10.2 Illustration

Learning Objectives

  1. Determine the purpose and structure of the illustration essay.
  2. Understand how to write an illustration essay.

The Purpose of Illustration in Writing

To illustrate means to show or demonstrate something clearly. An effective illustration essay clearly demonstrates and supports a point through the use of evidence.

As you learned in Chapter 9 “Writing Essays: From Start to Finish”, the controlling idea of an essay is called a thesis. A writer can use different types of evidence to support his or her thesis. Using scientific studies, experts in a particular field, statistics, historical events, current events, analogies, and personal anecdotes are all ways in which a writer can illustrate a thesis. Ultimately, you want the evidence to help the reader “see” your point, as one would see a good illustration in a magazine or on a website. The stronger your evidence is, the more clearly the reader will consider your point.

Using evidence effectively can be challenging, though. The evidence you choose will usually depend on your subject and who your reader is (your audience). When writing an illustration essay, keep in mind the following:

  • Use evidence that is appropriate to your topic as well as appropriate for your audience.
  • Assess how much evidence you need to adequately explain your point depending on the complexity of the subject and the knowledge of your audience regarding that subject.

For example, if you were writing about a new communication software and your audience was a group of English-major undergrads, you might want to use an analogy or a personal story to illustrate how the software worked. You might also choose to add a few more pieces of evidence to make sure the audience understands your point. However, if you were writing about the same subject and you audience members were information technology (IT) specialists, you would likely use more technical evidence because they would be familiar with the subject.

Keeping in mind your subject in relation to your audience will increase your chances of effectively illustrating your point.

Tip

You never want to insult your readers’ intelligence by overexplaining concepts the audience members may already be familiar with, but it may be necessary to clearly articulate your point. When in doubt, add an extra example to illustrate your idea.

Exercise 1

On a separate piece of paper, form a thesis based on each of the following three topics. Then list the types of evidence that would best explain your point for each of the two audiences.

  1. Topic: Combat and mental health

    Audience: family members of veterans, doctors

  2. Topic: Video games and teen violence

    Audience: parents, children

  3. Topic: Architecture and earthquakes

    Audience: engineers, local townspeople

The Structure of an Illustration Essay

The controlling idea, or thesis, belongs at the beginning of the essay. Evidence is then presented in the essay’s body paragraphs to support the thesis. You can start supporting your main point with your strongest evidence first, or you can start with evidence of lesser importance and have the essay build to increasingly stronger evidence. This type of organization—order of importance—you learned about in Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?” and Chapter 9 “Writing Essays: From Start to Finish”.

The time transition words listed in Table 10.1 “Transition Words and Phrases for Expressing Time” are also helpful in ordering the presentation of evidence. Words like first, second, third, currently, next, and finally all help orient the reader and sequence evidence clearly. Because an illustration essay uses so many examples, it is also helpful to have a list of words and phrases to present each piece of evidence. Table 10.2 “Phrases of Illustration” provides a list of phrases for illustration.

Table 10.2 Phrases of Illustration

case in point for example
for instance in particular
in this case one example/another example
specifically to illustrate

Tip

Vary the phrases of illustration you use. Do not rely on just one. Variety in choice of words and phrasing is critical when trying to keep readers engaged in your writing and your ideas.

Writing at Work

In the workplace, it is often helpful to keep the phrases of illustration in mind as a way to incorporate them whenever you can. Whether you are writing out directives that colleagues will have to follow or requesting a new product or service from another company, making a conscious effort to incorporate a phrase of illustration will force you to provide examples of what you mean.

Exercise 2

On a separate sheet of paper, form a thesis based on one of the following topics. Then support that thesis with three pieces of evidence. Make sure to use a different phrase of illustration to introduce each piece of evidence you choose.

  1. Cooking
  2. Baseball
  3. Work hours
  4. Exercise
  5. Traffic

Collaboration

Please share with a classmate and compare your answers. Discuss which topic you like the best or would like to learn more about. Indicate which thesis statement you perceive as the most effective.

Writing an Illustration Essay

First, decide on a topic that you feel interested in writing about. Then create an interesting introduction to engage the reader. The main point, or thesis, should be stated at the end of the introduction.

Gather evidence that is appropriate to both your subject and your audience. You can order the evidence in terms of importance, either from least important to most important or from most important to least important. Be sure to fully explain all of your examples using strong, clear supporting details. See Chapter 15 “Readings: Examples of Essays” to read a sample illustration essay.

Exercise 3

On a separate sheet of paper, write a five-paragraph illustration essay. You can choose one of the topics from Note 10.23 “Exercise 1” or Note 10.27 “Exercise 2”, or you can choose your own.

Key Takeaways

  • An illustration essay clearly explains a main point using evidence.
  • When choosing evidence, always gauge whether the evidence is appropriate for the subject as well as the audience.
  • Organize the evidence in terms of importance, either from least important to most important or from most important to least important.
  • Use time transitions to order evidence.
  • Use phrases of illustration to call out examples.

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