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Humanities LibreTexts

3.8: Main Ideas and Supporting Details

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  • Page ID 31307

  • Athena Kashyap & Erika Dyquisto
  • City College of San Francisco via ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative

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Analyze Thesis or Main Ideas of Texts

Being able to identify the purpose and thesis of a text, while you’re reading it, takes practice. Questioning the text you’re reading is a good place to start. When trying to isolate the thesis, or main idea, of your reading material, consider these questions:

  • What is the primary subject of this text?
  • Is the author trying to inform me, or persuade me?
  • What does the author think I need to know about this subject?
  • Why does the author think I need to know about this subject?

Sometimes the answer to these questions will be very clearly stated in the text itself. Sometimes it is less obvious, and in those cases, the techniques on the following page will be useful.

Implicit vs. Explicit Main Idea/ Thesis Statements

According to author Pavel Zemliansky,

Arguments then, can be explicit and implicit, or implied. Explicit arguments contain noticeable and definable thesis statements and lots of specific proofs. Implicit arguments, on the other hand, work by weaving together facts and narratives, logic and emotion, personal experiences and statistics. Unlike explicit arguments, implicit ones do not have a one-sentence thesis statement. Instead, authors of implicit arguments use evidence of many different kinds in effective and creative ways to build and convey their point of view to their audience. Research is essential for creative effective arguments of both kinds.

Even if what you’re reading is an informative text, rather than an argumentative one, it might still rely on an implicit thesis statement. It might ask you to piece together the overall purpose of the text based on a series of content along the way.

The following video defines the key terms explicit and implicit, as they relate to thesis statements and other ideas present in what you read. It also introduces the excellent idea of the reading voice and the thinking voice that strong readers use as they work through a text.

To help keep you on your toes, the author of this video challenges you to find her spelling mistake in one of her cards along the way!

Explicit v. implicit . Authored by: Michele Armentrout. All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license.

Take the quiz about implicit and explicit thesis statements to see how well you have understood the information.

Thesis and Topic Sentences

You’ll remember that the first step of the reading process, previewing, allows you to get a big-picture view of the document you’re reading. This way, you can begin to understand the structure of the overall text. A later step in the reading process, summarizing , allows you to encapsulate what a paragraph, section, or the whole document is about. When summarizing individual paragraphs, it’s likely that your summary ends up looking like a paraphrase of that paragraph’s topic sentence .

A paragraph is composed of multiple sentences focused on a single, clearly-defined topic. There should be exactly one main idea per paragraph, so whenever an author moves on to a new idea, he or she will start a new paragraph. For example, this paragraph defines what a paragraph is, and now we will start a new paragraph to deal with a new idea: how a paragraph is structured.

Paragraphs are actually organized much like persuasive papers are. Just like a paper has a thesis statement followed by a body of supportive evidence, paragraphs have a topic sentence followed by several sentences of support or explanation. If you look at this paragraph, for example, you will see that it starts with a clear topic sentence letting you know that paragraphs follow a structure similar to that of papers. The next sentence explains how a paragraph is like a paper, and then two more sentences show how this paragraph follows that structure. All of these sentences are clearly connected to the main idea.

The topic sentence of a paragraph serves two purposes: first, it lets readers know what the paragraph is going to be about; second, it highlights the connection between the present paragraph and the one that came before. The topic sentence of this paragraph explains to a reader what a topic sentence does, fulfilling the first function. It also tells you that this paragraph is going to talk about one particular aspect of the previous paragraph’s main idea: we are now moving from the general structure of the paragraph to the particular role of the topic sentence.

After the topic sentence introduces the main idea, the remainder of the sentences in a paragraph should support or explain this topic. These additional sentences might detail the author’s position on the topic. They might also provide examples, statistics, or other evidence to support that position. At the end of the paragraph, the author may include some sort of conclusion or a transition that sets up the next idea he or she will be discussing (for example, you can see this clearly in the last sentence of the third paragraph).

The Three Parts of a Paragraph

The topic is the subject of the paragraph. It can be:

  • A few words long
  • These words (or words related to the topic) are typically repeated throughout the paragraph
  • Answers the question: What is this paragraph about?

2) Main Idea

This is the writer’s overall point. It can be:

  • If stated in the paragraph, it’s called a “topic sentence”
  • If unstated in the paragraph, the reader must figure it out (infer it) from details
  • General enough to cover the more specific supporting details
  • Usually (but not always!) near the beginning of the paragraph
  • Answers the question: What is the overall point being made about the topic?”

3) Supporting Details

These are the details in the paragraph that support the main idea. They can be either major or minor supporting details.

Tips for Identifying Main Ideas

Although you are learning to put the main idea first in your own paragraphs, professional writers often don’t. Sometimes the first sentence of a paragraph provides background information, poses a question, or serves as a bridge from a previous paragraph. Don’t assume it is the main idea. Use these tips instead:

  • Look for a general statement that appears to “cover” the other information.
  • Figure out the general topic of the paragraph first. Then ask yourself, “What point is the writer trying to make about this topic?”
  • Look for clue words. Main ideas sometimes have words such as “some” or plural nouns like “ways” or “differences” that signal a list of details to come.
  • Is this statement supported by most of the other information?
  • If I turn this statement into a question, does the other information answer it?

SPECIAL NOTE: Sometimes a main idea covers more than one paragraph. This may happen in newspaper articles or when the writer has a lot to say about one topic.

Difference Between the Topic and Main Idea

To understand the difference between a main idea and the topic, imagine that you are listening to your friends talk about their pets. The TV is on, so all you can make out are the name of their pets. If someone asked you what the topic was, you would say “pets.” But because you couldn’t hear the whole thing, you didn’t understand the “main idea” was whose pet was the best. The topic is very broad – the main idea is more specific. The sentences that follow in the paragraph exercise offer examples or descriptions to illustrate or explain the main idea. Note the reading-writing connection--while we are finding the main idea as readers, we will be using the main ideas to write topic sentences in paragraphs.

Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

Read the following paragraph and then decide what the main idea is.

One myth about exercise is that if a woman lifts weights, she will develop muscles as large as a man’s. Without male hormones, however, a woman cannot increase her muscle bulk as much as a man’s. Another misconception about exercise is that it increases the appetite. Actually, regular exercise stabilizes the blood-sugar level and prevents hunger pangs. Some people also think that a few minutes of exercise a day or one session a week is enough, but at least three solid workouts a week are needed for muscular and cardiovascular fitness.

Choose the Main Idea:

a) Women who lift weights cannot become as muscular as men.

b) There are several myths about exercise.

c) Exercise is beneficial to everyone.

d) People use many different excuses to avoid exercising.

Explain why you did or did not choose each possible answer above.

a) ________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________

b) ________________________________________________________________________

c) ________________________________________________________________________

d) ________________________________________________________________________

Exercise \(\PageIndex{2}\)

“To Sherlock Holmes she is always THE woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer--excellent for drawing the veil from men's motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results.“

The main idea of this paragraph is the first sentence. The first sentence identifies the two characters that the rest of the paragraph is going to describe, and suggests at their relationship. Each sentence that follows either describes the woman, Sherlock Holmes, or how he felt about her or her effect on him.

Exercise \(\PageIndex{3}\)

Here is another example from the same story, see if you can find the main idea:

One night--it was on the twentieth of March, 1888--I was returning from a journey to a patient (for I had now returned to civil practice), when my way led me through Baker Street. As I passed the well-remembered door, which must always be associated in my mind with my wooing, and with the dark incidents of the Study in Scarlet, I was seized with a keen desire to see Holmes again, and to know how he was employing his extraordinary powers. His rooms were brilliantly lit, and, even as I looked up, I saw his tall, spare figure pass twice in a dark silhouette against the blind. He was pacing the room swiftly, eagerly, with his head sunk upon his chest and his hands clasped behind him. To me, who knew his every mood and habit, his attitude and manner told their own story. He was at work again.

a. One night--it was on the twentieth of March, 1888--I was returning from a journey to a patient (for I had now returned to civil practice), when my way led me through Baker Street.

b. As I passed the well-remembered door, which must always be associated in my mind with my wooing, and with the dark incidents of the Study in Scarlet, I was seized with a keen desire to see Holmes again, and to know how he was employing his extraordinary powers

c. His rooms were brilliantly lit, and, even as I looked up, I saw his tall, spare figure pass twice in a dark silhouette against the blind.

d. He was pacing the room swiftly, eagerly, with his head sunk upon his chest and his hands clasped behind him.

The correct answer is a. The first sentence gives you the point-of-view, or who is the person explaining what is happening, and it lets you know that this person is going into a particular place. Each of the other sentences describes the place where he, Dr. Watson, entered, what it looked like, and who was in there.

B is not as strong a choice as a, because it refers to Study in Scarlet and Holmes’ powers, which are not described in the rest of the paragraph. Choice B is too specific to be the main idea of this paragraph. Choices c and d are not correct because they are describing Holmes’ actions, and his walking is not what the whole paragraph is about.

Exercise \(\PageIndex{4}\)

Let’s try one more. Read the following and select which one is the main idea from the list below:

“At three o'clock precisely I was at Baker Street, but Holmes had not yet returned. The landlady informed me that he had left the house shortly after eight o'clock in the morning. I sat down beside the fire, however, with the intention of awaiting him, however long he might be. I was already deeply interested in his inquiry, for, though it was surrounded by none of the grim and strange features which were associated with the two crimes which I have already recorded, still, the nature of the case and the exalted station of his client gave it a character of its own. Indeed, apart from the nature of the investigation which my friend had on hand, there was something in his masterly grasp of a situation, and his keen, incisive reasoning, which made it a pleasure to me to study his system of work, and to follow the quick, subtle methods by which he disentangled the most inextricable mysteries. So accustomed was I to his invariable success that the very possibility of his failing had ceased to enter into my head.”

a. At three o'clock precisely I was at Baker Street, but Holmes had not yet returned.

b. The landlady informed me that he had left the house shortly after eight o'clock in the morning.

c. I sat down beside the fire, however, with the intention of awaiting him, however long he might be

d. I was already deeply interested in his inquiry, for, though it was surrounded by none of the grim and strange features which were associated with the two crimes which I have already recorded, still, the nature of the case and the exalted station of his client gave it a character of its own.

The way to figure out that the answer, this time, is d, is to look at each sentence that follows and ask, does this refer back to the location, Baker Street? Do they refer back to the landlady? Do they refer back to Dr. Watson’s waiting? Or, do they refer back to the case? They both refer back to the current investigation, by talking about Holmes’ way of untangling mysteries, and that Watson’s belief that the investigation would be a success.

