To illustrate means to show or demonstrate something clearly through the use of evidence. To exemplify means to demonstrate through the use of examples. This is a technique that can stand alone but is most often used within an essay to demonstrate the various points that an essay is offering as it supports it thesis. Effective illustration clearly demonstrates and supports a point through the use of evidence.
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. A variety of evidence is needed to demonstrate the validity of any 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. This I Believe (https://thisibelieve.org/) is a website that collects essays that illustrate core values and beliefs. Visittheprogram’s websitefor some examples.
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, your essay’s purpose, and your audience. When writing an illustration essay, keep in mind the following:
- Use evidence that is appropriate for your topic as well as appropriate for your audience.
- Assess how much evidence you need to adequately explain your point, which depends 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 your 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.
You never want to insult your readers’ intelligence by over-explaining 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.
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 audience.
- Topic: Combat and mental health
- Audience: family members of veterans, doctors
- Topic: Video games and teen violence
- Audience: parents, children
- Topic: Architecture and earthquakes
- Audience: engineers, local townspeople
The Structure of an Illustration Essay
The controlling idea, or thesis, often belongs at the beginning of the essay. Evidence is then presented in the essay’s body paragraphs, to support the thesis. As you decide how to present your evidence, consider order of importance, then decide whether you want to with your strongest evidence first, or start with evidence of lesser importance and have the essay build to increasingly stronger evidence. The table below shows the connection between order and purpose.
The time transition words listed in the table above 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. The table below provides a list of phrases for illustration.
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.
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.
- Work hours
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.
Choose a motto or other inspirational statement that appeals to you. Using the aspects outlined above, write a paragraph that illustrates this statement. Remember to include specific examples and description to illustrate your interpretation of this statement.
Choosing either a topic from Exercise 7 or Exercise 8 write a minimum five paragraph illustration essay.
Student Sample: Illustration/Example Essay
Letter to the City
To: Lakeview Department of Transportation
From: A Concerned Citizen
The intersection of Central Avenue and Lake Street is dangerous and demands immediate consideration for the installation of a controlling mechanism. I have lived in Lakeview my entire life, and during that time I have witnessed too many accidents and close calls at that intersection. I would like the Department of Transportation to answer this question: how many lives have to be lost on the corner of Central Avenue and Lake Street before a street light or stop sign is placed there?
Over the past twenty years, the population of Lakeview has increased dramatically. This population growth has put tremendous pressure on the city’s roadways, especially Central Avenue and its intersecting streets. At the intersection of Central Avenue and Lake Street it is easy to see how serious this problem is. For example, when I try to cross Central Avenue as a pedestrian, I frequently wait over ten minutes for the cars to clear, and even then I must rush to the median. I will then have to continue to wait until I can finally run to the other side of the street. On one hand, even as a physically fit adult, I can run only with significant effort and care. Expecting a senior citizen or a child to cross this street, on the other hand, is extremely dangerous and irresponsible. Does the city have any plans to do anything about this?
Recent data show that the intersection of Central Avenue and Lake Street has been especially dangerous. According to the city’s own statistics, three fatalities occurred at that intersection in the past year alone. Over the past five years, the intersection witnessed fourteen car accidents, five of which were fatal. These numbers officially qualify the intersection as the most fatal and dangerous in the entire state. It should go without saying that fatalities and accidents are not the clearest way of measuring the severity of this situation because for each accident that happens, countless other close calls never contribute to city data. I hope you will agree that these numbers alone are sufficient evidence that the intersection at Central Avenue and Lake Street is hazardous and demands immediate attention.
Nearly all accidents mentioned are caused by vehicles trying to cross Central Avenue while driving on Lake Street. I think the City of Lakeview should consider placing a traffic light there to control the traffic going both ways. While I do not have access to any resources or data that can show precisely how much a traffic light can improve the intersection, I think you will agree that a controlled busy intersection is much safer than an uncontrolled one. Therefore, at a minimum, the city must consider making the intersection a four-way stop.
Each day that goes by without attention to this issue is a lost opportunity to save lives and make the community a safer, more enjoyable place to live. Because the safety of citizens is the priority of every government, I can only expect that the Department of Transportation and the City of Lakeview will act on this matter immediately. For the safety and well-being of Lakeview citizens, please do not let bureaucracy or money impede this urgent project.
A Concerned Citizen
- 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 highlight examples.
“ She’s Your Basic L.O.L. in N.A.D ” (https://tinyurl.com/y7ocnnl5) by Perri Klass: In “She’s Your Basic L.O.L. in N.A.D,” pediatrician and writer Perri Klass discusses the medical-speak she encountered in her training as a doctor and its underlying meaning.
Jessica Bennett, a senior writer for Newsweek, offers an example of an illustration essay when she presents The Flip Side of Internet Fame (tinyurl.com/y9yjmqt9).Youcanalsoseethe essay here (https://tinyurl.com/y7vd53db) .