One of the main complaints I hear from my students is “I can’t write three to five pages!”

Well, no.  Not the way most of them write.  Most of what I see coming into my class is no more fleshed out than an outline, not really an essay.  So, what’s the secret?  The secret is in thorough development.

Development is actually really simple.  It’s a paragraph level writing tool, unlike focus and organization, which are more overall tools.  Good development is made up of claims, evidence, and elaboration.

Your claim is your paragraph’s topic sentence.  For that, you need to go back to your thesis statement–your overall clam with reasons.  Those reasons form the topic sentences for the main body paragraphs.  You may have a subclaim or two to flesh out, but your main topic sentence is one of the reasons listed in your thesis statement.  Start your paragraph with a sentence or two making your claims.  Then, you move on to your evidence.

So, what kind of evidence do you need?  That depends.  There’s hard evidence, and soft evidence.  Hard evidence consists of facts, figures, and statistics.  Basically, you find a lot of this either by having a lot of technical knowledge on the topic you’re writing about, or you do research to find it (more on finding reliable sources in a future post).  Soft evidence is anecdotes–stories from your experience, or from other people’s.  Hypothetical examples also fit in soft evidence.  Most of the time, you’ll need both kinds of evidence to truly convince your readers.  You’ll need about three to six sentences of hard or soft evidence per paragraph (and it’s best to combine both).  Then, you elaborate on your evidence.

What do I mean by elaborate on the evidence?  Well, how often do you say something to someone else that you think proves a point, only to have them come to a completely different conclusion?  You can easily avoid that in writing by explaining, in eight to ten sentences interspersed between your evidence, exactly how your bits of evidence illustrate the initial claim you made in your paragraph’s topic sentence.  Walk your readers through the logic chain that you see connecting your evidence to your claims.

So, altogether, each paragraph will have between one and three sentences of claim, three to six sentences of evidence, and six to ten sentences of elaboration on your evidence.  Do you see a pattern?  You need approximately twice as much evidence as claim, and about twice as much elaboration as evidence.  Each paragraph needs between ten and twenty sentences.

That means a single paragraph will be at least half to three quarters of a page long, double-spaced.  And with full development on three main points, you’ve got a much stronger paper that meets the minimum requirement easily, if you’re writing for a class, and clearly makes your point even if you’re not.