The introduction to this paragraph may have thrown you off so be careful to read through the entire paragraph each time, and look at each sentence and its role within the paragraph. Mostly the main idea comes right up front – but not always!

Reading-Writing Connection: Thesis Statements

Exercise \(\PageIndex{5}\)

I. Develop a paragraph. Your paragraph must include the following:

  • Between 7-9 sentences
  • A main idea sentence
  • Each sentence must be developed, and checked for correct spelling and grammar
  • Have at least three of the four different types of sentences (simple, complex, compound, compound-complex)
  • Attach your pre-writing practice after the paragraph, to identify which sentences are major and minor detail sentence

Supporting Details

Earlier we covered what a main idea sentence was: a sentence that names the topic, and allows the reader to understand the focus of the paragraph to follow. It is logical then that the rest of the sentences in the paragraph support the main idea sentence. Support means that they either explain something about the topic, or they offer an example.

We’ve examined the relationship between a text’s thesis statement and its overall organization through the idea of topic sentences in body paragraphs. But of course body paragraphs have a lot more “stuff” in them than just topic sentences. This section will examine in more detail what that “stuff” is made of.

First, watch this video that details the relationship between a topic sentence and supporting details, using the metaphor of a house. The video establishes the difference between major and minor details, which will be useful to apply in coming discussions. (The video has instrumental guitar for audio, but no spoken words, so it can be watched without sound if desired.)

Video: Supporting Details . Authored by: Mastering the Fundamentals of College Reading and Writing. All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license.

The following image shows the visual relationship between the overall thesis, topic sentences, and supporting ideas:

step_2_2.jpg

This next image shows where a topic sentence might reside in the paragraph, in relation to the rest of the supporting details:

step_2_3.jpg

In #5 of the sequence above, the topic sentence is rephrased between the opening and closing of the paragraph, to reinforce the concept more strongly.

Point, Illustration, Explanation (P.I.E.)

Many authors use the PIE format to structure their essays. PIE = point, illustration, explanation to structure their body paragraph and support their thesis. The point furthers a thesis or claim and is the same as the main idea, the illustration provides support for the point, and the explanation tells the audience why the evidence provided furthers the point and/or the thesis.

4084775_020a741c80_z-241x300.jpg

For example, in his argument against the +/- grading system at Radford, student-writer Tareq Hajj makes the Point that “Without the A+, students with high grades in the class would be less motivated to work even harder in order to increase their grades.”

He Illustrates with a quote from a professor who argues, “‘(students) have less incentive to try’” (Fesheraki, 2013).

Hajj then Explains that “not providing [the most motivated students] with additional motivation of a higher grade … is inequitable.”

Through his explanation, Hajj links back to his claim that “A plus-minus grading scale … should not be used at Radford University” because, as he explains, it is “inequitable.” The PIE structure of his paragraph has served to support his thesis.

All Claims Need Evidence

Ever heard the phrase “everyone is entitled to his opinion”? It is indeed true that people are free to believe whatever they wish. However, the mere fact that a person believes something is not an argument in support of a position. If a text’s goal is to communicate effectively, it must provide valid explanations and sufficient and relevant evidence to convince its audience to accept that position. In other words, “every author is entitled to his opinion, but no author is entitled to have his opinion go unchallenged.”

What are the types of evidence?

Any text should provide illustrations for each of its points, but it is especially important to provide reliable evidence in an academic argument. This evidence can be based on primary source material or data (the author’s own experience and/or interviews, surveys, polls, experiments, that she may have created and administered). Evidence can also stem from secondary source material or data (books, journals, newspapers, magazines, websites or surveys, experiments, statistics, polls, and other data collected by others).

Let’s say, for example, that you are reading an argument that college instructors should let students use cell phones in class. Primary source material might include a survey the author administered that asks students if policies forbidding cell phone usage actually stop them from using their phones in class. Secondary sources might include articles about the issue from Faculty Focus or The Chronicle of Higher Education .

Logos, Ethos, Pathos

Writers are generally most successful with their audiences when they can skillfully and appropriately balance the three core types of appeals. These appeals are referred to by their Greek names: logos (the appeal to logic), pathos (the appeal to emotion), and ethos (the appeal to authority). All of these are used in one way or another in your body paragraphs, particularly as it relates to the support or information in the paragraph.

Ethos-Pathos-Logos.jpg

Logical Appeals

Authors using logic to support their claims will include a combination of different types of evidence. These include the following:

  • established facts
  • case studies
  • experiments
  • analogies and logical reasoning
  • citation of recognized experts on the issue

Authoritative Appeals

Authors using authority to support their claims can also draw from a variety of techniques. These include the following:

  • personal anecdotes
  • illustration of deep knowledge on the issue
  • testimony of those involved first-hand on the issue

Emotional Appeals

Authors using emotion to support their claims again have a deep well of options to do so. These include the following:

  • impact studies

As you can see, there is some overlap on these lists. One technique might work simultaneously on multiple levels.

Most texts rely on one of the three as the primary method of support, but may also draw upon one or two others at the same time.

Check your understanding of supporting details by doing this quiz.

Exercise \(\PageIndex{6}\)

Read the paragraph below and find the main idea and supporting details.

My parents were very strict when I was growing up. My mother in particular was always correcting my behavior. One day when I forgot to look both ways when I was crossing the street, my mother made me go back home; she said that I could not go out at all if I could not be safe. My father was more concerned with my grades. Every night he would make me go to my room before I could watch television.

Let’s examine the pattern for this paragraph. The first sentence (1) presents the main idea, that my parents were strict. The second sentence (2) explains what I mean by “strict,” by saying that my mother was strict in correcting my behavior. The third sentence (3) offers an example of how she would correct my behavior. The fourth sentence (4) explains further, that my father was strict when it came to schoolwork, and then the fifth sentence (5) offers an example of how he was strict.

If we were going to diagram the paragraph above, it would look like this:

EXPLAIN (2)-___________________EXPLAIN (4)

EXAMPLE (3) EXAMPLE (5)

Major and Minor Supporting Details

One way to talk about whether a sentence directly supports the main idea (the second level), or indirectly supports the main idea (the third level) is to call them MAJOR detail sentences or MINOR detail sentences. Major details directly explain something about the topic, while minor details offer examples for the Major detail that came right before.

Exercise \(\PageIndex{7}\)

Read the paragraphs, and then identify each sentence as either a main idea, a major detail, or a minor detail sentence.

Single parents have to overcome many obstacles to return to school. If the child is very young, finding quality babysitting can be difficult. Many babysitters are unreliable and that can mean that the parent has to miss many classes, which can hurt their grades. It is also hard to find enough time to study. Children require a lot of attention and are also noisy, and that can interfere with a parent's ability to complete their homework. Finally, raising children is expensive. Many single parents discover that they can’t meet the costs of both raising children and paying for tuition, books, and fees.

Sentence #1: Sentence #2: Sentence #3: Sentence #4: Sentence #5: Sentence #6: Sentence #7:

My grandmother turned 70 last year and celebrated by going skydiving. She said she always wanted to try and figured it was now or never. Many people think that when you get older you can no longer do fun things, but this is not true. The senior center in town offers dance lessons and also takes groups to the art museum. The classes are always full because so many people want to try new things. Towns are even developing senior living communities around activities such as golf and tennis. Those communities are very popular because people like to live with others who share their interests.

Sentence #1: Sentence #2: Sentence #3: Sentence #4: Sentence #5: Sentence #6: Sentence #7

Exercise \(\PageIndex{8}\)

Below you will find several main idea sentences. Provide appropriate supporting sentences following the pattern of Major-Minor-Major- Minor.

1. It is not a good idea to watch a lot of television. Major: Minor: Major: Minor:

2. Coaches have good reasons to be firm with the players on their team. Major: Minor: Major: Minor:

3. Many people believe it is a bad idea to spank children. Major: Minor: Major: Minor:

4. There are several steps I can take to be successful in college.

Major: Minor: Major: Minor:

Reading-Writing Connection: Supporting Details

Exercise \(\PageIndex{9}\)

Return to the Thesis exercise you did previously. As part of that exercise, you identified two topic sentences from your selected reading. Now, look more closely at the paragraphs where those two topic sentences came from.

  • Write a paragraph that identifies the type of support that each paragraph from the reading uses to reinforce each of those two topic sentences. Are they narrative or personal examples? Are they facts or statistics? Are they quotes or paraphrases from research materials?
  • Write another paragraph that compares the effectiveness of the supporting claims of one of the selected paragraphs against the other one. Which seems more successful in its goal? Why do you feel that way?

Contributors

  • Adapted from English 9Y Pre-College English . Provided by: Open Course Library. CC BY 3.0
  • Adapted from Thesis Statements and Topic Sentences . Provided by: Lumen Learning. CC-BY-NC-SA
  • Adapted from Methods of Discovery: A Guide to Research Writing . Authored by: Pavel Zemliansky. Provided by: Libretexts. CC BY: Attribution

This page last updated June 6, 2020.

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9.2 Writing Body Paragraphs

Learning objectives.

  • Select primary support related to your thesis.
  • Support your topic sentences.

If your thesis gives the reader a roadmap to your essay, then body paragraphs should closely follow that map. The reader should be able to predict what follows your introductory paragraph by simply reading the thesis statement.

The body paragraphs present the evidence you have gathered to confirm your thesis. Before you begin to support your thesis in the body, you must find information from a variety of sources that support and give credit to what you are trying to prove.

Select Primary Support for Your Thesis

Without primary support, your argument is not likely to be convincing. Primary support can be described as the major points you choose to expand on your thesis. It is the most important information you select to argue for your point of view. Each point you choose will be incorporated into the topic sentence for each body paragraph you write. Your primary supporting points are further supported by supporting details within the paragraphs.

Remember that a worthy argument is backed by examples. In order to construct a valid argument, good writers conduct lots of background research and take careful notes. They also talk to people knowledgeable about a topic in order to understand its implications before writing about it.

Identify the Characteristics of Good Primary Support

In order to fulfill the requirements of good primary support, the information you choose must meet the following standards:

  • Be specific. The main points you make about your thesis and the examples you use to expand on those points need to be specific. Use specific examples to provide the evidence and to build upon your general ideas. These types of examples give your reader something narrow to focus on, and if used properly, they leave little doubt about your claim. General examples, while they convey the necessary information, are not nearly as compelling or useful in writing because they are too obvious and typical.
  • Be relevant to the thesis. Primary support is considered strong when it relates directly to the thesis. Primary support should show, explain, or prove your main argument without delving into irrelevant details. When faced with lots of information that could be used to prove your thesis, you may think you need to include it all in your body paragraphs. But effective writers resist the temptation to lose focus. Choose your examples wisely by making sure they directly connect to your thesis.
  • Be detailed. Remember that your thesis, while specific, should not be very detailed. The body paragraphs are where you develop the discussion that a thorough essay requires. Using detailed support shows readers that you have considered all the facts and chosen only the most precise details to enhance your point of view.

