Have you ever seen those ads in the back of comic books that say, "Don't be a 95 lb. weakling"?  They have a picture of someone kicking sand into the face of a skinny nerd.  Then there's a picture of Charles Atlas flexing a 45-inch bicep, and the words "Send for information on how you can beef yourself up!"


When I write on your essay that it needs more development, I mean that your essay is a 95-lb. weakling.  You need to bulk it up.  Make it bigger and stronger.  However, bigger doesn't mean add more words to make your essay longer.  That's like putting on those sumo wrestler suits and pretending you're stronger.  (I'm always amazed at how students think that we teachers cannot recognize the difference between soft padding and hard muscles.)

How do you develop your essay?  That's usually connected to support -- amount of and detail of.  Now using the words "development" and "support" in the same paragraph makes me think of a bosomy lady in a Platex Cross Your Heart bra ("It lifts and separates.")  Because of the lady's development, she needs more support.  This is not exactly the way it is with an essay.  The support itself is part of the development.  Adding more support means more development.

Support in an essay means the methods and techniques you use to prove your point.  Again, you have to use enough to prove your point and it has to be specific enough (that means it has to have specific details.)

I wrote a note to my daughter Shelli the other day because during the week, I never see her.  She works evenings.  By the time I get home, she's gone, and by the time she gets home, I'm asleep.  So here's my note:

"Shelli, Water is back.  Well is slow.  Use jugs AMAP."

(And on another topic, "Shiloh's food is in tub near water" but we'll ignore that part.)

I have made a couple of general statements (water's back; well's still low) and an instruction (use jugs AMAP) here.  We talk like this all the time.  That's because if someone needs more information, they can ask for it through the conversation.  My note assumes my daughter doesn't need more information.  I was rushed, and as you can see, the note paper is small.  Besides, this wasn't an essay. 

However, I wanted to develop it.  I wanted to write, "The well man somehow(1) got the well to working again."  This is giving more detail to "water is back."  I could further explain the "somehow" by stating, (2)"I haven't talked with him and he's out on a job, so I don't know how he did it."  (This is support2 of my support1.)

More than that, I wanted to emphasize to her how slow the well was.  I wanted to write, "(3)We had no water after Mike took his shower."  This is a specific example showing, or developing, the general statement "Well is slow."  Now my daughter knows that Mike is her dad.  If my audience had been someone else, I might have had to explain, "Mike, my husband," which adds detail to "Mike."  In addition, she knows how he takes a shower.  But for someone else outside the family, this support would be much stronger with a little explaining, like this:  (4)"Mike turns on the shower, gets wet, then turns it off while he soaps up.  Then he turns it on again to rinse."  My point with this information is that he uses very little water with his shower.  If HE ran out of water, it would be much worse for someone else.

But how much is very little water?  How much does he actually use?  For more support of my support, I could give some very specific information.  (5)"We catch the shower water in a tub.  (6)While my showers usually result in three or four gallons, (7)Mike's result in one to two gallons."  Running out of water after Mike takes a shower shows the well is extremely slow.  My development of the statement "Well is slow" goes like this:  first, the illustration of just how slow the well is, which is a short narrative about Mike's shower3, along with explanation of who Mike is3a, a factual description of his typical shower4, an explanation of how we get the statistics on our typical showers5, then the statistics about his typical shower6, comparing those stats with the stats of my typical shower so the reader has some perspective5.

My daughter could have read "Well is slow" and not necessarily agreed with me.  After all, it is a general statement and an opinion.  How slow is slow?  (Slow to some people is if they can't get enough water to take a luxurious bath that uses 40 gallons.)  But my support shows why I decided it's "slow."  And I think, faced with the details, anyone would be forced to agree with me that the well is slow.

However, without all that possible development, my daughter had to trust me on my opinion as stated in the note.  As it turned out, she used the jug water much more, and the well water much less, than she needed to.  I'm sure she thought if I was saying the well was slow -- I who think it's just fine when she thinks it's slow -- then it must be barely dripping.  When you write the 95-lb.-weakling-type of essay, you ask a reader who doesn't even know you to trust your word and, what's worse, to understand just what that word means, just how slow is slow, for example.  While fiction requires a bit of trust on the reader's part, essays require skepticism on the reader's part.  Your point has to withstand the scrutiny of that skepticism.

Beefing up your essay will accomplish that.


  This page has been updated on Tuesday, May 18, 2010, by Connie Gulick.