Revision Stage 2: Idea Development

decorative imageReverse outlining (from stage 1 of revision) not only helps you with idea structure; it can also help you analyze idea development, to determine whether you have “not enough” or “too much” written at places in your essay. If you see multiple main ideas in one paragraph, for example, you may not have given each idea enough development.

As you revise for idea development, make sure you have at least a paragraph – and often more – for each topic sentence idea. Make sure that you have developed your paragraphs and units of support with examples and details appropriate to your purpose and audience.

For example, consider the following two paragraphs.  What characterizes the well-developed one which leaves you, as a reader, more satisfied that you have a fuller understanding?

Traveling to Tokyo was a revelation, especially when compared with traveling to New York City.  While New Yorkers are actually polite as a group, New York is dirtier and transportation is less timely.  And it’s definitely not quiet!  On the other hand, Tokyo is ultra-modern in terms of transportation and services.  Things run on time.  For a large city, it’s clean, quiet, and the citizens are polite.
Traveling to Tokyo was a revelation, especially when compared with traveling to New York City.  First of all, Tokyo is ultra-modern in terms of transportation and services.  Coming into the airport, we had the option of shipping our bags to our destination, thus avoiding the hassle of hauling luggage and allowing us to take inexpensive public transportation to our hotel.  The airport train runs frequently, quickly, and on time; it actually leaves when it’s supposed to leave.  In the airport as well as in other train stations, there’s often a white-gloved and uniformed “conductor” on the station platform to help travelers get to the right track, stand in the right place to board the train, and signal to the train conductor that all travelers have boarded so that the train can depart on time. To board, passengers line up quietly and politely, so that boarding can occur quickly. Within the train, passengers are quiet – a microcosm of what to expect in all public spaces, on the street, in restaurants, in museums, and more.  People do not talk loudly, or play loud music.  Sounds indicating the upcoming station stop are gentle chimes.  On the other hand, New York offers a blend of new and old in terms of transportation and services.  While the relatively new airport train runs efficiently, there are no special luggage services or persons designated to help travelers.  The airport train links to a subway system to get into the heart of New York City, and subway cars are often old, in keeping with the age of the system itself.  Boarding may be a challenge if there are a lot of people; no one lines up, but you’re still expected to get onto the train quickly.  On board, you may experience a blend of sounds ranging from talking to music.  Whatever you hear, there’s usually no attempt to mute or soften the sound.  Stations are announced with loud bells and announcements, a precursor of the sound level you can expect on New York City streets.  Yet despite their differences, each city has a special appeal.  While Tokyo seems to focus on creating a pleasant public experience, New York is sheer kinetic energy.

Even though the more developed paragraph is relatively long, and might be successfully broken into multiple paragraphs within a unit of support, it includes the following characteristics that make it well-developed:

  • clear topic sentence that indicates a comparison of the two cities
  • follow-through on the order of the comparison indicated in the topic sentence (whereas the less developed paragraph switches that order)
  • multiple examples and details for the points about transportation, sound, and timeliness
  • concluding sentence that summarizes and also moves a reader to an additional insight

As noted in the text The Word on College Reading and Writing, “here are some tips on what to strive for and what to avoid when it comes to supporting details.” [1]

Good support

  • Is relevant and focused (sticks to the point).
  • Is well developed.
  • Provides sufficient detail.
  • Is vivid and descriptive.
  • Is well organized.
  • Is coherent and consistent.
  • Highlights key terms and ideas.
Weak Support

  • Lacks a clear connection to the point that it’s meant to support.
  • Lacks development.
  • Lacks detail or gives too much detail.
  • Is vague and imprecise.
  • Lacks organization.
  • Seems disjointed (ideas don’t clearly relate to each other).
  • Lacks emphasis of key terms and ideas.

Although the following video focuses on illustrative writing, the concepts offered about idea development can be applied to essay writing for any purpose, including logical argument, research writing, and essays using different patterns of development. The video provides examples of sparsely-developed and well-developed paragraphs, using examples and details:

Note: Some content in the video “Writing an Illustrative Paragraph or Essay” is presented visually. You may listen to this video with audio description.

[1] Babin, Monique, et al. “The Paragraph Body: Supporting Your Ideas.” The Word on College Reading and Writing,