This chapter is brought to you by Dana Anderson14.
When trying to explain something, have you ever found yourself saying: “Here’s an example” or “For instance”? We often use examples to help explain complex or abstract ideas, or even to make our writing more vivid and memorable. These examples may be stories, facts, lists, or samples. This is a writing tool known as illustration or exemplification.
Representative of the Whole
We use examples to help us understand by giving us a piece of information that is representative of the whole. In other words, the example you chose must be typical of the entire idea.
For example, you’ve been asked to write an essay about pop culture and social influence. You chose to write about how the music industry has influenced American culture. To do this, you decided to use examples. You reference Billboard’s “Greatest Artists of All Time” list15 and select the top five artists:
- The Beatles,
- Elton John,
- Elvis Presley, and
- Mariah Carey.
Then, you illustrate how these five artists have influenced American culture. You chose to use these five artists as a representative slice of the entire music industry.
When to Use Illustration
Illustration is a helpful writing strategy that can be used in almost any type of writing.
Here are a few examples (see, I’m using the strategy right here!) of illustration in action:
- History Essay: List of most significant documents in U.S. history.
- Cover Letter: Examples of relevant work experiences.
- Twitter: A fact about lefties on Left Handers Day.
- Magazine Article: A compelling personal story of abuse is used to illustrate the dangers of domestic violence.
Remember, one good example is often worth more than a list of lengthy explanations.
EXAMPLE: “FADS THAT NEVER WENT OUT OF STYLE”
Fads, by definition, are short-lived trends that garner the attention of a lot of people. One day it’s in; the next day it’s out. Fads prevail temporarily, but certain clothing items, hairstyles, and even traditional toys and games that began as fleeting fads are considered classics.
Each season, fashion designers establish trends, while retailers cash in on the wildly popular fads. As seasons change, so do the trends. The “it” item fades away, forgotten. However, classic clothing essentials like the basic black tee, the perfect pair of jeans, and the little black dress stand the test of time. Each began as a fad but have transformed into chic wardrobe staples.
Much like fashion, trends in hairstyles are cyclical. Hair stylists aim to create modern and fashionable looks, often resulting in hairstyle fads. The Mohawk, mullet, perm, and bowl cut are hairstyle fads that many hope will never be in vogue again. But the ponytail, sleek bob, and the classic taper are trend-proof hairstyles that will never go out of style.
f style. Fads can also be found in the toy and gaming industry. Each year, toy and game manufacturers vie to be the top Christmas toy. This once-a-year bonanza has fueled outrageous sales of toys such as Teddy Ruxpin, Tomagochi, and Furby. After the holiday hype, many of these toys are forgotten. There are toys, however, that experienced breakout sales one holiday season and continue to be hot sellers. The Rubik’s Cube and Barbie doll began as hot Christmas toys and can still be found in toy stores today.
With new garments, hairstyles, and toys and games being made every day, trends and fads will come and go. But much like the little black dress, the ponytail, and Barbie doll, a few select fads will transition from fad to classic.
Assignments or Questions to Consider
(Insert ideas from students or instructor here.)
14 Anderson, Dana. “Illustration.” Writing Unleashed, Version 1. NDSCS; 2016.
15 “Greatest of All Time Hot 100 Artists.” Billboard, www.billboard.com/charts/greatest-hot-100-artists.