Prewrite to Identify Primary Supporting Points for a Thesis Statement

Recall that when you prewrite you essentially make a list of examples or reasons why you support your stance. Stemming from each point, you further provide details to support those reasons. After prewriting, you are then able to look back at the information and choose the most compelling pieces you will use in your body paragraphs.

Choose one of the following working thesis statements. On a separate sheet of paper, write for at least five minutes using one of the prewriting techniques you learned in Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?” .

  • Unleashed dogs on city streets are a dangerous nuisance.
  • Students cheat for many different reasons.
  • Drug use among teens and young adults is a problem.
  • The most important change that should occur at my college or university is ____________________________________________.

Select the Most Effective Primary Supporting Points for a Thesis Statement

After you have prewritten about your working thesis statement, you may have generated a lot of information, which may be edited out later. Remember that your primary support must be relevant to your thesis. Remind yourself of your main argument, and delete any ideas that do not directly relate to it. Omitting unrelated ideas ensures that you will use only the most convincing information in your body paragraphs. Choose at least three of only the most compelling points. These will serve as the topic sentences for your body paragraphs.

Refer to the previous exercise and select three of your most compelling reasons to support the thesis statement. Remember that the points you choose must be specific and relevant to the thesis. The statements you choose will be your primary support points, and you will later incorporate them into the topic sentences for the body paragraphs.

Collaboration

Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.

When you support your thesis, you are revealing evidence. Evidence includes anything that can help support your stance. The following are the kinds of evidence you will encounter as you conduct your research:

  • Facts. Facts are the best kind of evidence to use because they often cannot be disputed. They can support your stance by providing background information on or a solid foundation for your point of view. However, some facts may still need explanation. For example, the sentence “The most populated state in the United States is California” is a pure fact, but it may require some explanation to make it relevant to your specific argument.
  • Judgments. Judgments are conclusions drawn from the given facts. Judgments are more credible than opinions because they are founded upon careful reasoning and examination of a topic.
  • Testimony. Testimony consists of direct quotations from either an eyewitness or an expert witness. An eyewitness is someone who has direct experience with a subject; he adds authenticity to an argument based on facts. An expert witness is a person who has extensive experience with a topic. This person studies the facts and provides commentary based on either facts or judgments, or both. An expert witness adds authority and credibility to an argument.
  • Personal observation. Personal observation is similar to testimony, but personal observation consists of your testimony. It reflects what you know to be true because you have experiences and have formed either opinions or judgments about them. For instance, if you are one of five children and your thesis states that being part of a large family is beneficial to a child’s social development, you could use your own experience to support your thesis.

Writing at Work

In any job where you devise a plan, you will need to support the steps that you lay out. This is an area in which you would incorporate primary support into your writing. Choosing only the most specific and relevant information to expand upon the steps will ensure that your plan appears well-thought-out and precise.

You can consult a vast pool of resources to gather support for your stance. Citing relevant information from reliable sources ensures that your reader will take you seriously and consider your assertions. Use any of the following sources for your essay: newspapers or news organization websites, magazines, encyclopedias, and scholarly journals, which are periodicals that address topics in a specialized field.

Choose Supporting Topic Sentences

Each body paragraph contains a topic sentence that states one aspect of your thesis and then expands upon it. Like the thesis statement, each topic sentence should be specific and supported by concrete details, facts, or explanations.

Each body paragraph should comprise the following elements.

topic sentence + supporting details (examples, reasons, or arguments)

As you read in Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?” , topic sentences indicate the location and main points of the basic arguments of your essay. These sentences are vital to writing your body paragraphs because they always refer back to and support your thesis statement. Topic sentences are linked to the ideas you have introduced in your thesis, thus reminding readers what your essay is about. A paragraph without a clearly identified topic sentence may be unclear and scattered, just like an essay without a thesis statement.

Unless your teacher instructs otherwise, you should include at least three body paragraphs in your essay. A five-paragraph essay, including the introduction and conclusion, is commonly the standard for exams and essay assignments.

Consider the following the thesis statement:

Author J.D. Salinger relied primarily on his personal life and belief system as the foundation for the themes in the majority of his works.

The following topic sentence is a primary support point for the thesis. The topic sentence states exactly what the controlling idea of the paragraph is. Later, you will see the writer immediately provide support for the sentence.

Salinger, a World War II veteran, suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder, a disorder that influenced themes in many of his works.

In Note 9.19 “Exercise 2” , you chose three of your most convincing points to support the thesis statement you selected from the list. Take each point and incorporate it into a topic sentence for each body paragraph.

Supporting point 1: ____________________________________________

Topic sentence: ____________________________________________

Supporting point 2: ____________________________________________

Supporting point 3: ____________________________________________

Draft Supporting Detail Sentences for Each Primary Support Sentence

After deciding which primary support points you will use as your topic sentences, you must add details to clarify and demonstrate each of those points. These supporting details provide examples, facts, or evidence that support the topic sentence.

The writer drafts possible supporting detail sentences for each primary support sentence based on the thesis statement:

Thesis statement: Unleashed dogs on city streets are a dangerous nuisance.

Supporting point 1: Dogs can scare cyclists and pedestrians.

Supporting details:

  • Cyclists are forced to zigzag on the road.
  • School children panic and turn wildly on their bikes.
  • People who are walking at night freeze in fear.

Supporting point 2:

Loose dogs are traffic hazards.

  • Dogs in the street make people swerve their cars.
  • To avoid dogs, drivers run into other cars or pedestrians.
  • Children coaxing dogs across busy streets create danger.

Supporting point 3: Unleashed dogs damage gardens.

  • They step on flowers and vegetables.
  • They destroy hedges by urinating on them.
  • They mess up lawns by digging holes.

The following paragraph contains supporting detail sentences for the primary support sentence (the topic sentence), which is underlined.

Salinger, a World War II veteran, suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder, a disorder that influenced the themes in many of his works. He did not hide his mental anguish over the horrors of war and once told his daughter, “You never really get the smell of burning flesh out of your nose, no matter how long you live.” His short story “A Perfect Day for a Bananafish” details a day in the life of a WWII veteran who was recently released from an army hospital for psychiatric problems. The man acts questionably with a little girl he meets on the beach before he returns to his hotel room and commits suicide. Another short story, “For Esmé – with Love and Squalor,” is narrated by a traumatized soldier who sparks an unusual relationship with a young girl he meets before he departs to partake in D-Day. Finally, in Salinger’s only novel, The Catcher in the Rye , he continues with the theme of posttraumatic stress, though not directly related to war. From a rest home for the mentally ill, sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield narrates the story of his nervous breakdown following the death of his younger brother.

Using the three topic sentences you composed for the thesis statement in Note 9.18 “Exercise 1” , draft at least three supporting details for each point.

Thesis statement: ____________________________________________

Primary supporting point 1: ____________________________________________

Supporting details: ____________________________________________

Primary supporting point 2: ____________________________________________

Primary supporting point 3: ____________________________________________

You have the option of writing your topic sentences in one of three ways. You can state it at the beginning of the body paragraph, or at the end of the paragraph, or you do not have to write it at all. This is called an implied topic sentence. An implied topic sentence lets readers form the main idea for themselves. For beginning writers, it is best to not use implied topic sentences because it makes it harder to focus your writing. Your instructor may also want to clearly identify the sentences that support your thesis. For more information on the placement of thesis statements and implied topic statements, see Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?” .

Print out the first draft of your essay and use a highlighter to mark your topic sentences in the body paragraphs. Make sure they are clearly stated and accurately present your paragraphs, as well as accurately reflect your thesis. If your topic sentence contains information that does not exist in the rest of the paragraph, rewrite it to more accurately match the rest of the paragraph.

Key Takeaways

  • Your body paragraphs should closely follow the path set forth by your thesis statement.
  • Strong body paragraphs contain evidence that supports your thesis.
  • Primary support comprises the most important points you use to support your thesis.
  • Strong primary support is specific, detailed, and relevant to the thesis.
  • Prewriting helps you determine your most compelling primary support.
  • Evidence includes facts, judgments, testimony, and personal observation.
  • Reliable sources may include newspapers, magazines, academic journals, books, encyclopedias, and firsthand testimony.
  • A topic sentence presents one point of your thesis statement while the information in the rest of the paragraph supports that point.
  • A body paragraph comprises a topic sentence plus supporting details.

Writing for Success Copyright © 2015 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Developing A Thesis and Supporting Auguments

TIP Sheet DEVELOPING A THESIS AND SUPPORTING ARGUMENTS

There's something you should know: Your college instructors have a hidden agenda. You may be alarmed to hear this-yet your achievement of their "other" purpose may very well be the most important part of your education. For every writing assignment has, at the least, these two other purposes:

To teach you to state your case and prove it in a clear, appropriate, and lively manner To teach you to structure your thinking.

Consequently, all expository writing, in which you formulate a thesis and attempt to prove it, is an opportunity to practice rigorous, focused thinking habits that can result not only in better papers, but in sharper analytical skills across the board.

This TIP Sheet addresses the following steps common to any kind of non-fiction writing:

Choosing a subject. Limiting your subject. Crafting a thesis statement. Identifying supporting arguments. Revising your thesis. Writing strong topic sentences that support the thesis.

It is during these early stages of writing, particularly in the identification of supporting arguments, that students are most likely to flounder and procrastinate, and when the strength of a paper's thesis is frequently diluted for lack of rigorous thinking. Here we will adapt Aristotle's method of "discovering arguments" to help identify and develop a strong thesis. You may adapt this method to any nonfiction writing, including essays, research papers, book reports, or critical reviews.

1. Choosing a Subject Suppose your instructor asks you to write an essay about a holiday experience. Within this general subject area, you choose a subject that holds your interest and about which you can readily get information: you were in downtown Chico on the morning of St. Patrick's Day and witnessed some unusual behavior–a melee broke out, resulting in injuries to bystanders and property damage to nearby cars. You wish to write about this.

