An exemplification paragraph develops a general statement--the topic sentence--with one or more specific examples. Not only do these examples illustrate and explain the topic sentence, but they also make your writing more interesting and more convincing. The following paragraph about the Woodstock festival uses a number of short examples to illustrate its main idea.
In most respects, after all, Woodstock was a disaster. To begin with, it rained and rained for weeks before the festival, and then, of course, it rained during the festival. The promoters lost weeks of preparation time when the site had to be switched twice. They rented Yasgur’s field less than a month before the concert. The stage wasn’t finished, and the sound system was stitched together perilously close to the start of the show. As soon as the festival opened, the water- and food-delivery arrangements broke down, the gates and fences disintegrated, and tens of thousands of new bodies kept pouring in. (One powerful lure was the rumor that the revered Bob Dylan was going to perform; he wasn’t.) In response to an emergency appeal for volunteers, fifty doctors were flown in. The Air Force brought in food on Huey helicopters, and the Women’s Community Center in Monticello sent thirty thousand sandwiches. One kid was killed as he was run over by a tractor, one died of appendicitis, and another died of a drug overdose.
Hal Espen, “The Woodstock Wars”
The writer of this paragraph piles on many examples, one after the other, to support his main idea. Each example gives a specific illustration of how Woodstock was a disaster: it rained, the promoters had to switch sites, water
and food were not delivered as planned, and so on.
If a single example is particularly vivid and compelling, it can sometimes be enough to support a topic sentence. The following paragraph uses one extended example to support its main idea--that fear can move one to action.
Sometimes fear can be a great motivator. Once when I was in high school, I tried out for a part in the school play. I was surprised and thrilled when I was given one of the leads. Never for a moment, however, did I consider how long my part was or how hard I would have to work to memorize it. All I could think of was how much attention I was getting from my friends. I even ignored the warnings of the play’s director who told me I would be in trouble if I did not begin to memorize my lines. The reality of my situation finally sank in during our first dress rehearsal when I stumbled all over my lines, and the rest of the cast laughed at me. That night, and for the two weeks leading up to the play, I spent hours going over my lines. Miraculously, I got through the first night of the play without missing (at least obviously missing) many of my lines. As a result of that experience, I learned two things: first, that I could do almost anything if I was frightened enough and second, that I would never try out for another play.
Jerry Doyle (student)
Notice that the single extended example that illustrates the topic sentence is a narrative. Often a personal experience like this one can be an interesting and powerful way of illustrating your ideas to your readers.
PRACTICE 3-1: Read this exemplification paragraph, and answer the questions that follow.
As a teenager in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I was always pretty tolerant about radical clothing styles, but more and more today I find myself asking, “Why do these kids want to look so weird?” For example, I do not understand why a boy would wear a baseball cap backwards on his head. To me, this just looks goofy, like something a person would do and then talk in a really stupid voice to make his friends laugh. Under the backward cap, the boy probably has his hair in a buzz cut, except for one long strand of hair reaching halfway down his back. I can’t imagine who thought up this hairstyle, unless it was an ex-monk. Furthermore, every boy I see today seems to be wearing a T-shirt that looks ten sizes too big for him and comes down below his knees, or, if not that, he’s got all his clothes on inside out or backwards or both! Then, there are the girls. Since when did it become stylish to wear your underwear on top of your regular clothes? Who decided that it was attractive to combine a white T-shirt and a long, sheer, flowing jumper with a pair of huge black jackboots? I’m so confused. It all just makes me nostalgic for the days of frayed bell-bottoms, tie-dyed tank tops, strands of hippie beads, and headbands circling heads of long, stringy hair.
Willa Kincaid (student)
1. Underline the topic sentence of the paragraph.
2. List the specific examples the writer uses to develop her topic sentence. The first example has been listed for you.
boys wearing baseball caps backwards
3. Do you find this exemplification paragraph is effective? Why, or why not?