Elaboration Explained by Mr. Severino

Ever wonder what teachers mean when they tell you to elaborate?

Sure, you could easily look up the word and see that it means “to write or say more.”  But, for most students, the problem is not one of understanding definitions:  It is a problem of knowing how to meet expectations.  This problem might be better expressed as:

I don’t know how to write more without repeating myself.

If this statement applies to you, don’t worry.  You are not alone; in fact, learning how to elaborate is a hurdle for any developing writer.  Luckily, this hurdle is easily jumped.  The following tips should help you get closer to that A+ paper.

Tip 1: Assume Your Reader Knows Nothing About the Subject

Students often fail to write enough because they assume their reader knows too much. Let’s say, for example, you were writing an essay analyzing the film Inception.  You might write the following:

The film ends with a shot of the top spinning. We see it start to wobble, but, just before we see whether it will fall over, the scene blacks out and the end credits roll. We are left wondering: Was it a dream?

Now, this paragraph might seem fine if you saw the film, but what if you didn’t?  You would be asking yourself questions like “What top?” or “What does a spinning top have to do with dreams?”

See?  By assuming your reader knows, you are actually wasting an opportunity for elaboration. This is one error students make.

Tip 2: Break It Down

Another way students may fail to say enough is by failing to break larger ideas into smaller components.  For example, if you were writing a paper for your biology class on the topic of cancer, you might write:

Cancer can spread throughout the body into various tissues and cause damage or death.

Notice that the big idea here is about the spread of cancer.  The sentence tells us that cancer can spread.  However, we are never told how cancer spreads.  In fact, it is a very complex process involving cellular division, DNA coding, circulation, etc.  An entire book could be written on the subject of how cancer spreads, but a student might dismiss the complexity of it with a single sentence.

And that is my point.  The bigger process of how cancer spreads can be broken down into smaller processes and examined.  That is elaboration at work.

Tip #3:  Provide and Analyze Examples and Data

Imagine you are writing a paper for your psychology course about the psyche of a serial killer.  One point you might make in your paper is that many serial killers come from backgrounds of neglect and abuse.  It is a valid point.  And that point begs for an example.

By providing your reader with an example of a serial killer who was abused or neglected as a child, you are supporting your ideas with evidence and elaborating on the matter.  This makes the point seem more solid for your reader and allows you to move closer to meeting your page requirements.

The only challenge in providing examples and data in order to elaborate is that it often requires either prior knowleedge of the subject or some research on your part.  Without prior knowledge or research, you will not have what you need to elaborate.


Tip #4:  Explain It Another Way

One of my favorite phrases in writing is “In other words…”  “In other words…” gives me an opportunity to explain something in another way to help clarify a point for my readrers.  Sometimes ideas are complex, and our ability to express them clearly in words may fall short.

In such cases, feel free to explain it again, to use other words.