2. Limiting Your Subject What will you name your topic? Clearly, "student behavior" is too broad; student behavior would necessarily include behavior by every kind of student, everywhere, at all times, and this could very well fill a book and require a master's degree in psychology. Simply calling your subject "St. Patrick's Day" would be misleading. You decide to limit the subject to "student behavior on St. Patrick's Day." After some thought, you decide that a better, more specific subject might be "unruly college student behavior such as that witnessed in front of La Salle's in downtown Chico last St. Patrick's Day." (Be aware that this is not the title of your essay. You will title it much later.) You have now limited your subject and are ready to craft a thesis.

3. Crafting a thesis statement While your subject may be a noun phrase such as the one above, your thesis must be a complete sentence that declares where you stand on the subject. A thesis statement should almost always be in the form of a declarative sentence. Suppose you believe that some of the student behavior in front of La Salle's on St. Patrick's Day was very bad; your thesis statement may be, "Student behavior such as demonstrated in front of La Salle's last St. Patrick's Day is an embarrassment to the college community." Or, conversely, perhaps you think the behavior of the students was just a little high-spirited, but not really so bad as the newspaper made it out to be. Your thesis might be, "A college town has to expect a certain amount of student glee on holidays such as St. Patrick's Day; cracked auto glass and a couple of bruises are a small price to pay for all the commerce college students bring to downtown."

4. Identifying supporting arguments Now you must gather material, or find arguments to support your thesis statement. Aristotle taught his students to examine any claim by "discovering arguments." You will use some of his techniques to formulate support for your claim. Brainstorm, adapting the questions below as a guide, and writing down even the ideas that don't appear to you very promising–you can sort through them later.

  • Definition: What is good behavior? What is bad behavior? What is appropriate behavior on St. Patrick's Day? What is appropriate behavior in other settings?
  • Comparison/Similarity: How was behavior last St. Patrick's Day similar to behavior in years past? How was behavior in front of La Salle's similar to behavior in other parts of downtown that day? How was this behavior similar to behavior in other college towns on that day?
  • Comparison/Dissimilarity: How did behavior last St. Patrick's Day differ from behavior in years past? How did behavior in front of La Salle's differ from behavior in other parts of downtown that day? How did this behavior differ from student behavior in other college towns on that day?
  • Comparison/Degree: To what degree was student behavior worse than in years past? To what degree was this behavior worse than in other parts of downtown? To what degree was this behavior worse than student behavior in other college towns?
  • Relationship (cause and effect): What causes good behavior? What are the results of good behavior? What causes bad behavior? What are the results of bad behavior? What were the specific results of the behavior on St. Patrick's Day? What were the specific causes of the behavior on St. Patrick's Day?
  • Circumstance: Has this kind of behavior occurred in the past? Should this behavior be permitted in the future? What is possible–that is, in this case, is it possible for students to behave appropriately even if bored, drunk, or provoked? Is it possible for downtown merchants and bystanders to absorb the costs of property damage?
  • Testimony: What are the opinions of others about student behavior in front of La Salle's on St. Patrick's Day (for example, students who participated, students who observed, students who were injured, students who avoided downtown Chico altogether on St. Patrick's Day, city council members, the police chief, the proprietor of La Salle's, the owner of the damaged car, nearby business owners)?
  • The Good: Would the results of enforced good conduct be "good"? Would the results of enforced good conduct cause unintended or unforeseen problems? What is fair to whom?
  • The Expedient: Is it desirable to require better conduct next St. Patrick's Day? Should authorities force better conduct next year? Should St. Patrick's Day celebrations be cancelled? Should everyone just relax about this incident and let students celebrate? Should students be asked to improve their conduct voluntarily next year? Should Associated Students provide an education campaign about respect for others, provide alternative activities, or additional patrols?

After brainstorming, you should have lots of material to support a thesis statement.

5. Revising your thesis Notice that in the sentence above we used the phrase "a thesis statement" rather than "your thesis statement." This is because, as you examine your thesis statement through the Aristotelian method, you may discover that you were wrong. At this point, you should either revise your thesis or choose another subject and begin again. Revising your opinion in light of convincing evidence is the beginning of wisdom. Besides, even if it is possible to proceed with the essay as you first envisioned it, you will find it more difficult to defend a thesis you have previously discredited in your notes.

6. Crafting topic sentences that support the thesis Using ideas you gathered using Aristotle's method, construct three to five topic sentences that support your claim. These topic sentences will become the framework for the rest of your paper. You will further support each with examples and citations from personal interviews, newspaper articles, or other appropriate references.

The melee was not caused by the students themselves; rather, an elderly homeless man spat on someone's shoe, causing her to move away suddenly, and a chain reaction occurred in the line waiting to go into La Salle's. (from examination of Aristotle's Relationship and Testimony)

Additional policemen would only increase tension in the downtown area, making altercations more likely. (from examination of Aristotle's The Good and The Expedient)

Trying to keep college students away from downtown on holidays like this would cause lost revenues for downtown merchants. (from examination of Aristotle's The Expedient)

As you continue to draft your paper you will, of course, revise these sentences as necessary to more precisely reflect your ideas and the support you gather for them. By this time you should have a good knowledge of your subject and know where you want to go with it. It will now be possible for you to find enough additional supporting material to complete your essay.

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Developing a Thesis Statement

Many papers you write require developing a thesis statement. In this section you’ll learn what a thesis statement is and how to write one.

Keep in mind that not all papers require thesis statements . If in doubt, please consult your instructor for assistance.

What is a thesis statement?

A thesis statement . . .

  • Makes an argumentative assertion about a topic; it states the conclusions that you have reached about your topic.
  • Makes a promise to the reader about the scope, purpose, and direction of your paper.
  • Is focused and specific enough to be “proven” within the boundaries of your paper.
  • Is generally located near the end of the introduction ; sometimes, in a long paper, the thesis will be expressed in several sentences or in an entire paragraph.
  • Identifies the relationships between the pieces of evidence that you are using to support your argument.

Not all papers require thesis statements! Ask your instructor if you’re in doubt whether you need one.

Identify a topic

Your topic is the subject about which you will write. Your assignment may suggest several ways of looking at a topic; or it may name a fairly general concept that you will explore or analyze in your paper.

Consider what your assignment asks you to do

Inform yourself about your topic, focus on one aspect of your topic, ask yourself whether your topic is worthy of your efforts, generate a topic from an assignment.

Below are some possible topics based on sample assignments.

Sample assignment 1

Analyze Spain’s neutrality in World War II.

Identified topic

Franco’s role in the diplomatic relationships between the Allies and the Axis

This topic avoids generalities such as “Spain” and “World War II,” addressing instead on Franco’s role (a specific aspect of “Spain”) and the diplomatic relations between the Allies and Axis (a specific aspect of World War II).

Sample assignment 2

Analyze one of Homer’s epic similes in the Iliad.

The relationship between the portrayal of warfare and the epic simile about Simoisius at 4.547-64.

This topic focuses on a single simile and relates it to a single aspect of the Iliad ( warfare being a major theme in that work).

Developing a Thesis Statement–Additional information

Your assignment may suggest several ways of looking at a topic, or it may name a fairly general concept that you will explore or analyze in your paper. You’ll want to read your assignment carefully, looking for key terms that you can use to focus your topic.

Sample assignment: Analyze Spain’s neutrality in World War II Key terms: analyze, Spain’s neutrality, World War II

After you’ve identified the key words in your topic, the next step is to read about them in several sources, or generate as much information as possible through an analysis of your topic. Obviously, the more material or knowledge you have, the more possibilities will be available for a strong argument. For the sample assignment above, you’ll want to look at books and articles on World War II in general, and Spain’s neutrality in particular.

As you consider your options, you must decide to focus on one aspect of your topic. This means that you cannot include everything you’ve learned about your topic, nor should you go off in several directions. If you end up covering too many different aspects of a topic, your paper will sprawl and be unconvincing in its argument, and it most likely will not fulfull the assignment requirements.

For the sample assignment above, both Spain’s neutrality and World War II are topics far too broad to explore in a paper. You may instead decide to focus on Franco’s role in the diplomatic relationships between the Allies and the Axis , which narrows down what aspects of Spain’s neutrality and World War II you want to discuss, as well as establishes a specific link between those two aspects.

Before you go too far, however, ask yourself whether your topic is worthy of your efforts. Try to avoid topics that already have too much written about them (i.e., “eating disorders and body image among adolescent women”) or that simply are not important (i.e. “why I like ice cream”). These topics may lead to a thesis that is either dry fact or a weird claim that cannot be supported. A good thesis falls somewhere between the two extremes. To arrive at this point, ask yourself what is new, interesting, contestable, or controversial about your topic.

As you work on your thesis, remember to keep the rest of your paper in mind at all times . Sometimes your thesis needs to evolve as you develop new insights, find new evidence, or take a different approach to your topic.

Derive a main point from topic

Once you have a topic, you will have to decide what the main point of your paper will be. This point, the “controlling idea,” becomes the core of your argument (thesis statement) and it is the unifying idea to which you will relate all your sub-theses. You can then turn this “controlling idea” into a purpose statement about what you intend to do in your paper.

Look for patterns in your evidence

Compose a purpose statement.

Consult the examples below for suggestions on how to look for patterns in your evidence and construct a purpose statement.

  • Franco first tried to negotiate with the Axis
  • Franco turned to the Allies when he couldn’t get some concessions that he wanted from the Axis

Possible conclusion:

Spain’s neutrality in WWII occurred for an entirely personal reason: Franco’s desire to preserve his own (and Spain’s) power.

Purpose statement

This paper will analyze Franco’s diplomacy during World War II to see how it contributed to Spain’s neutrality.
  • The simile compares Simoisius to a tree, which is a peaceful, natural image.
  • The tree in the simile is chopped down to make wheels for a chariot, which is an object used in warfare.

At first, the simile seems to take the reader away from the world of warfare, but we end up back in that world by the end.

This paper will analyze the way the simile about Simoisius at 4.547-64 moves in and out of the world of warfare.

Derive purpose statement from topic

To find out what your “controlling idea” is, you have to examine and evaluate your evidence . As you consider your evidence, you may notice patterns emerging, data repeated in more than one source, or facts that favor one view more than another. These patterns or data may then lead you to some conclusions about your topic and suggest that you can successfully argue for one idea better than another.

For instance, you might find out that Franco first tried to negotiate with the Axis, but when he couldn’t get some concessions that he wanted from them, he turned to the Allies. As you read more about Franco’s decisions, you may conclude that Spain’s neutrality in WWII occurred for an entirely personal reason: his desire to preserve his own (and Spain’s) power. Based on this conclusion, you can then write a trial thesis statement to help you decide what material belongs in your paper.

