Text: Support and Elaboration

Support and elaboration consist of the specific details and information writers use to develop their topics. The key to developing support and elaboration is getting specific. Good writers use concrete, specific details, and relevant information to construct mental images for their readers. Without this attention to detail, readers struggle to picture what the writer is talking about, and will often give up altogether.

Two important concepts in support and elaboration are sufficiency and relatedness.

Sufficiency refers to the amount of detail — is there enough detail to support the topic? Good writers supply their readers with sufficient details to comprehend what they have written. In narrative writing, this means providing enough descriptive details for the readers to construct a picture of the story in their minds. In essay writing, this means the author finds enough information to support a thesis, and also finding information that is credible and accurate.

Sufficiency, however, is not enough. The power of information is determined less by the quantity of details than by their quality.

Relatedness refers to the quality of the details and their relevance to the topic. Good writers select only the details that will support their focus, deleting irrelevant information. In narrative writing, details should be concrete: they contribute to, rather than detract from, the picture provided by the narrative. In essay writing, information should be relevant to the writer’s goal and strengthen the writer’s ability to meet that goal.

Image of a car emerging through a square set at an angle to the viewer. The front end of the car, outside the square, is a photo-real image of a Renault. The back end, on the other side of the square, is a line drawing of the back part of the car.

Show, don’t tell: support and elaboration in narrative writing

Many writers work under the advice to “Show, don’t tell.” Good writers help their readers imagine the story by describing the action, providing sensory descriptions, and explaining characters’ thoughts and feelings. Poets are especially adept at using precise details to focus on specific, concrete, observable things or experiences.

Some ways that writers “show, don’t tell” include the following:

  • Description of action. Just as slow-motion replay helps television viewers understand the action in a sporting event, good writers can slow down a moment, breaking down an event into a moment-by-moment replay of the action.
  • Description of physical states. Good writers use sensory details to show readers what things in their story look like, sound like, smell like, taste like, and feel like. Similes and metaphors can also help readers construct a picture by comparing the object being described to something they know well.
  • Descriptions of internal states. Books have an advantage over movies because they let the reader inside the characters’ thoughts and feelings. Good writers also use dialogue to reveal a character’s personality, internal thoughts, and feelings and to provide background information about the story.

Finding the right information: support and elaboration in expository writing

Information is the key to developing support and elaboration in the expository (essay) genres — informational, critical, and argumentative writing. While writers of narratives can often rely solely on their own observations and inner resources to develop their writing, writers of expository genres have to look outside themselves for the information they need to develop their writing. As a result, in expository writing, authors need the ability to find and use relevant information: facts, statistics, examples, and anecdotes. Research, evaluation, and notetaking skills are vital for expository writers.