Developing Your Ideas
Updated Fall 2022
Details bring our ideas to life. A conversation without details is like a blank canvas, plain and lacking color until the painter arrives. When we talk with others, the details we provide help our listeners better understand our ideas. Providing details and support for our ideas is called development. Writers who develop their ideas usually do a better job of keeping their readers' attention and gaining their trust.
To develop your ideas, you'll need to know what types of development you should use with your particular audience and focus. With this information, you can then present convincing details to your readers.
A Definition of Development
Development is how writers choose to elaborate their main ideas. Typically, we associate development with details because specifics help make generalizations (the main idea, claim or thesis) more concrete.
Reasons for Developing Your Writing
Kate Kiefer, English Department
Students need to be concerned with development for two main reasons:
- Details tend to be more persuasive, memorable, and engaging.
- Details show what we know. Providing details proves to your reader that you have a strong understanding of the topic you are writing about.
Things to Consider Before Developing
All readers have expectations. They assume certain details should be included within certain texts. For instance, readers would be shocked to read NFL statistics in a fashion magazine. Biology students wouldn't expect a paragraph on the artistic value of a pond in a research article about pond algae.
How you develop your ideas depends on your audience and focus. While it may seem obvious to include certain details, some forms of development work better with particular audiences. Ultimately, your details should work together to support the overall idea of your writing.
Development and Audience
Michael Palmquist, English Department
Your audience is who will read what you write. Different audiences expect certain details from texts. For instance, suppose you are writing about the representation of women in a particular novel. You will need to provide background details about the characters if your audience has not read the work. Or suppose you are writing to an organization to propose a new facility. Your audience might expect financial details, design details, or a mixture of both. Knowing who your audience is will help you determine what details to provide.
Donna Lecourt, English Department
What counts as evidence depends on the content area you are writing about. A quote from a novel is evidence. So is data from research. However, you probably wouldn’t include both types of evidence within the same piece because a literary argument has different goals than a scientific one. Whether you are sharing your personal experience or interviewing multiple people, you should always consider how your readers will receive your ideas.
Development and Focus
Kate Kiefer, English Department
The focus of your writing is the main idea you convey. Focus is what guides how you develop your ideas. For instance, perhaps your focus is proving a scientific concept incorrect through an experiment you conducted. You would then develop your report by describing what you did, your results, and how your experiment disproves the concept. Or perhaps you're writing to disagree with a philosophical concept. You would then develop your essay by presenting the concept and the reasons why you disagree with it. These reasons might be your opinions, criticisms from another philosopher, or perhaps even interviews with instructors.
Strategies for Development
You can often make a claim based on the similarity of one thing to another. You might argue, for instance, that buying a home computer is like buying a new car: before you buy it, you want to take it out for a test drive. The purchase is likely to be a major one -- you may want to get a loan. Once you take it home, it will take a little while to get used to it.
Analogies are convincing because they can make something unfamiliar or complex easier to understand. If the reader can see how something complex is like something they are familiar with, then the claim will be more effective.
In your paper, you can present an analysis of your supporting information, like quotes or statistics, in order to strengthen your writing. If your supporting information is the “what,” then your analysis is the “why.” For example, if a quote from a novel is your support, your analysis would explain (in your own words) why that quote supports your argument.
Association is an effective strategy. Many companies use this strategy through celebrity endorsements. Sports drink companies hire famous athletes to be the “face” of their product so buyers will associate the drink with athletic excellence. Makeup companies will hire models to promote their products so users will associate the makeup line with incredible beauty.
Using association doesn’t necessarily mean that what you’re saying is true; for example, Drinking Powerade probably won’t turn you into an elite athlete. However, it is an effective strategy for getting people to agree that your product is the best. The same thing is true for writing: association can help you convince readers that your claim is the strongest. Just be sure your audience would respond positively to the person or people you’re associating your ideas with!
Consider this strategy if you need to show your readers why something happened or the consequences of a decision or event. For example, company executives decide to use electronic mail because employees are not communicating job tasks with one another (cause). As a result, employees not only increase work production, but they also use the mail system to advertise social events (effects).
Depending on your focus, you may need to present only the causes or only the effects of your topic.
If you are writing about a complex topic, you might consider using a comparison or a contrast. This will help your readers understand your topic by reminding them of something they already know. For instance, email is like hand-delivered mail in that both require an address to deliver a message. However, they are different because one is delivered more quickly than the other, one may seem more personal than the other, etc. This type of strategy is similar to analogy.