Sometimes you won’t be able to find a focus or identify your “spin” or specific argument immediately. Like some writers, you might begin with a purpose statement just to get yourself going. A purpose statement is one or more sentences that announce your topic and indicate the structure of the paper but do not state the conclusions you have drawn . Thus, you might begin with something like this:

  • This paper will look at modern language to see if it reflects male dominance or female oppression.
  • I plan to analyze anger and derision in offensive language to see if they represent a challenge of society’s authority.

At some point, you can turn a purpose statement into a thesis statement. As you think and write about your topic, you can restrict, clarify, and refine your argument, crafting your thesis statement to reflect your thinking.

As you work on your thesis, remember to keep the rest of your paper in mind at all times. Sometimes your thesis needs to evolve as you develop new insights, find new evidence, or take a different approach to your topic.

Compose a draft thesis statement

If you are writing a paper that will have an argumentative thesis and are having trouble getting started, the techniques in the table below may help you develop a temporary or “working” thesis statement.

Begin with a purpose statement that you will later turn into a thesis statement.

Assignment: Discuss the history of the Reform Party and explain its influence on the 1990 presidential and Congressional election.

Purpose Statement: This paper briefly sketches the history of the grassroots, conservative, Perot-led Reform Party and analyzes how it influenced the economic and social ideologies of the two mainstream parties.

Question-to-Assertion

If your assignment asks a specific question(s), turn the question(s) into an assertion and give reasons why it is true or reasons for your opinion.

Assignment : What do Aylmer and Rappaccini have to be proud of? Why aren’t they satisfied with these things? How does pride, as demonstrated in “The Birthmark” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” lead to unexpected problems?

Beginning thesis statement: Alymer and Rappaccinni are proud of their great knowledge; however, they are also very greedy and are driven to use their knowledge to alter some aspect of nature as a test of their ability. Evil results when they try to “play God.”

Write a sentence that summarizes the main idea of the essay you plan to write.

Main idea: The reason some toys succeed in the market is that they appeal to the consumers’ sense of the ridiculous and their basic desire to laugh at themselves.

Make a list of the ideas that you want to include; consider the ideas and try to group them.

  • nature = peaceful
  • war matériel = violent (competes with 1?)
  • need for time and space to mourn the dead
  • war is inescapable (competes with 3?)

Use a formula to arrive at a working thesis statement (you will revise this later).

  • although most readers of _______ have argued that _______, closer examination shows that _______.
  • _______ uses _______ and _____ to prove that ________.
  • phenomenon x is a result of the combination of __________, __________, and _________.

What to keep in mind as you draft an initial thesis statement

Beginning statements obtained through the methods illustrated above can serve as a framework for planning or drafting your paper, but remember they’re not yet the specific, argumentative thesis you want for the final version of your paper. In fact, in its first stages, a thesis statement usually is ill-formed or rough and serves only as a planning tool.

As you write, you may discover evidence that does not fit your temporary or “working” thesis. Or you may reach deeper insights about your topic as you do more research, and you will find that your thesis statement has to be more complicated to match the evidence that you want to use.

You must be willing to reject or omit some evidence in order to keep your paper cohesive and your reader focused. Or you may have to revise your thesis to match the evidence and insights that you want to discuss. Read your draft carefully, noting the conclusions you have drawn and the major ideas which support or prove those conclusions. These will be the elements of your final thesis statement.

Sometimes you will not be able to identify these elements in your early drafts, but as you consider how your argument is developing and how your evidence supports your main idea, ask yourself, “ What is the main point that I want to prove/discuss? ” and “ How will I convince the reader that this is true? ” When you can answer these questions, then you can begin to refine the thesis statement.

Refine and polish the thesis statement

To get to your final thesis, you’ll need to refine your draft thesis so that it’s specific and arguable.

  • Ask if your draft thesis addresses the assignment
  • Question each part of your draft thesis
  • Clarify vague phrases and assertions
  • Investigate alternatives to your draft thesis

Consult the example below for suggestions on how to refine your draft thesis statement.

Sample Assignment

Choose an activity and define it as a symbol of American culture. Your essay should cause the reader to think critically about the society which produces and enjoys that activity.

  • Ask The phenomenon of drive-in facilities is an interesting symbol of american culture, and these facilities demonstrate significant characteristics of our society.This statement does not fulfill the assignment because it does not require the reader to think critically about society.
Drive-ins are an interesting symbol of American culture because they represent Americans’ significant creativity and business ingenuity.
Among the types of drive-in facilities familiar during the twentieth century, drive-in movie theaters best represent American creativity, not merely because they were the forerunner of later drive-ins and drive-throughs, but because of their impact on our culture: they changed our relationship to the automobile, changed the way people experienced movies, and changed movie-going into a family activity.
While drive-in facilities such as those at fast-food establishments, banks, pharmacies, and dry cleaners symbolize America’s economic ingenuity, they also have affected our personal standards.
While drive-in facilities such as those at fast- food restaurants, banks, pharmacies, and dry cleaners symbolize (1) Americans’ business ingenuity, they also have contributed (2) to an increasing homogenization of our culture, (3) a willingness to depersonalize relationships with others, and (4) a tendency to sacrifice quality for convenience.

This statement is now specific and fulfills all parts of the assignment. This version, like any good thesis, is not self-evident; its points, 1-4, will have to be proven with evidence in the body of the paper. The numbers in this statement indicate the order in which the points will be presented. Depending on the length of the paper, there could be one paragraph for each numbered item or there could be blocks of paragraph for even pages for each one.

Complete the final thesis statement

The bottom line.

As you move through the process of crafting a thesis, you’ll need to remember four things:

  • Context matters! Think about your course materials and lectures. Try to relate your thesis to the ideas your instructor is discussing.
  • As you go through the process described in this section, always keep your assignment in mind . You will be more successful when your thesis (and paper) responds to the assignment than if it argues a semi-related idea.
  • Your thesis statement should be precise, focused, and contestable ; it should predict the sub-theses or blocks of information that you will use to prove your argument.
  • Make sure that you keep the rest of your paper in mind at all times. Change your thesis as your paper evolves, because you do not want your thesis to promise more than your paper actually delivers.

In the beginning, the thesis statement was a tool to help you sharpen your focus, limit material and establish the paper’s purpose. When your paper is finished, however, the thesis statement becomes a tool for your reader. It tells the reader what you have learned about your topic and what evidence led you to your conclusion. It keeps the reader on track–well able to understand and appreciate your argument.

thesis supporting details

Writing Process and Structure

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

Getting Started with Your Paper

Interpreting Writing Assignments from Your Courses

Generating Ideas for

Creating an Argument

Thesis vs. Purpose Statements

Architecture of Arguments

Working with Sources

Quoting and Paraphrasing Sources

Using Literary Quotations

Citing Sources in Your Paper

Drafting Your Paper

Generating Ideas for Your Paper

Introductions

Paragraphing

Developing Strategic Transitions

Conclusions

Revising Your Paper

Peer Reviews

Reverse Outlines

Revising an Argumentative Paper

Revision Strategies for Longer Projects

Finishing Your Paper

Twelve Common Errors: An Editing Checklist

How to Proofread your Paper

Writing Collaboratively

Collaborative and Group Writing

thesis supporting details

6.3 Supporting a Thesis

Learning objectives.

  • Understand the general goal of writing a paper.
  • Be aware of how you can create supporting details.
  • Recognize procedures for using supporting details.

Supporting your thesis is the overall goal of your whole paper. It means presenting information that will convince your readers that your thesis makes sense. You need to take care to choose the best supporting details for your thesis.

Creating Supporting Details

thesis supporting details

You can and should use a variety of kinds of support for your thesis. One of the easiest forms of support to use is personal observations and experiences. The strong point in favor of using personal anecdotes is that they add interest and emotion, both of which can pull audiences along. On the other hand, the anecdotal and subjective nature of personal observations and experiences makes them too weak to support a thesis on their own.

Since they can be verified, facts can help strengthen personal anecdotes by giving them substance and grounding. For example, if you tell a personal anecdote about having lost twenty pounds by using a Hula-Hoop for twenty minutes after every meal, the story seems interesting, but readers might not think it is a serious weight-loss technique. But if you follow up the story with some facts about the benefit of exercising for twenty minutes after every meal, the Hula-Hoop story takes on more credibility. Although facts are undeniably useful in writing projects, a paper full of nothing but fact upon fact would not be very interesting to read.

Like anecdotal information, your opinions can help make facts more interesting. On their own, opinions are weak support for a thesis. But coupled with specific relevant facts, opinions can add a great deal of interest to your work. In addition, opinions are excellent tools for convincing an audience that your thesis makes sense.

Similar to your opinions are details from expert testimony and personal interviews. Both of these kinds of sources provide no shortage of opinions. Expert opinions can carry a little more clout than your own, but you should be careful not to rely too much on them. However, it’s safe to say that finding quality opinions from others and presenting them in support of your ideas will make others more likely to agree with your ideas.

Statistics can provide excellent support for your thesis. Statistics are facts expressed in numbers. For example, say you relay the results of a study that showed that 90 percent of people who exercise for twenty minutes after every meal lose two pounds per week. Such statistics lend strong, credible support to a thesis.

Examples Choices of details used to clarify a point for readers. —real or made up—are powerful tools you can use to clarify and support your facts, opinions, and statistics. A detail that sounds insignificant or meaningless can become quite significant when clarified with an example. For example, you could cite your sister Lydia as an example of someone who lost thirty pounds in a month by exercising after every meal. Using a name and specifics makes it seem very personal and real. As long as you use examples ethically and logically, they can be tremendous assets. On the other hand, when using examples, take care not to intentionally mislead your readers or distort reality. For example, if your sister Lydia also gave birth to a baby during that month, leaving that key bit of information out of the example would be misleading.

Procedures for Using Supporting Details

You are likely to find or think of details that relate to your topic and are interesting, but that do not support your thesis. Including such details in your paper is unwise because they are distracting and irrelevant.

In today’s rich world of technology, you have many options when it comes to choosing sources of information. Make sure you choose only reliable sources. Even if some information sounds absolutely amazing, if it comes from an unreliable source, don’t use it. It might sound amazing for a reason—because it has been amazingly made up.

thesis supporting details

When you find a new detail, make sure you can find it in at least one more source so you can safely accept it as true. Take this step even when you think the source is reliable because even reliable sources can include errors. When you find new information, make sure to put it into your essay or file of notes right away. Never rely on your memory.

Take great care to organize your supporting details so that they can best support your thesis. One strategy is to list the most powerful information first. Another is to present information in a natural sequence, such as chronological A method of narrative arrangement that places events in their order of occurrence. order. A third option is to use a compare/contrast A writing pattern used to explain how two (or more) things are alike and different. format. Choose whatever method you think will most clearly support your thesis.

