Revision Stage 2: Idea Development
Reverse outlining (from stage 1 of revision) not only helps you with idea structure; it can also help you analyze idea development to determine whether you have the right amount of writing at various places in your essay. If you see multiple main ideas in one paragraph, for example, you may not have given each idea enough development.
As you revise for idea development, make sure you have at least a paragraph–and often more–for each topic sentence idea. Make sure that you have developed your paragraphs and units of support with examples and details appropriate to your purpose and audience. For example, consider the following two paragraphs. What characterizes the well-developed one, which leaves you, as a reader, more satisfied that you have a fuller understanding?
Traveling to Tokyo was a revelation, especially when compared with traveling to New York City. While New Yorkers are actually polite as a group, New York is dirtier and transportation is less timely. And it’s definitely not quiet! On the other hand, Tokyo is ultra-modern in terms of transportation and services. Things run on time. For a large city, it’s clean, quiet, and the citizens are polite.
Traveling to Tokyo was a revelation, especially when compared with traveling to New York City. First of all, Tokyo is ultra-modern in terms of transportation and services. Coming into the airport, we had the option of shipping our bags to our destination, thus avoiding the hassle of hauling luggage and allowing us to take inexpensive public transportation to our hotel. The airport train runs frequently, quickly, and on time; it actually leaves when it’s supposed to leave. In the airport as well as in other train stations, there’s often a white-gloved and uniformed “conductor” on the station platform to help travelers get to the right track, stand in the right place to board the train, and signal to the train conductor that all travelers have boarded so that the train can depart on time. To board, passengers line up quietly and politely, so that boarding can occur quickly. Within the train, passengers are quiet – a microcosm of what to expect in all public spaces, on the street, in restaurants, in museums, and more. People do not talk loudly or play loud music. Sounds indicating the upcoming station stop are gentle chimes. On the other hand, New York offers a blend of new and old in terms of transportation and services. While the relatively new airport train runs efficiently, there are no special luggage services or persons designated to help travelers. The airport train links to a subway system to get into the heart of New York City, and subway cars are often old, in keeping with the age of the system itself. Boarding may be a challenge if there are a lot of people; no one lines up, but you’re still expected to get onto the train quickly. On board, you may experience a blend of sounds ranging from talking to music. Whatever you hear, there’s usually no attempt to mute or soften the sound. Stations are announced with loud bells and announcements, a precursor of the sound level you can expect on New York City streets. Yet despite their differences, each city has a special appeal. While Tokyo seems to focus on creating a pleasant public experience, New York is sheer kinetic energy.
Even though the more developed paragraph is relatively long, and might be successfully broken into multiple paragraphs within a unit of support, it includes the following characteristics that make it well-developed:
- clear topic sentence that indicates a comparison of the two cities
- follow-through on the order of the comparison indicated in the topic sentence (whereas the less developed paragraph switches that order)
- multiple examples and details for the points about transportation, sound, and timeliness
- concluding sentence that summarizes and also moves a reader to an additional insight
As noted in the text The Word on College Reading and Writing, “here are some tips on what to strive for and what to avoid when it comes to supporting details.” 
Although the following video focuses on illustrative writing, the concepts offered about idea development can be applied to essay writing for any purpose, including logical argument, research writing, and essays using different patterns of development. The video provides examples of sparsely-developed and well-developed paragraphs, using examples and details:
Writing an Illustrative Paragraph or Essay. Authored by: Center for elearning. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license.
Note: Some content in the video “Writing an Illustrative Paragraph or Essay” is presented visually. You may listen to this video with audio description.
Revising for Flow of Information
In the first revision stage, revising for idea structure, purpose, and audience, you look at the overall logical order of information to determine if the topic sentences and units of support are in a logical order, given the argument in the thesis. Check to see if you’ve used transition words effectively to show the linkage from one topic sentence and unit of support to the next. This is revising for flow of information on a macro level.
However, you also should revise for flow of information on a micro or paragraph level. Flow on the paragraph level deals with how easily one sentence moves into the next for your reader. The previous page on Revising for Style introduced the concept of “sentence fluency” or flow (see also "Cohesion"); here are examples of good and bad flow in paragraphs, from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles’ writing guides website. Can you tell which paragraph has better flow of information?
- “Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. The southern part of Costa Rica is characterized by dense rain forests, which contain some of the world’s most unusual wildlife. Hoping to get a bird’s eye view of these animals, tourists take zip lining tours through the top canopy of the rain forest. Located in Central America, it borders Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. Some of the interesting creatures found in these forests include tree frogs, white-faced monkeys, and sloths.”
- “Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Located in Central America, it borders Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. The southern part of Costa Rica is characterized by dense rain forests, which contain some of the world’s most unusual wildlife. Some of the interesting creatures found in these forests include tree frogs, white-faced monkeys, and sloths. Hoping to get a bird’s eye view of these animals, tourists take zip lining tours through the top canopy of the rain forest.” 
Paragraph 2 has a better flow. It starts with Costa Rica’s general location, and then moves to a particular location within Costa Rica. The second sentence ends by mentioning “unusual wildlife,” which is a more general lead-in to the third sentence in which the author specifies the wildlife. The fourth sentence links to the third by mentioning “these animals” again, before it moves to talking about tourists.