Trying to persuade someone using only your opinion can be challenging and ineffective. Your audience is more likely to listen to and agree with you if you use reliable, credible sources to back your claims up. This is called citing an authority. An authority figure is knowledgeable about the topic you are writing about; often, this is an expert in the field or someone who has personal experience with the topic. Two ways to cite an authority are conducting interviews and finding sources through the library.
Interviews allow you to quote information from a respected person in the field in which you are writing about. This makes your ideas more believable since someone else – someone relevant -- also agrees with what you have to say. Direct quotes can be powerful pieces of evidence in an argument, but they can take longer or be more difficult to get.
A popular way to find an authority figure to cite is using the library (online or in person) to locate books and articles on your topic. Using outside resources in your writing conveys to readers you have researched your topic. This makes your ideas more believable. If you are a student, you should have access to your university’s database. Additionally, public libraries and academic search engines, such as Google Scholar, can help you conduct research. Still stuck? Try talking to a librarian – they are extremely knowledgeable and helpful!
Make sure that the source you’re citing is relevant to what you’re writing about. Consider who wrote it, when their writing was published, where the writing was published, and how your audience might react to hearing from the source.
Finally, it is important that you give credit to those whose work you are using to improve your writing. There are several different citation styles, and one may be more appropriate than the other based on the type of writing you are doing. There are many resources that can help you understand how to implement each style, including Purdue OWL, university websites, and writing center websites. Several of these resources will be linked at the end of this document. Below is a brief overview of the three most common citation styles.
MLA stands for Modern Language Association. This citation style is typically used in the Humanities, especially Literature. This style incorporates in-text citations and a Works Cited page.
APA stands for American Psychological Association. This style is typically used in fields like psychology, education, and the sciences. This style incorporates in-text citations and a References page.
CMS stands for Chicago Manual of Style. This style is typically used in publications, as well as in cases where footnotes might be helpful. This style incorporates footnotes and a Bibliography page.
Provide your readers with a definition if they may not know what a certain term means or is referring to. This may look like explaining what a scientific term means, what a concept is, or even clarifying the specific definition of a word that may have more than one meaning.
Pathos (appeal to emotions)
An appeal to emotions can make your claim(s) more effective. If your words make readers feel something, whether that be anger, joy, excitement, or concern, they will be more likely to agree with your stance.
When making an appeal to emotions, consider which emotion(s) would be most helpful for a reader to feel if you want them to agree with you. Are they more likely to be on your side if they feel excited, sad, or scared? Also, think about how you can make readers feel these emotions. Depending on the type of writing you are doing, you may want to use descriptive language, include shocking statistics, or ask thought-provoking questions.
Ethos (appeal to credibility)
Showing your readers that you are a trustworthy writer is important. Three popular ways of proving credibility are providing credentials, sharing personal experience, and citing authority. Credentials show you are qualified in a certain area. They are typically related to school (ex: degrees earned) or work (jobs you’ve held). Personal experience shows that you have a real connection to the topic you are writing about. Citing authority shows that you have done the research needed to make a strong argument.
Logos (appeal to logic)
Supporting your claims with facts will help you convince your readers that you are right. Unlike an opinion, a fact can’t be argued with! Make sure that you cite your sources when including factual evidence in your work, and make sure to include your own analysis of why those facts back up your argument.
Charts, graphs, figures, and drawings help readers envision your ideas and, in some cases, better understand your data. For example, if you are trying to show that there has been a dramatic increase or decrease of something, it might be more effective to include a bar graph that shows the difference in bar sizes than if you just listed the numbers by themselves.
Be careful not to rely too heavily on visual representations; this can be overwhelming for the reader and may make it seem like you are relying more on the images than your own analysis.
Using your personal experience shows your readers you have first-hand experience with your topic. In a way, you become an authority figure on the topic, too. For example, if you are writing to argue that more research should be done on a certain disease, your credibility would increase if you were able to share your own personal experience with the disease.
Consider what type of writing you are doing. Be sure that using personal experience is appropriate for your audience and subject matter. Ask yourself whether your readers will accept personal experience as evidence.
Hopkins, Haley, Stephen Reid, & Dawn Kowalski. (2022). Developing Your Ideas. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University. https://writing.colostate.edu/guides/guides.cfm?guideid=27