Make sure to use at least two or three supporting details for each main idea. In a longer essay, you can easily include more than three supporting details per idea, but in a shorter essay, you might not have space for any more.

Key Takeaways

  • A thesis gives an essay a purpose, which is to present details that support the thesis.
  • To create supporting details, you can use personal observations and experiences, facts, opinions, statistics, and examples.
  • When choosing details for your essay, exclude any that do not support your thesis, make sure you use only reliable sources, double-check your facts for accuracy, organize your details to best support your thesis, and include at least two or three details to support each main idea.

Choose a topic of interest to you. Write a personal observation or experience, a fact, an opinion, a statistic, and an example related to your topic. Present your information in a table with the following headings.

Choose a topic of interest to you. On the Internet, find five reliable sources and five unreliable sources and fill in a table with the following headings.

  • Choose a topic of interest to you and write a possible thesis related to the topic. Write one sentence that is both related to the topic and relevant to the thesis. Write one sentence that is related to the topic but not relevant to the thesis.

While Sandel argues that pursuing perfection through genetic engineering would decrease our sense of humility, he claims that the sense of solidarity we would lose is also important.

This thesis summarizes several points in Sandel’s argument, but it does not make a claim about how we should understand his argument. A reader who read Sandel’s argument would not also need to read an essay based on this descriptive thesis.  

Broad thesis (arguable, but difficult to support with evidence) 

Michael Sandel’s arguments about genetic engineering do not take into consideration all the relevant issues.

This is an arguable claim because it would be possible to argue against it by saying that Michael Sandel’s arguments do take all of the relevant issues into consideration. But the claim is too broad. Because the thesis does not specify which “issues” it is focused on—or why it matters if they are considered—readers won’t know what the rest of the essay will argue, and the writer won’t know what to focus on. If there is a particular issue that Sandel does not address, then a more specific version of the thesis would include that issue—hand an explanation of why it is important.  

Arguable thesis with analytical claim 

While Sandel argues persuasively that our instinct to “remake” (54) ourselves into something ever more perfect is a problem, his belief that we can always draw a line between what is medically necessary and what makes us simply “better than well” (51) is less convincing.

This is an arguable analytical claim. To argue for this claim, the essay writer will need to show how evidence from the article itself points to this interpretation. It’s also a reasonable scope for a thesis because it can be supported with evidence available in the text and is neither too broad nor too narrow.  

Arguable thesis with normative claim 

Given Sandel’s argument against genetic enhancement, we should not allow parents to decide on using Human Growth Hormone for their children.

This thesis tells us what we should do about a particular issue discussed in Sandel’s article, but it does not tell us how we should understand Sandel’s argument.  

Questions to ask about your thesis 

  • Is the thesis truly arguable? Does it speak to a genuine dilemma in the source, or would most readers automatically agree with it?  
  • Is the thesis too obvious? Again, would most or all readers agree with it without needing to see your argument?  
  • Is the thesis complex enough to require a whole essay's worth of argument?  
  • Is the thesis supportable with evidence from the text rather than with generalizations or outside research?  
  • Would anyone want to read a paper in which this thesis was developed? That is, can you explain what this paper is adding to our understanding of a problem, question, or topic?
  • picture_as_pdf Thesis

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Research Paper: A step-by-step guide: 3. Thesis Statement & Outline

  • 1. Getting Started
  • 2. Topic Ideas
  • 3. Thesis Statement & Outline
  • 4. Appropriate Sources
  • 5. Search Techniques
  • 6. Taking Notes & Documenting Sources
  • 7. Evaluating Sources
  • 8. Citations & Plagiarism
  • 9. Writing Your Research Paper

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About Thesis Statements

Qualities of a thesis statement.

Thesis statements:

  • state the subject matter and main ideas of a paper.
  • appear in the first paragraph and announces what you will discuss in your paper.
  • define the scope and focus of your essay, and tells your reader what to expect.  
  • are not a simple factual statement.  It is an assertion that states your claims and that you can prove with evidence.
  • should be the product of research and your own critical thinking.
  • can be very helpful in constructing an outline for your essay; for each point you make, ask yourself whether it is relevant to the thesis.

Steps you can use to create a thesis statement

1. Start out with the main topic and focus of your essay.

youth gangs + prevention and intervention programs

2. Make a claim or argument in one sentence.  It can be helpful to start with a question which you then turn into an argument

Can prevention and intervention programs stop youth gang activities?  How?  ►►►  "Prevention and intervention programs can stop youth gang activities by giving teens something else to do."

3. Revise the sentence by using specific terms.

"Early prevention programs in schools are the most effective way to prevent youth gang involvement by giving teens good activities that offer a path to success."

4. Further revise the sentence to cover the scope of your essay and make a strong statement.

"Among various prevention and intervention efforts that have been made to deal with the rapid growth of youth gangs, early school-based prevention programs are the most effective way to prevent youth gang involvement, which they do by giving teens meaningful activities that offer pathways to achievement and success."

5. Keep your thesis statement flexible and revise it as needed. In the process of researching and writing, you may find new information or refine your understanding of the topic.

You can view this short video for more tips on how to write a clear thesis statement.

An outline is the skeleton of your essay, in which you list the arguments and subtopics in a logical order. A good outline is an important element in writing a good paper. An outline helps to target your research areas, keep you within the scope without going off-track, and it can also help to keep your argument in good order when writing the essay.  Once your outline is in good shape, it is much easier to write your paper; you've already done most of the thinking, so you just need to fill in the outline with a paragraph for each point.

To write an outline: The most common way to write an outline is the list format.  List all the major topics and subtopics with the key points that support them. Put similar topics and points together and arrange them in a logical order.    Include an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. 

A list outline should arrange the main points or arguments in a hierarchical structure indicated by Roman numerals for main ideas (I, II, III...), capital letters for subtopics (A, B, C...), Arabic numerals for details (1,2,3...), and lower-case letters for fine details if needed (a,b,c...). This helps keep things organized.  

Here is a shortened example of an outline:

Introduction: background and thesis statement

I. First topic

1. Supporting evidence 2. Supporting evidence

II. Second Topic

III. Third Topic

I. Summarize the main points of your paper II. Restate your thesis in different words III. Make a strong final statement

You can see examples of a few different kinds of outlines and get more help at the Purdue OWL .

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Table of Contents

Ai, ethics & human agency, collaboration, information literacy, writing process, check relevance of supporting details, how are supporting details used.

When a writer makes a claim, the position should be backed with supporting details and examples. These details supply evidence that defends the validity of the claim, and they should be relevant, credible, and verifiable.

Why is it important to relate supporting details directly to the thesis or topic sentence?

In an academic paper, the claim and main ideas stated in the thesis and topic sentences require further explanation and support. The major components of a paper—the thesis, the topic sentences, and the supporting details—should work together to create a strong and stable essay. The thesis should be supported by each paragraph, and each paragraph’s topic sentence should be supported with relevant details and examples. If one of those components fails to do its job, the foundation of the paper is compromised and the argument is weakened.

Without relevant supporting details, the paper may lack cohesiveness and credibility. The reader may be unable to follow the progression of the argument and remain unconvinced that the claim or ideas have a credible foundation. To maintain the credibility of the author and the paper, include details and examples that clearly correspond to the claim and main ideas. It may be helpful to list some of these potential supporting details and select the most relevant before writing.

Let’s look at an example:

Claim: A stay-at-home parent performs a number of important tasks that others are paid to do.

Relevant supporting details: This list should include jobs that others are commonly paid to perform. These items on the following list could be considered relevant to the claim and could be verified by many stay-at-home parents and by reliable research:

  • nanny : children are cared for
  • chauffer: children may be transported to school and a variety of activities
  • tutor : assistance with homework and projects may be provided
  • manager: a wide variety of household tasks are organized and performed
  • chef: meals are planned and prepared
  • accountant: finances are managed

Irrelevant details : These ideas would not be appropriate to support the writer’s claim, because these activities are not usually performed by paid workers and would be considered irrelevant to the claim.

  • coach : youth sports are often coached by the parent of one of the team members
  • volunteer: parents may do volunteer work at their child’s school
  • scout leader: boy scout and girl scout troops are usually led by a parent volunteer

Brevity – Say More with Less

Brevity – Say More with Less

Clarity (in Speech and Writing)

Clarity (in Speech and Writing)

Coherence – How to Achieve Coherence in Writing

Coherence – How to Achieve Coherence in Writing

Diction

Flow – How to Create Flow in Writing

Inclusivity – Inclusive Language

Inclusivity – Inclusive Language

Simplicity

The Elements of Style – The DNA of Powerful Writing

Unity

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Major and Minor Supporting Details

LESSON When you read an article A non-fiction, often informative writing that forms a part of a publication, such as a magazine or newspaper. or any other type of reading A piece of writing to be read. A reading can either be a full work (i.e., a book) or partial (i.e., a passage). , you will notice that in addition to having a thesis statement A brief statement that identifies a writer's thoughts, opinions, or conclusions about a topic. Thesis statements bring unity to a piece of writing, giving it a focus and a purpose. You can use three questions to help form a thesis statement: What is my topic? What am I trying to say about that topic? Why is this important to me or my reader? , the document will also have points that support that thesis An overall argument, idea, or belief that a writer uses as the basis for a work. . The thesis provides the author A person who wrote a text. 's topic The subject of a reading. and purpose The reason the writer is writing about a topic. It is what the writer wants the reader to know, feel, or do after reading the work. for writing. The supporting details Statements within a reading that tie directly to major details that support the main idea. These can be provided in examples, statistics, anecdotes, definitions, descriptions, or comparisons within the work. help the author make that topic and purpose clear to the reader.

The supporting details of a reading can be divided into major supporting details Statements within a reading that tie directly to the work's main idea. These can be provided in examples, statistics, anecdotes, definitions, descriptions, or comparisons within the work. and minor supporting details Smaller statements within a reading that tie directly to major details. , and they are found in the supporting paragraphs A selection of a writing that is made up of sentences formed around one main point. Paragraphs are set apart by a new line and sometimes indentation. , or body paragraphs The part of an essay that comes after the introduction and before the conclusion. Body paragraphs lay out the main ideas of an argument and provide the support for the thesis. All body paragraphs should include these elements: a topic sentence, major and minor details, and a concluding statement. Each body paragraph should stand on its own but also fit into the context of the entire essay, as well as support the thesis and work with the other supporting paragraphs. , of an article or essay A short piece of writing that focuses on at least one main idea. Some essays are also focused on the author's unique point of view, making them personal or autobiographical, while others are focused on a particular literary, scientific, or political subject. . Distinguishing between major and minor supporting details will help you break down the paragraphs in a reading, making it easier to understand. In this lesson, you will learn how to identify both major and minor supporting details in a reading.

