Planning support at all levels


Planning support at all levels

Unity is important at every level of generality. The standard expository paragraph is like a pyramid with the topic sentence at the top or highest level of generality. With each new specific level added for each subtopic, the base of support for the pyramid becomes stronger. Without such support, the pyramid will not stand, and the writer's purpose will not be fulfilled.

Once you have your subtopics, you are ready to develop the next level of generality, the specific support. Remember that you want to dig deeply, so develop support that follows a general-to-specific approach. For every rhetorical pattern, there may be variations in how to structure paragraphs, but effective writers are able to explain and illustrate at various levels. Thus, it is a good idea to keep the following strategy in mind when planning support for an expository paragraph with examples.

The pyramid of support

Topic Sentence

Two or More Subtopics

General Explanation of Each Subtopic

General Examples to Illustrate Each Subtopic

Specific Examples, Facts, Details, Statistics, Personal Experiences

Explanation of Specific Examples, Facts, Details, Statistics, Personal Experiences

A paragraph is unified if each subtopic is a logical division of the paragraph topic and if the specific support for each subtopic is relevant to that subtopic.

Topic Sentence.This is the topic of the paper. Express it in a statement with the focus you have chosen.

Subtopics.These are the main points, which are more specific than the topic. Plan at least two well-expressed main points.

Explanation of Subtopics.This will include a definition and/or a discussion in general terms of each main point. Plan at least two points of explanation; more is better.

General Examples.These are examples of experiences that people have every day. They may include hypothetical examples (Let's suppose, let’s say, imagine that, if). Plan at least two general examples, but additional examples will provide a more representative range. Include all important details.

Specific Examples.These are specific examples and details of real-life events. This level can include past events and experiences of the writer or other people, case studies, or examples from history (In my case, Once, The following true story illustrates). Include all relevant details. Aim for one specific well-developed example or two or more less-developed ones. The examples should contribute to the content and not just repeat the main point word for word.


Ex. 6 Solving problems with topic and subtopic sentences

Bring into class a current draft of a composition you are working on. Discuss the problems you had or are having with your choice of topic and subtopic sentences.

• Explain how you solved them or how you are solving them.

• If necessary, brainstorm in small groups to find more effective subtopics.


In-class Writing Activity

You will be given a time limit in which to write a composition on a topic your instructor will provide (2-3pages every other line).

• Plan before you write.

• Allow for time to proofread.

• Use all of the time allowed.


relevant support to convince suitable disadvantage
convincing support to sort out sophomoric generality
representative to overlap duplication to consider
scope thought-provoking advantage to match
to be distinct specific example well-expressed to illustrate


Outlining skills

Objectives In this unit you will: learn what outlining is;
  study the outlining discover how to frame a paragraph;
  learn rules for outlining.

Starting up

Ex.1 Agree or disagree with the following statement: Writing an outline allows you to think before you write. Give your arguments.



Outlining Skills

An outline is a formal organized list of the ideas, explanations, details, examples, and other supporting points in a paper. When organizing a paper, it is easier to write an outline than to write the entire paper. If you have to make changes, do not rewrite every word; simply shift the points in the outline around and cut or add support as needed. It is necessary to learn outlining skills because sometimes a professor will ask to preview an outline before the paper is due and then request the final outline with the paper.

Framing a Paragraph

An outline is a visual representation of the levels of generality. First, the symbols used to signify general ideas are different from those for specific ideas. We will approach outlining by showing how one paragraph is built in layers, beginning with the main points under each topic sentence and adding deeper and deep­er support.


Layer One: A, B, C

The main ideas (subtopics) in a paragraph are labeled A, B, C, and so on, and must directly relate to the topic sentence. In the outline model that follows, the subtopics are stated in sentences as models of effective subtopic sentences.

Layer Two: 1, 2, and 3

In this level, the supporting points are labeled with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, and so on) and the list of sup­porting points is indented. In this way, the reader can easily identify the supporting points. The rule for unity applies at this level also. Note that in each main division (A, B, C) the supporting points (1 and 2) directly relate to the topic sentence.

Layer Three: a, b, c

This level, consisting of relevant explanations of each subtopic, is labeled with lowercase letters (a, b, c, and so on). This list is also indented. In the following model, the reader can quickly see how the writer plans to discuss each subtopic.

Rules for Outlining

In addition to the rules for labeling the levels of generality in outlines demonstrated above, there are other guidelines for effective outlining.

1. Equivalent Value Rule:Clearly label the parts of the outline with the appropriate symbols for each level of generality. Remember that the support at the same level of generality should be labeled with the same type of symbol.

2. Balanced Support Rule:Plan at least two subdivisions for each division for balanced, well-developed support.

3. Parallel in Form Rule:List the support in parallel form. You can state all the points as sentence or noun phrases. It is a good idea to write out the subtopics as sentences to help with coherence when you write your paper.

4. Indentation Rule:Indent for each new level of generality. Levels that are equal in value should have the same indentation.



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