Developing Your Ideas

Is your essay too short? Has the instructor asked you to "develop" or expand on points in your paper? Are you not sure what else you can say about your topic? It's possible you need to do some more research so you'll have more material to include—you can visit a research librarian to help you find more sources. More than likely, though, you need to say more about the points you're already making. But don't simply repeat or add fluffy language to reach your page count. Your instructors want to see you provide depth and analysis about your topic. This handout provides various strategies for developing your thoughts, giving you more rich material to write about.

Types of Development

  • Details: Ask yourself the Five W’s and How: Who? Where? What? When? Why? and How? Be specific and thorough.

Peter, an overly anxious person, sat trembling in the old decrepit gymnasium on the coldest of fall mornings, awaiting the ACT—a test he know he needed to do well on to enter college.

  • Amplification: Expand a previous idea by sticking with it in subsequent sentences:

College is frustrating. It takes a lot of time and energy. However, students continue to apply.

  • Appealing to Emotion: What images, ideas, events, and memories do you want to trigger in your readers’ mind?

The fact remains—a student drops out of high school every 26 seconds in the U.S. (“11 Facts About High School Dropout Rates”).

  • Analysis: To develop your argument, reflect on the significance of quotes, facts, ideas, and broader claims you are making. Ask yourself, “What does this quote or idea or statistic really mean? Why did I include it or think it important to my point?"

The Reds' baseball home opener drew in countless spectators—a sea of red. Yet why Cincinnati? Historically, professional baseball players were quite invested in their communities, much like Cincinnati is known by its neighborhoods today.

  • Citing Authority: What major authority figures (e.g. scholars, book editors, politicians, scientists) will support your argument?

The surgeon general claims…

  • Analogy: Make an argument based on the similarity of one thing to another.

Applying for graduate school is like searching for a partner: it’s a courtship. You need to work at it, remaining patient. Research the school online; schedule a visit, meet with a professor or student in person. You will find your match eventually.

  • Qualification: Cover all your bases. Especially if you are making a new or bold argument that goes against the trend, you want to qualify what you are saying to limit your reader’s interpretations (that is, so they don’t take your ideas out of context).

I by no means want to suggest that all teachers lack organizational skills.

  • Application: Readers often like to imagine or consider what you are saying in practice.

If an athlete were to apply Dr. X’s theory to athletic training practices, she would find it quite difficult to actually perform Dr. X's theoretical ideas in a real-world context.

Strategies

  • Talking It Out. Sometimes you just need to “bounce ideas back and forth” with someone. Consider asking a classmate or friend if you can “talk out” your argument. You will be surprised just how helpful it can be to articulate your ideas out loud. Howe Writing Center consultants are specially trained to help with this "back and forth" of ideas—consider making an appointment to practice this strategy.
  • Diagramming. Especially if you are trying to add more detail to your writing, make a list of as many descriptions, ideas, or sources (even if only books or articles you want to read at a later point). Who/What are the key figures in a debate? What are the most essential elements of your story?
  • Free Writing. Without worrying about grammar or organization, “free write” about a topic for 10-15 minutes. Just write down whatever comes to mind, even if your sentences feel fragmented. Reread your writing. Pick out a sentence or idea and write about that for another 10-15 minutes. Continue reading and writing to see how far your free-flowing ideas can take you.
  • Looking to Models. Look up an academic article or another piece of writing typical of your field of study or current type of project (many articles found through the library databases work well). How are other scholars/writers developing their ideas? How do they back their claims?
  • Interviewing. There are of course multiple types of “sources” (e.g. books, articles, digital media, as well as people). To develop your ideas on a specific topic—especially if your research is new and cutting edge—interviewing to gain insight can glean quite productive results. Remember to get permission from anyone you interview to use their words (also remember to follow university protocol for ethical research practices).
  • Researching (Internet and Library Resources). While a “Google search” is often an appropriate starting point, the library databases contain countless articles and research data you can access to give your paper authority and depth. Don't hesitate to contact a librarian or make an appointment with the Howe Writing Center for help with this strategy.