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How do I add more detail to my paper?

If your teacher tells you that your paper lacks detail, it likely means that you’re making big claims without supporting them through evidence from the text. The good news is that this means you’re probably making arguments in your paper. Now, you just need to make sure you have the evidence to support these arguments. 

So, how do you add evidence to your paper?

Start by taking a look at the argument you’re making in each of your topic sentences. Ask yourself: how do I know that this is true? Chances are, something that you read inspired you to make the argument that you’re making. Your job is to find the most compelling and relevant details that led you to this argument. 

To get started, brainstorm a list of examples to support each topic sentence. If you’re writing an English paper, jot down every instance in the novel or poem that touches on the theme you’re discussing. For a history paper, list every historical event or theme that is relevant to your topic, as well as some primary sources that exemplify your argument. In each case, you’ll want to find quotes that you can integrate into your body paragraphs—this is a great way to add detail to the body of your paper. 

Once you have your list, you can start narrowing down which pieces of evidence are most significant. If someone looked at your evidence, would they draw the same conclusions that you have? If so, you’ve probably selected the right evidence. If not, you may need to find better evidence.

Lay out all the facts

One common mistake that students make is to assume that the reader understands all the material that they do. They know that their teacher already knows the series of events leading to World War I, so they jump into the middle of their argument. 

But your paper should be comprehensible to someone who knows nothing about your topic. That doesn’t mean you need to get bogged down in irrelevant details. If your argument is that Serbian nationalism caused WWI, we probably don’t need to hear about American isolationism during this period. It does mean that you need to make your paper readable to someone who isn’t familiar with the topics. Assume you are writing for a smart but uninformed reader. Would they be able to follow your paper? If not, you probably need to add some details to help lead them through your argument. 

When to reframe your argument

Sometimes, you’ll find that you don’t have the evidence to support your argument—or at least not enough of it. When you’re revising your paper, you want to be careful that your evidence fits your argument and vice versa. Don’t try to force it, though. Your arguments should be emerging from the evidence that you have. If your evidence doesn’t fit your argument, it’s time to change your argument to reflect the evidence that you DO have. 

Evidence is the heart of your paper. In each phase of writing, pay close attention to how well you are making your case through evidence. There’s no way to make a great argument—or write a great paper—without it.  

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