Developing Your Essay

Help! My essay is only two pages long, but it is supposed to be four pages.  What should I do?

The first instinct of many writers in this situation is to begin to babble or go off on a tangent for a paragraph or two.  Unfortunately this almost always annoys the instructor who assigns a low grade as a result. 

Rule #1: Don't Babble.

Instead of adding an extra paragraph that doesn't contribute much content to your discussion you may want to consider developing the paragraphs that you already have.

Four Ways to Develop Paragraphs

Give Every Body Paragraph a Topic Sentence

It is often a good idea to begin the paragraphs in the body of your essay with a one sentence statement about what the paragraph is about.  This not only helps the reader understand where the essay is going, but it helps the writer stay focused and helps eliminate babbling. (See example below.)

Discuss Only One Major Idea per Paragraph

Many times longer paragraphs that contain more than one major idea can be split into separate paragraphs and further elaborated on.  Search your paragraphs for main ideas; if you find more than one major idea in a paragraph, weed it out, plant it into a new paragraph, and develop it in its own right.  Sometimes two main ideas clash in one paragraph, and at other times, you may find two main ideas complementing each other.  In either case, if the ideas are important enough to elaborate on, you can separate them into their individual paragraphs.

Insert an Example into Each Paragraph

One of the best ways to explain a point is to provide a specific example.  Almost every paragraph can use one.  It is often useful to follow up the example with a brief discussion or explanation of the example. (See example below.)

Conclude each paragraph with an answer to the question "so what?" and/or an explanation of how this paragraph is connected to your thesis.

Much like a topic sentence, this will help keep the writer focused.  Don't simply repeat the thesis here; rather make a connection here between the topic of the paragraph and the thesis.

Example: (from an essay written by a serial killer on death row who attempts to explain the mental illness that produced in him powerful urges to kill):

This paragraph may well have started as just one sentence: Even after my arrest-while facing capital charges--the urges continued.

However, when the writer adds a topic sentence, an example, discussion of the example, and a "so what?" statement, this one sentence turns into a well developed paragraph.

[Topic Sentence] The urge to hurt women could come over me at any time, any place: powerful and sometimes irresistible urges that welled up for no apparent reason and with no warning. [Original Sentence] Even after my arrest--while facing capital charges--the urges continued. [Example] I remember one day being transported back to the county jail from a court appearance just prior to my trial. I was in the sheriff's van in full restraints, handcuffs, leg-irons, and a belly-chain, when we passed a young woman walking along a wooded stretch of road. I cannot begin to adequately describe the intensity of the urges that enveloped me that day. I wanted...no, I had to get out of that van and go after her. [Discuss the Example] The situation was ludicrous. There I was, in the back of the sheriff's van on my way back to jail, and all I could think about was how badly I wanted to get a hold of her. Later, back in my cell, I fantasized about what would have happened had I gotten hold of her.  [So What?]  That ignorance, and its resulting guilt, is a heavy burden on my mind, and a burden that I will carry with me for the rest of what remains of my life. (Michael Ross, "My Name Is Michael Ross")

Notice that this paragraph is not only much longer now, but it says more.  The reader not only better understands the force of the urges, but also learns about the short and long-term effects these urges had on writer.

Developing all of your body paragraphs is often the best way of making your essay both longer and better.