When looking at a full reading such as an article or essay, the major and minor details relate to the thesis statement like this:

  • Major supporting details: topic sentences A sentence that contains the controlling idea for an entire paragraph and is typically the first sentence of the paragraph. in each body paragraph that support the thesis statement.
  • Minor supporting details: sentences that support the major supporting details.

When reading a longer essay, the thesis is included in an introductory paragraph The first paragraph of an essay. It must engage the reader, set the tone, provide background information, and present the thesis. and the major supporting details become topic sentences for distinct supporting paragraphs.

However, if the essay is only one paragraph long, the thesis becomes a topic sentence. When looking at an individual paragraph, the major and minor details relate to the topic sentence like this:

  • Major supporting details: support the topic sentence.
  • Minor supporting details: support the major supporting details.

Let's look at an example.

Sample essay thesis: Students should consider many variables when choosing classes.

Major supporting details:

  • Time of day
  • Whether it is required or not
  • How much reading/writing may be involved

Minor supporting details:

  • Time of day: You can choose classes that meet early in the morning, mid-morning, early afternoon, mid-afternoon, early evening, or evening.
  • Whether it is required or not: You may not want to take classes that do not qualify as credit toward your degree.
  • How much reading/writing may be involved: You may not want to take several classes at the same time that will involve a lot of reading, such as novels, or that require writing multiple papers.

Knowing how to find a thesis statement, major supporting details, and minor supporting details will help you in all of your communication. When you can find these items, you will see how they play a large part in how a document, speech, or advertisement is organized; as a result, they will help you better organize the documents you write. For example, when writing papers An academic essay that usually includes research and citations. in school, you will need to plan your paper and organize the ideas so they support your thesis. As a professional in your career, the same principle applies. Every audience wants to read a document that is well organized and written so that the major and minor details clearly support the thesis.

For this example paragraph and its topic sentence, notice how the major and minor supporting details support the topic sentence.

Steps to Positivity in the Classroom Success in college depends on many things, but one of the most important is having a positive attitude. There are many ways to develop a positive outlook. You can try using encouraging self-talk to motivate yourself. For example, if you tell yourself that you are smart and can be successful, you are more likely to do well in your classes. Helping others to be successful is also a way of maintaining a positive attitude. When you see that college is not a competition, you will see success come to you and those who work closely with you. Finally, you can develop a positive attitude by viewing difficult situations as opportunities to grow. For example, if you are struggling in a class because the material is challenging, don't let yourself feel down about it. Instead, take action! Visit with your professor or form a study group. Getting help will enable you to learn the material and therefore do better in your class. By using encouraging self-talk, helping others, and utilizing difficult moments as an opportunity to grow, you will have the optimistic outlook that will enable you to succeed in college—and in life!

Topic Sentence: Success in college depends on many things, but one of the most important is having a positive attitude.

  • Using encouraging self-talk
  • Helping others to be successful
  • Viewing difficult situations as an opportunity to grow
  • Using self-talk: tell yourself you are smart.
  • Helping others be successful: don't see college as a competition.
  • Viewing difficult situations as an opportunity to grow: visit a professor or form a study group.

For this exercise, review the following paragraph and its topic sentence, and then identify the major supporting details and minor supporting details.

The Benefits of Forming a Study Group Forming a study group is a great way to improve your grades and make friends. Studying with others helps you review what you know about the course content, allows you to re-teach the content to your group members, and lets you work with others to determine what the instructor wants you to know. All of these items reinforce your classroom experience and your knowledge of the material. Forming a study group is also a great way to make friends on campus. Often when people are new to a college setting they don’t know many people. Study groups can help you make new friends by using your common interest in the course to bring you together. That can make it much less scary to approach others about getting together.

Topic Sentence:

Forming a study group is a great way to improve your grades and make friends.

What are the major supporting details?

Sample Answer

  • It can improve your grades.
  • You can make new friends.

What are the minor supporting details?

  • It can improve your grades because you will review what you know, re-teach the material to your group, and work together to determine what the instructor wants you to know.
  • You can make new friends by using the class content as your common ground.

When finding a reading's major and minor supporting details, what should you do or look for first?

How does knowing how to find major and minor supporting details in a reading help you as a writer?

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Supporting Detail in Composition and Speech

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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  • B.A., English, State University of New York

In a composition or speech , a supporting detail is a fact, description , example , quotation , anecdote , or other item of information used to back up a claim , illustrate a point, explain an idea, or otherwise support a thesis or topic sentence .

Depending on a number of factors (including topic , purpose , and audience ), supporting details may be drawn from research or the personal experience of the writer or speaker. Even "the smallest detail," says Barry Lane, "can open up a new way of seeing the subject" ( Writing as a Road to Self-Discovery ).

​Examples of Supporting Details in Paragraphs

  • Descriptive Details in Stegner's "Town Dump"
  • Hot Hands, by Stephen Jay Gould
  • Poe's New York in the 1840s
  • Status Details in Tom Wolfe's Descriptions

Examples and Observations

  • "Good writers provide sufficient details such as examples, facts, quotations , and definitions to support their ideas. Writers use this information, known as supporting detail , to explain, clarify, or illustrate their main points. Without such specific material, a writer's ideas remain abstract and unconvincing. Experienced writers try, whenever possible, to show rather than simply tell their readers what their ideas mean." (Peter S. Gardner, New Directions: Reading, Writing, and Critical Thinking , 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, 2005)

Supporting Details in a Paragraph on Solitary Prison Cells

  • "Supermax prisons are exactingly designed to kill souls. A solitary cell (referred to as the 'hole' or the 'box') is typically between seventy and eighty square feet, and prisoners are kept alone in them for twenty-three hours a day, with one hour alone in a 'yard' barely twice the size of the cell and a shower perhaps three times a week. Practically all human contact is mediated by bars, mesh or manacles, and many cells are windowless, with an inmate’s exposure to the world outside the cell limited to the door slots through which food is passed by the gloved hands of jailers, often in the form of 'the loaf,' a disgusting pressed amalgam of pulverized food. Cells are, in most cases, deliberately colorless (any 'aesthetic' ingredient is considered an inappropriate privilege in an environment that seeks to level all distinctions to the basest level) and are built--bunks and all--from bare concrete; the only furnishing is a stainless steel toilet-and-sink combo positioned to deny privacy. The lighting is never turned off." (Michael Sorkin, "Drawing the Line." The Nation , September 16, 2013)

Supporting Details in a Paragraph on Baby Boomers

  • "The truth is our generation was spoiled rotten from the start. We spent the entire 1950s on our butts in front of the television while Mom fed us Twinkies and Ring Dings through strawberry Flavor Straws and Dad ransacked the toy stores looking for hundred-mile-an-hour streamlined Schwinns, Daisy air howitzers, Lionel train sets larger than the New York Central system, and other novelties to keep us amused during the few hours when Pinky Lee and My Friend Flicka weren't on the air." (P.J. O'Rourke, "The 1987 Stock Market Crash." Age and Guile, Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut . Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995)

Supporting Details in a Paragraph on Segregation

  • "In practice, of course, the 'separate but equal' doctrine perpetuated an oppressive and humiliating reality. To express the judgment that African Americans were inferior and that white people needed to be protected from their contaminating presence, black people were consigned to the back of the bus, directed to use distinct drinking fountains and telephone booths, excluded altogether from white schools and hospitals, permitted to visit zoos and museums only on certain days, confined to designated areas in courtrooms, and sworn in as witnesses using racially differentiated Bibles. Under segregation, white people routinely declined to bestow courtesy titles such as 'Mr.' or 'Mrs.' on black people, referring to them simply as 'boy' or 'girl,' regardless of age. Stores prohibited African Americans from trying on clothes before purchase. Telephone directories marked black residents by placing 'col' (for colored) in parentheses next to their names. Newspapers refused to carry notices for black weddings." (Randall Kennedy, "The Civil Rights Act's Unsung Victory."  Harper's , June 2014)

Rachel Carson's Use of Supporting Details

  • "For the first time in the history of the world, every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death. In the less than two decades of their use, the synthetic pesticides have been so thoroughly distributed throughout the animate and inanimate world that they occur virtually everywhere. They have been recovered from most of the major river systems and even from streams of groundwater flowing unseen through the earth. Residues of these chemicals linger in soil to which they may have been applied a dozen years before. They have entered and lodged in the bodies of fish, birds, reptiles, and domestic and wild animals so universally that scientists carrying on animal experiments find it almost impossible to locate subjects free from such contamination. They have been found in fish in remote mountain lakes, in earthworms burrowing in soil, in the eggs of birds--and in man himself. For these chemicals are now stored in the bodies of the vast majority of human beings, regardless. of age. They occur in the mother's milk, and probably in the tissues of the unborn child." (Rachel Carson, Silent Spring . Houghton Mifflin, 1962)

The Purpose of Supporting Details

  • "Once you have constructed a topic sentence made up of the topic and its controlling idea, you are ready to support your statement with details. The quality and number of these details will largely determine the effectiveness of the writing. . . . "As you choose your supporting details , keep in mind that the readers do not necessarily have to agree with your point of view. However, your supporting details must be good enough to make your readers at least respect your attitude. Your goal should be to educate your readers. Try to give them some understanding of your subject. Don't assume they know about your topic or are interested in it. If you provide enough specific details your readers will feel they have learned something new about the subject, and this alone is a satisfying experience for most people. Effective supporting details will encourage readers to keep on reading." (Sandra Scarry and John Scarry, The Writer's Workplace With Readings: Building College Writing Skills , 7th ed. Wadsworth, 2011)

Organizing Supporting Details in a Paragraph

  • "Each body paragraph should contain only one main idea, and no detail or example should be in a paragraph if it doesn't support the topic sentence or help to transition from one paragraph to another. . . .
  • "[H]ere's the way to organize a paragraph: Topic sentence First supporting detail or example Second supporting detail or example Third supporting detail or example Concluding or transitional sentence You should have several details to support each topic sentence. If you find that you have little to say after writing the topic sentence, ask yourself what details or examples will make your reader believe that the topic sentence is true for you." (Paige L. Wilson and Teresa Ferster Glazier, ​ The Least You Should Know about English, Form B , 10th ed. Wadsworth, 2009)

Selective Supporting Details

  • " Select details carefully . Good storytelling requires the purposeful selection of details. Some beginning writers include either the wrong details or more details than the effective relating of the event requires. In your narrative writing , you should select details that help you to convey to your readers the point of your essay. This is what [George] Orwell did in the passage from "A Hanging" [paragraphs 9 and 10]. The detail of the condemned man avoiding the puddle of water related to Orwell's purpose in telling the story and to the meaning he saw in it." (Morton A. Miller, Reading and Writing Short Essays . Random House, 1980)
  • Examples of Great Introductory Paragraphs
  • How to Write a Good Descriptive Paragraph
  • Unity in Composition
  • Definition and Examples of Body Paragraphs in Composition
  • Understanding Organization in Composition and Speech
  • How to Structure an Essay
  • Topic In Composition and Speech
  • Development in Composition: Building an Essay
  • An Essay Revision Checklist
  • Understanding General-to-Specific Order in Composition
  • The Ultimate Guide to the 5-Paragraph Essay
  • Definition and Examples of Analysis in Composition
  • How to Teach Topic Sentences Using Models
  • Writing a Descriptive Essay
  • Paragraph Length in Compositions and Reports

Supporting Details

Supporting Details Video

Let’s talk about supporting details and how they can help strengthen your writing. A paragraph usually starts with the main idea—also called the topic sentence—and the rest of the paragraph gives specific details to support and develop that point. Today, we’ll be talking about those details, called supporting details.

