tell us what other well-known and widely trusted people and groups have said about the same thing.

    Because we need to know if what you are giving us is reliable information, you must always cite your sources. Let us know you used a reliable source, and tell us where to go if we want to look it up for ourselves.

    Finally, don’t include details that do nothing to support the topic. Your job is to convince us that something is true, so everything you say beyond the topic sentence should lend direct, strong support to that sentence.

    Supporting Details: Definition & Examples

    Find out what supporting details are and their role in essay writing. Learn the different ways to include supporting details, then take a quiz to test your new skills.

    Supporting Details

    Supporting details provide the information that supports the topic sentence. You can create supporting details with descriptions, examples, reasons, explanations and comparisons.

    The details you use to support your topic sentences depends somewhat on the development strategy (persuasive, compare/contrast, narrative, expository, etc.) that you're using. Are you writing a narrative or descriptive essay? Make your paragraphs come alive with details. A persuasive essay? Use plenty of facts and evidence. You may end up combining several types of supporting details.

    Description & Examples

    Descriptive details will expand on the main idea in your topic sentence. Describe the colors, smells, textures and size of things. If your topic sentence claims that a fire was particularly damaging, you would include the color and size of the flames, the smoke, the smell of burning materials, etc. Description can include emotional details as well. Describe your feelings or the feelings others described.

    Examples support topic sentences like evidence supports an argument. If you say that your car is in disrepair, give some examples. Is the engine barely running? Does it burn oil? Or, are you referring to the interior with exposed springs? Examples can also be shown with an anecdote. which are brief stories that illustrate the main idea in your topic sentence.


    Let's say you're writing a compare/contrast essay about two brands of e-book readers. If your topic sentence says that one has an easy-to-read home page, you might discuss the font sizes and screen colors and follow with what's lacking on the other brand's home page. If your topic sentence states that they're similar in many ways, show the many ways and not just one or two.

    Reasons & Explanations

    Use reasons to support your opinions. If your main idea is about places to do homework, and you have a topic sentence stating that you feel comfortable in a particular coffee shop, include the reasons. Is it the lighting? The music? Also, if you dislike something, be prepared to include the reasons if you want your claim to be effective.

    Explanations focus on clarifying an idea for readers who are unfamiliar with the topic. For example, if your topic is about taxes, and your topic sentence is about tax increment financing, you would include an explanation of what that is.

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