How Do I Support Ideas With Examples

Support Ideas With Examples: Finding the Right Balance

Excellent question. A well-executed paper is simultaneously thorough and succinct. Finding the right balance between evidence and analysis is the key to keeping your paragraphs short and focused. This question about how to support ideas with examples in your work:

Dear Tori,

My professor keeps telling me that I need to support my ideas with more examples. How can I do that without making my paragraphs too long? He also says that my paragraphs shouldn’t take up more than half of the page or so. Please help! 🙁

I personally tend to approach papers as an exploratory process. I start out with a vague idea for my main argument, but don’t have a strong thesis statement when I start writing. I try to think of every single example that’s even vaguely relevant to my (weak) starting thesis. Everything. No example is too mundane or too obvious for a first draft. The first draft is more like a list of examples.

Then, looking at my examples, I arrange them into the groups that look like they could work as my initial paragraphs. I let each paragraph be a mess of examples, linked only by my understanding of them as relevant to my initial thesis statement. I’m keeping my vague thesis argument in mind, but I’m also allowing my first draft to have excess examples. I indulge tangents, or quotations that only kind of support my argument, because I know this rough draft is only the first of many.

How do you find that balance, though?

As I go back and edit myself, I write one or two sentences after each example, explaining how that example is relevant to my thesis statement. Each draft brings me closer to an understanding of what argument I actually want to make with my examples, and helps me rearrange my mess of examples into thematic groups that more closely resemble paragraphs.

When my examples have been adequately explained and grouped thematically, it’s easy to spot those paragraphs that are more than half a page long. These paragraphs should be teeming with evidence, but they probably lack focus. Some examples may be redundant. Some examples might belong in another paragraph. And some examples, sadly, might just not belong in the paper at all. As hard as it is after the hours of work that have gone into drafting the paper at this point, some examples will have to be deleted altogether. You can’t write everything about everything.

My approach to paper-writing is a messy, multi-draft process. And it definitely requires you to start your paper well in advance. But the process of discovery is something I’ve always found very rewarding.

If you don’t have the time to set each draft aside for a couple of hours before diving back in for another rewrite (or you don’t have the patience for a paper-writing process that takes a few days), there are still some basic rules you can follow to get those paragraphs densely packed with examples.

  1. Keep your sentences short.
  2. Only make one argument per paragraph.
  3. Don’t let any assertion within your paragraph go without evidence. (Evidence should come in the form of an example and an explanation of the relevance of that example.)
  4. Don’t repeat yourself.

When thinking about packing enough evidence into a short paragraph, keep in mind the overall structure of your paper. One way to remind yourself of structure is to think in terms of arguments. Each paragraph should be a main argument to advance your thesis. And each paragraph should contain enough evidence to make that argument convincing. Each piece of evidence comes in the form of a little sub-argument, in the form of an example and a sentence or two of analysis linking that example back to your argument. An argument isn’t convincing if it only has one or two pieces of supporting evidence. You need at least two examples per paragraph. More examples make for a stronger argument.

But you need to keep in mind that you shouldn’t be throwing in examples, willy-nilly. Your examples should relate to your argument in a pertinent way. Remember to follow each example with no more than two sentences explaining the relevance of the example to the argument you’re making in that paragraph. You should have two or three examples per paragraph before you transition to your next argument (and start a new paragraph).

As you’re drafting, remember that a professional editor. I’m not just saying this because I’m a professional editor… it helps to have a friend read over your paper with a critical eye, asking questions like “how?” and “where?” and “why?” whenever your friend is confused about how you reached your argument, you need more examples. If your friend never has any questions, then your argument isn’t complex enough.

And, if all else fails, you can always hire a professional editor. We know just what questions to ask, and we’re happy to help you find your voice.


Questions? Comments? Concerns? Feel free to comment below. Or, if you have a completely unrelated question you’d like answered, just ask an editor and tap out “Dear Tori” in the subject line and you’ll see your answer in a future blog post!

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