Supporting Details Definition

Think of it this way: If you’re building a table then you need a flat surface for the tabletop, this is like your main point or topic sentence. If that flat surface doesn’t have any legs to stand on, though, it’s no good as a table! The supporting details are like the legs of the table, propping up the topic sentence.

Types of Supporting Details

There are six main types of supporting details: descriptions, vocabulary, proof, voices, explanation, and importance.

Description

Description is fairly self-explanatory: the writer can use the five senses, comparison, and metaphors to help paint a vivid picture for the reader.

Vocabulary helps with clarification. For example, if you have a topic sentence that relies on the word pulchritudinous , it might help to include a definition of the word so the reader doesn’t get sidetracked. ( Pulchritudinous means “beautiful,” by the way.)

Proof is often made up of facts , statistics, and dates that are hard evidence for your main point

“Voices” are expert quotes, individual opinions, or different perspectives that can be considered “soft proof.”

Explanation

Explanation is restating the main point more simply, and “importance” is answering the question “so what?” after a fact or a quote.

Supporting Details Examples

Let’s take a look at a quick example.

  Okay, so our main point is that first sentence: being a celebrity is difficult. The supporting details follow. You can see a voice is presented, that of Perez Hilton, a descriptive explanation, directing you to think about the paparazzi photos, and two simply descriptive phrases. This paragraph would be even stronger with a testimonial about a real-life story of a celebrity facing danger because of their place in the public image—that would be a proof-based supporting detail.

When you’re writing supporting details, it’s important not to stray too far from your original point. Remember, every paragraph in a written work is pointing back in some way to your overall thesis, and every sentence in the paragraph is pointing to the main point of that paragraph.

If you have a main point about, say, how dogs are man’s best friend, you wouldn’t want to use an example of how disloyal cats are in that paragraph. Save that point for another paragraph—stay focused on facts about dogs in the supporting paragraph about dogs. If you get off track from your main point, your reader might get confused and lose interest.

A common mistake in writing a paper is not providing enough specific details. The more specific, the better. A vague detail is like a thin table leg, it will make your entire point wobbly. Often vague details come when you’re pressed for time or don’t want to research a topic fully—take the time to make your paper worth reading. Let’s look at an example to further prove this point. You could write something like this:

  Okay. You know in general what’s happening. But think how much more convincing the following sentence would be:

  That’s a little more vivid, isn’t it? The details are strong and vibrant, not generic and vague. It makes the writer’s point much more clearly.

So let’s look back on what we’ve learned. Supporting details help hold up your main point. They should be specific, creative, and focused on the main point of the paragraph. Do this, and your writing will greatly improve.

I hope this video has been helpful and that you feel prepped and empowered. Thanks for watching!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are supporting details.

In a literary text, supporting details are general information that clarifies, supports, or explains the main idea or thesis in greater detail, proving the main idea’s credibility with supporting details and examples from the text in order to better understand the story and what the main idea is.

Where do supporting details usually appear in an essay?

Supporting details most often appear within the body of the essay.

How do I identify the main idea and supporting details?

The first sentence within the first paragraph generally contains the main idea. A thesis statement is often placed at the end of the introductory paragraph, followed by the essential supporting details, which are shared within the body paragraphs.

How do I write supporting details?

Supporting details are the well-researched facts and statements, detailed descriptions, examples, and specific details that lead the reader to comprehend the main idea of a paragraph. Supporting details provide clarification to the reader by explaining, describing, and illustrating the main idea within the text. Comparing and contrasting essays are good ways to write supporting details.

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COMMENTS

  1. 3.8: Main Ideas and Supporting Details

    Exercise 3.8.1 3.8. 1. Read the following paragraph and then decide what the main idea is. One myth about exercise is that if a woman lifts weights, she will develop muscles as large as a man's. Without male hormones, however, a woman cannot increase her muscle bulk as much as a man's.

  2. 9.2 Writing Body Paragraphs

    The writer drafts possible supporting detail sentences for each primary support sentence based on the thesis statement: Thesis statement: Unleashed dogs on city streets are a dangerous nuisance. Supporting point 1: Dogs can scare cyclists and pedestrians.

  3. Developing A Thesis and Supporting Auguments

    Here we will adapt Aristotle's method of "discovering arguments" to help identify and develop a strong thesis. You may adapt this method to any nonfiction writing, including essays, research papers, book reports, or critical reviews. 1. Choosing a Subject. Suppose your instructor asks you to write an essay about a holiday experience.

  4. Developing a Thesis Statement

    A thesis statement . . . Makes an argumentative assertion about a topic; it states the conclusions that you have reached about your topic. Makes a promise to the reader about the scope, purpose, and direction of your paper. Is focused and specific enough to be "proven" within the boundaries of your paper. Is generally located near the end ...

  5. Supporting a Thesis

    A thesis gives an essay a purpose, which is to present details that support the thesis. To create supporting details, you can use personal observations and experiences, facts, opinions, statistics, and examples. When choosing details for your essay, exclude any that do not support your thesis, make sure you use only reliable sources, double ...

  6. How to Write a Thesis Statement

    Placement of the thesis statement. Step 1: Start with a question. Step 2: Write your initial answer. Step 3: Develop your answer. Step 4: Refine your thesis statement. Types of thesis statements. Other interesting articles. Frequently asked questions about thesis statements.

  7. PDF College Writing: Supporting Your Thesis

    Supporting Your Thesis . You've written an arguable thesis. Now you've got to give some evidence to support your claim. Keep in mind our discussion in "Formulating an Arguable Thesis," and support your thesis with facts rather than with beliefs. Think of your paper as a court case —your job is to support your thesis with solid facts

  8. Developing A Thesis

    A good thesis has two parts. It should tell what you plan to argue, and it should "telegraph" how you plan to argue—that is, what particular support for your claim is going where in your essay. Steps in Constructing a Thesis. First, analyze your primary sources. Look for tension, interest, ambiguity, controversy, and/or complication.

  9. Thesis

    Thesis. Your thesis is the central claim in your essay—your main insight or idea about your source or topic. Your thesis should appear early in an academic essay, followed by a logically constructed argument that supports this central claim. A strong thesis is arguable, which means a thoughtful reader could disagree with it and therefore ...

  10. NROC Developmental English Foundations

    LESSON. In this lesson, you will learn how to develop a thesis statement and the supporting ideas that explain your purpose for writing. Every essay has a thesis, which is an overall argument, idea, or belief that a writer uses as the basis of the work. Most of the time, essays have a stated thesis statement that has been explicitly expressed ...

  11. 3. Thesis Statement & Outline

    can be very helpful in constructing an outline for your essay; for each point you make, ask yourself whether it is relevant to the thesis. Steps you can use to create a thesis statement. 1. Start out with the main topic and focus of your essay. youth gangs + prevention and intervention programs. 2. Make a claim or argument in one sentence.

  12. Check Relevance of Supporting Details

    The thesis should be supported by each paragraph, and each paragraph's topic sentence should be supported with relevant details and examples. If one of those components fails to do its job, the foundation of the paper is compromised and the argument is weakened. Without relevant supporting details, the paper may lack cohesiveness and credibility.

  13. Supporting Details

    The main idea can be directly expressed in the form of a topic sentence or thesis statement or it can be implied. The supporting details help to validate or expand on the main idea. Supporting ...

  14. PDF Thesis Statements and Topic Sentences

    A thesis driven essay is comprised of an initial thesis statement that establishes a claim or argument, and ensuing topic sentences that support and develop that claim. Ideally, a reader would be able to read only the thesis statement and topic sentences of your text, and still be able to understand the main ideas and

  15. PDF MAIN IDEAS AND SUPPORTING

    The main idea and its major supporting details form the basic framework of paragraphs. The major details. are the primary points that support the main idea. Paragraphs often contain minor details as well. While the major details explain and develop the main idea, they, in turn are expanded upon the minor supporting details.

  16. Writing

    The thesis statement, topic sentences, and supporting sentences will all connect to this idea. How to Write a Main Idea An effective main idea can be supported by the details, analysis, and ...

  17. NROC Developmental English Foundations

    In this lesson, you will learn how to identify both major and minor supporting details in a reading. When looking at a full reading such as an article or essay, the major and minor details relate to the thesis statement like this: Major supporting details: topic sentences. A sentence that contains the controlling idea for an entire paragraph ...

  18. Supporting Detail in Composition and Speech

    In a composition or speech, a supporting detail is a fact, description, example, quotation, anecdote, or other item of information used to back up a claim, illustrate a point, explain an idea, or otherwise support a thesis or topic sentence . Depending on a number of factors (including topic, purpose, and audience ), supporting details may be ...

  19. Main Idea and Supporting Details

    In non-fiction, it is the main point a writer is trying to prove. Supporting details are information, details, or points of discussion that prove the main idea. The bulk of any piece of writing is ...

  20. Identifying the Main Idea and Supporting Details in a Text

    Supporting details are pieces of information that provide evidence or explanation for the main idea. They can include facts, examples, statistics, anecdotes, or quotations. Supporting details help ...

  21. What Are Supporting Details? (Video)

    What are supporting details? A. In a literary text, supporting details are general information that clarifies, supports, or explains the main idea or thesis in greater detail, proving the main idea's credibility with supporting details and examples from the text in order to better understand the story and what the main idea is. Q.