Pinning it down
When we wrote about paragraphs in chapter 5 we said that the most important sentence in a paragraph is the topic sentence, which is usually the first sentence in the paragraph. The rest of the sentences, the supporting sentences, expand the idea in the topic sentence. They give evidence, explanations, reasons, examples, illustrations to support the topic sentence.
Most of the content in a composition is the support of ideas:
SUPPORT [EVIDENCE, EXPLANATIONS, REASONS, EXAMPLES, ILLUSTRATIONS] 90%
We use our experience and knowledge to illustrate our ideas. We call it ‘pinning down’ (determinar, precisar, literalmente, sujetar con alfileres) ideas, bringing them in touch with reality. The magic word is EQUIP, E-QU-I-P
E > examples
Idea: The restaurant was not very clean
Idea plus examples: The restaurant was not very clean. The glasses had watermarks on them and on my knife there was something which looked like dried blood but was probably old tomato sauce.
QU > quotations
Why not use a quotation? Quotations can add conviction and interest and liveliness to a composition.
Idea: My father is a real tyrant
Idea plus quotation: My father is a real tyrant. He is always telling us what to do. ‘Take off your shoes, Paul!’ ‘Julian, don’t play your music so loud!’
Obviously, you may be able to use a quotation from a book or a newspaper or the TV, or use famous quotations or invent one.
I > illustrations
Illustrations are much the same as examples, but often longer. They are illustrations because they ‘show’ vividly what the writer is talking about.
Idea: People talk about violence on TV and indeed a lot of violence of different kinds is shown.
Idea plus illustration: People talk about violence on TV and indeed a lot of violence of different kinds is shown. I once saw a film in which a man was shot, his blood splashed over the lens of the camera so that we saw it run down the TV screen. The effect was shocking. But violence is not only to be seen in action films, the news, too, constantly shows us scenes of real violence. Just recently…
P > particulars
Particulars refer to specific details. Details make it easier for the reader to visualize our message. This is a technique writers use.
General idea: She takes her holidays in glamorous places.
Detailed idea: She takes her holidays in Florida, Acapulco, Tibet, always somewhere glamorous.
General idea: He started eating.
Detailed idea: He picked up the bread and bit into it. Then he spooned the soup noisily.
General idea: He has tried all sorts of jobs but he gave them all up.
Detailed idea: He has tried being a waiter, a barman, a rubbish collector and a messenger. But he gave them all up.
Finally, when we are writing notes on rough paper, we should try and visually differentiate which notes are ideas and which notes are illustrations or examples (EQUIP). Using two different coloured pens may help to distinguish between them. This way we may also notice which ideas still need ‘pinning down’.
Once we have developed and organized our ideas –remember, we are still working on rough paper!- we should write down the frame of the composition: the three or four main points in sequence, on a list form. This will also help us see what needs illustration.
So for the composition topic A woman’s place… (about life for women in Spain these days) the framework (ie, the main ideas, the topic sentences) might look something like it is shown below, but all the evidence, all the explanations, all the examples, illustrations and details are still missing:
1 Until recently, women were not free.
2 Now they can legally do everything men can do.
3 But this ‘freedom’ is still not completely real.
4 Women must make this freedom a reality.
Also remember that although the subject of a composition is impersonal, we must never neglect our own experience (what we ourselves think and feel and have seen and read) to illustrate our ideas.
This post is a summary of chapeter 8 of Feedback, Cambridge University Press, an intermediate writing course.