USING THE METHOD
An example represents a general group or an abstract concept or quality. The chief purpose of examples is to make the general specific and abstract concrete.
Examples appear frequently in essay developed by other methods. Most essays contain examples for clarity, support, and liveliness. If writers do not use examples, readers might have only have a vague sense of an essay’s meaning or might supply mistaken meanings.
Examples may also serve as the dominant method of developing a thesis. For instance,
- Generalizations about trends: “The wifi modem has become the most useful gadget in the house.”
- Generalizations about events: “Some Kpop fans forget about their wellbeing just so they can get a glimpse of the people they greatly admire.”
- Generalizations about institutions: “A mental hospital is no place for the mentally ill.”
- Generalizations about rituals: “Our practices and traditions regarding death are beneficial for people who have lost a loved one.”
Each quoted idea can be the thesis of an essay, and in order to prove a generalization, examples are necessary to support it.
How many examples are necessary? That depends on the subject, purpose, and intended audience. Two basic patterns are possible:
- A single extended example fills in needed background and gives the reader a complete view of the subject from one angle.
- Multiple examples illustrate the range covered by the generalization.
- Sometimes a generalization merits support from an extended example and several briefer examples, a combination that provides depth along with range.
DEVELOPING AN ESSAY BY EXAMPLE
You will need examples whenever your experiences, observations, or reading lead you to make a general statement: the examples give readers the evidence for the statement. An appropriate subject for an example paper is likely a general idea you have formed about people, things, the media, or any other feature of your life.
Most example essays open with an introduction that engages readers’ attention and gives them some context to relate to. The opening should lead into your thesis sentence.
Organizing the body of the essay is not difficult if you use a single example. But an essay using multiple examples usually requires close attention to arrangement.
With a limited number of examples—four or five—arrange examples in order of increasing importance, interest, or complexity. Then the strongest and most detailed example provides a dramatic finish.
With very many examples—ten or more—find some likenesses among examples that will allow you to treat them in groups. For instance, instead of covering fourteen TV shows in a random list, group them into drama, comedy, or variety. The groups should be covered in separate paragraphs and arrange them in order of increasing interest or importance.
To conclude your essay, you may want to summarizes by elaborating on the generalization of you thesis. Bu the essay may not require a conclusion if your final example provides strong finish.
Remember that examples must be plentiful and specific enough to support your generalization. Using fifteen examples would mean that you can only discuss briefly each example in one or two sentences. But if you have only three examples, you will have to discuss each one in sufficient detail. If you use only a single example, you must be very specific as possible so that readers see clearly how it illustrates your generalization.
Revising and Editing
Revise and edit your draft by considering the following questions:
- Are all the examples, or parts of a single example, obviously relevant to your generalization?
- Are the examples specific?
- Do examples, or the parts of a single example, cover all the territory mapped out by your generalization?
- Do your examples support your generalization?
Focus on Sentence Variety
While accumulating and detailing examples during drafting, you may find yourself writing strings of similar sentences:
UNVARIED One example of a movie about a disease is In the Forest. Another example is The Beating Heart. Another is Tree of Life. These three movies treat misunderstood or little-known diseases in a way that increases the viewer’s sympathy and understanding. In the Forest deals with a little a boy who suffers from cystic fibrosis. The Beating Heart deals with a middle-aged woman who is weakening from multiple sclerosis. Tree of Life deals with a father of four who is dying from AIDS. All three movies show complex struggling human beings caught blamelessly in desperate circumstances.
The writer of this paragraph was clearly pushing to add examples and to expand them but the resulting passage needs editing so that the writer’s labor isn’t too obvious and the sentences are more varied and interesting:
VARIED Three movies dealing with disease are In the Forest, The Beating Heart, and the Tree of Life. In these movies people with little known or misunderstood diseases become subjects for the viewer’s sympathy and understanding. A little boy suffering from cystic fibrosis, a middle-aged woman weakening from multiple sclerosis, a father of four dying from aids—these complex, struggling human beings are caught in desperate circumstances.
ANALYZING EXAMPLES IN PARAGRAPHS
Lewis Thomas (1913-93) was a medical doctor, researcher, and administrator widely known for his engaging, perceptive essays on science, health, and society. The following paragraph is from “Communication,” an essay in Thomas’s last collection, The Fragile Species (1992).
No amount of probing with electrodes inserted into the substance of the brain, no array of electroencephalographic tracings, can come close to telling what the brain is up to, while a simple declarative sentence can sometimes tell you everything. Sometimes a phrase will do to describe what human beings in general are like, and even how they look at themselves. There is an ancient Chinese phrase, dating back millennia, which is still used to say that someone is in a great hurry, in too much of a hurry. It is zou-ma guan-hua; zou means “travelling,” ma means “horse,” guan is “looking at,” hua is “flowers.” The whole phrase means riding on horseback while looking, or trying to look, at the flowers. Precipitously, as we might say, meaning to look about while going over a cliff.
Generalization and topic sentence (underlined)
Single detailed example
Willaim Lutz (born 1940) is an expert on doublespeak, which he defines as “language that conceals or manipulates thought. It makes the bad seem good, the negative appear positive, the unpleasant appear attractive or at least tolerable.” In this paragraph from his book Doublespeak (1989), Lutz illustrates one use of this deceptive language.
Because it avoids or shifts responsibility, doublespeak is particularly effective in explaining or at least glossing over accidents. An air force colonel in charge of safety wrote that rocket booster weighing more than 300,000 pounds “have no explosive force upon surface impact that is sufficient to exceed the accepted overpressure threshold of physiological damage of the exposed personnel.” In English: if a 300,000-pound boosted rocked falls on you, you probably won’t survive. In 1985 three American soldiers were killed and sixteen were injured when the first stage of a Pershing II missile they were unloading suddenly ignited. There was no explosion, said Major Michael Griffin, but rather “an unplanned rapid ignition of solid fuel.”
Generalization and topic sentence (underlined)
Aaron, Jane E. The Compact Reader : Short Essays by Method and Theme. 7th Ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003.