What does it really mean to elaborate?

The answer to this question is twofold. On one hand, elaboration is an essential part of writing. It allows you to clarify points that you are trying to make and provide additional details. On the other hand, with an essay that is a few hundred words short of the final word count, elaboration can bring it up to the threshold without monotonous repetition or duplication. Yet doing well at elaboration in an essay can be challenging for novice writers. This is because they tend to provide too much description, which takes away from the evaluative and analytical components of the paper. Elaboration can also be difficult for people who see things in terms of black and white, because the literal nature of such a position makes elaboration particularly challenging.

Elaboration generally comes at the end of a paragraph, or in some cases, towards the latter half of the essay. The justification for this is that it is difficult to elaborate on something that you have not previously defined. There are two main elements that need to be discussed with respect to elaboration: sufficiency and relatedness. Sufficiency is the amount of detail. A question that the writer might consider for this is, have I provided enough detail for the reader to construct a picture in his/her mind? When considering this in terms of expository writing, sufficiency is more than just stating your purpose or persuading your audience; it also means that credible and accurate points are made. An essay that is sufficient, however, is only halfway complete. Yes, word count is important, as it means the quantity component has been met, but as a writer, you must always be concerned with quality

Quality is essentially a component of relatedness. When we discuss relatedness in terms of elaboration, we are really focusing on the quality of the details and their focus to the main topic. Good writers include details; great writers include only relevant details that will strengthen the focus of the paper. The quality of the elaboration is really going to depend on how strong the initial argument is. This is primarily because in order to maintain the focus of an argument, the argument has to be inherently clear.

So if you know that you need both quantity and quality to provide sufficient elaboration, the next question becomes, how can you achieve this? There are really two solutions. To let someone else read your draft and ask questions, or (preferably) learn to ask those questions of yourself. For the most part, a good essay will be readable to both those within your subject area and those outside of it. Therefore, anyone might be able to read your draft and ask questions. Some of the more basic questions are going to be the ‘w’ questions, so who, what, where and when, but these are largely descriptive. It is going to be the why questions that are the most likely to add value to your writing.

There are usually three types of essays where elaboration is essential: narrative, argumentative, and informational writing. Each offers a slightly different perspective on what elaboration means within the context of the overall paper. For narrative writing, the mantra of the writer should be ‘show not tell’. As a writer, it is your job to paint a visual picture in the mind of the reader. Therefore, the language associated with elaboration should relate to explaining characters’ feelings and thoughts, thus painting sensory descriptions within the paper. The elaboration of narrative essays also requires description of actions, physical states or internal states. With actions, the writer might tend to focus on breaking down a pivotal moment into logical and organized replays. With physical states, the writer might elaborate on what things in the story sound like, smell like, taste like and feel like. In this type of elaboration, similes and metaphors can be particularly useful. Finally, with internal states in narrative writing, your goal is to write what cannot be seen (e.g. to explain in writing what a movie might have to leave out). Narrative writing uses specific dialogue to explain a character’s personality, thoughts, and feelings. By doing this through elaboration, background information can be provided that contributes to the story.

Argumentative writing works slightly differently and the elaboration is similar to expository writing. For this type of writing, information is crucial as the use of facts, statistics, and examples offer crucial strategies for elaboration. Again, here, we revert back to quantity and quality. When looking for information, you need to be able to find enough of it and find stuff that is relevant. It is here that it is important to stress research skills. Being able to locate resources from books, journal articles, and other credible sources of information are essential to the elaboration process. Once locating these relevant sources, the next essential component is separating the good stuff from all the rest. This is done, to some extent, through selective reading, but also through good summarizing skills. This type of elaboration is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced.

The other type of writing is informational writing. This, while possibly easy, can also be really challenging when it comes to elaboration, because there are only so many details that can be provided to the reader. In this instance, elaboration might come through figures and tables, or through additional statistics that contribute to the overall article.

We have talked in this post about elaboration and what it really means. A great writer uses elaboration for clarity and not to simply meet the word count (though this is a nice benefit). You must consider quantity and quality by making sure that your examples are the best possible ones you can put together. Details are important. In a narrative essay, details come in the form of character/plot development. In an argumentative essay or an instructional essay, you may need to rely on facts, statistics, and tables. Finally, make sure that you acquire the skills you need to be a good researcher, because if you can find the good information and summarize well, you are going to end up with pretty great elaboration skills!

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