In contrast, Paragraph 1 hops around from wildlife to tourists to general location to specific wildlife. While the information is the same, the flow of this paragraph makes it more difficult to read and digest the information.
So, much of the way to revise for flow on the paragraph level is to consider the order and linking of your sentences. However, flow on the paragraph level also deals with sentence structure and how easily the sentences “sound” and can be read.
Here’s an example from Daniel’s essay in progress. Can you tell which paragraph has the better flow of information?
- Yet if you look at these arguments one by one, you can see that these skills may be addressed online, albeit in a slightly different way. Public speaking can be taught online because, first of all, online speakers may very well be able to see their audience’s reaction and adjust their tone and message accordingly. Skype, Zoom, and other technologies offer real-time, audio and visual experiences that link speaker and audience. Although they are dispersed and not in the same room, the speaker can still see what’s going on with other participants and can see from their attitudes and expressions whether they are engaged and whether tone or content needs to be altered. Even in asynchronous environments, audience response may be so immediate that the speaker can respond in almost-real time (think of Rosanne’s posts, quick audience reaction on Twitter, and her quick responses). The environment may not be exactly the same as a room with everyone in it, but the skills of observation, situation analysis, and adjustment can still be taught and learned online.
- Online speakers can learn speaking skills in a slightly different way. Online speakers can see their audience’s reaction. Online speakers can use Skype and Zoom. They also have other technologies to see speech attendees. They can see attitudes and expressions. Online speakers can respond in almost-real time. They can learn how to observe. They can learn how to analyze the situation in real time. They can learn to adjust their tone and message accordingly, based on their observations and analyses.
In this example, although the information is almost the same, Paragraph 1 has the best flow. Paragraph 2 is “choppy,” because Daiel, at a very initial writing stage, used the same subject-verb sentence structure for all of the sentences in the paragraph. Try to vary your sentence patterns, as well as use transition words, to create an easy flow.
As you revise for flow of information within paragraphs, review the following:
- sentence order
- transition use
- sentence structure
Sometimes writers get caught up in the moment and cannot resist a good digression. Even though you might enjoy such detours when you chat with friends, unplanned digressions usually harm a piece of writing.
Andi stayed close to her outline when she drafted the three body paragraphs of her essay she tentatively titled “Digital Technology: The Newest and the Best at What Price?” But a recent shopping trip for an HDTV upset them enough that they digressed from the main topic of their third paragraph and included comments about the sales staff at the electronics store they visited. When revising the essay, they deleted the off-topic sentences that affected the unity of the paragraph.
Read the following paragraph twice, the first time without Andi’s changes, and the second time with them.
Nothing is more confusing to me than choosing among televisions. It confuses lots of people who want a new high-definition digital television (HDTV) with a large screen to watch sports and DVDs on.
You could listen to the guys in the electronics store, but word has it they know little more than you do. They want to sell what they have in stock, not what best fits your needs. You face decisions you never had to make with the old, bulky picture-tube televisions. Screen resolution means the number of horizontal scan lines the screen can show. This resolution is often 1080p, or full HD, or 768p. The trouble is that if you have a smaller screen, 32 inches or 37 inches diagonal, you won’t be able to tell the difference with the naked eye. The 1080p televisions cost more, though, so those are what the salespeople want you to buy. They get bigger commissions. The other important decision you face as you walk around the sales floor is whether to get a plasma screen or an LCD screen. Now here the salespeople may finally give you decent info. Plasma flat-panel television screens can be much larger in diameter than their LCD rivals. Plasma screens show truer blacks and can be viewed at a wider angle than current LCD screens. But be careful and tell the salesperson you have budget constraints. Large flat-panel plasma screens are much more expensive than flat-screen LCD models. Don’t let someone make you buy more television than you need!
A. Answer the following two questions about Andi’s paragraph:
1. Do you agree with Andi’s decision to make the deletions? Did they cut too much, too little, or just enough? Explain.
2. Is the explanation of what screen resolution means a digression? Or is it audience friendly and essential to understanding the paragraph? Explain.
B. Now start to revise the first draft of an essay you have written. Reread it to find any statements that affect the unity of your writing. Decide how best to revise.
Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.
When you reread your writing to find revisions to make, look for each type of problem in a separate sweep. Read it straight through once to locate any problems with unity. Read it straight through a second time to find problems with cohesion. You may follow this same practice during many stages of the writing process.
Writing at Work
Many companies hire copyeditors and proofreaders to help them produce the cleanest possible final drafts of large writing projects. Copyeditors are responsible for suggesting revisions and style changes; proofreaders check documents for any errors in capitalization, spelling, and punctuation that have crept in. Many times, these tasks are done on a freelance basis, with one freelancer working for a variety of clients.
Contributors and Attributions
- Revision Stage 2: Idea Development. Authored by: Susan Oaks. Provided by: Empire State College, SUNY OER Services. Project: College Writing. License: CC BY-NC: Attribution-NonCommercial
- The Paragraph Body: Supporting Your Ideas. Authored by: Monique Babin, Carol Burnell, Susan Pesznecker, Nicole Rosevear, Jaime Wood. Located at: Project: The Word on College Reading and Writing. License: CC BY-NC
This page most recently update on June 5, 2020.