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The Illustrative Essay: Exposing the Examples. Catherine Wishart Literacy Coach Adjunct Instructor Burlington County College Copyright 2007 by Catherine M. Wishart. All rights reserved. What is an Illustrative Essay?. Often used to clarify a concept or a situation

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The illustrative essay exposing the examples l.jpg

The Illustrative Essay:Exposing the Examples

Catherine Wishart

Literacy Coach

Adjunct Instructor

Burlington County College

Copyright 2007 by Catherine M. Wishart. All rights reserved


What is an illustrative essay l.jpg
What is an Illustrative Essay?

  • Often used to clarify a concept or a situation

  • Often used to prove a quotations that teaches a lesson

  • Uses stories or examples to back up the supposition made


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What Kinds of Examples Should Be Used?

  • The examples need to be very specific

  • The more specific the examples, the more interesting the writing will be

  • Hypothetical examples are acceptable if you can’t think of an observation; however, use hypothetical examples only sparingly


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Types of Examples

  • Short examples – if short one or two sentence examples are used, you will need two or three examples for each point

    • Short examples need to be interrelated

  • Longer examples – if a longer example is used, the example is normally a short story that can be told in one paragraph


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What Does an Interrelated Short Example Paragraph Look Like?

Aesop wrote, “In unity there is strength.” Indeed, this holds true in nature. For example, when impalas dash across the African grasslands together, there is protection and strength in this action. However, if one impala separates from the herd, it is vulnerable. Likewise, hyenas often travel together and attack their prey in a pack. By attacking in unity, the hyenas are able to overpower larger animals, even solitary lions. Furthermore, while piranha will jointly attack any thirsty cow that enters the murky river waters, the piranha are actually quite docile fish when they are isolated.


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Let’s Look At This Paragraph…

  • Example 1: Impalas dash across the African grassland – can you see the impalas, the flat, short grassland?

  • Example 2: The hyena attack a solitary lion – can you envision the scene?

  • Example 3: The piranha attack the cow – can you see the murky water?


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What Does a Longer Example Look Like?

Aesop wrote, “In unity there is strength.” Indeed, in families this holds true. For example, in my own family, there was once a swimming accident. If we had not acted in unity, my son could have drowned. On a hot day in August, my mother, daughter, son and I all decided to go to the river to cool off. We lazed about on the rocks and enjoyed the refreshing water as it splashed on by. Suddenly, my son, Matt, slipped off the rock and became caught in the unseen current. He was pulled down and was unable to grasp anything to help himself. My mother, daughter, and I made a human chain and reached out to Matt. With all our strength, we pulled him in to safety. Without this united effort, Matt would have been in even more danger.


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A Basic Outline for an Illustrative Essay - First Paragraph:

  • The Introduction

    • Hook – oftentimes a quotation is used as the hook in an illustrative essay. This hook utilizes the quotation as the point that needs to be proven true. It may also use a personal observation as the point to be proven.

    • Transition – How will you get from the hook to the thesis statement?

    • The Thesis Statement – this thesis statement should give a direction and preview the main points.


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Basic Outline for an Illustrative Essay – 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Paragraphs

II. Paragraph 2 proves the first division in the thesis statement

A. One long specific example (the reader should be able to see the scene and watch the action) – or –

B. Several short, interrelated, specific examples (general statements prove nothing)

III. Paragraph 3 proves the second division of the thesis statement

A. One long specific example – or –

B. Several short, interrelated, specific examples

IV. Paragraph 4 proves the third division of the thesis statement

A. One long specific example – or –

B. Several short, interrelated, specific examples


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Basic Outline for an Illustrative Essay – the Conclusion

  • Reflect on the hook

  • Comment on the future

  • Ask rhetorical question

  • Restate the thesis statement in a creative way


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What if You Want to Write a 5 Page Illustrative Essay?

  • Write a thesis statement that states the direction – do not preview the main points

  • Use several longer examples instead of shorter, interrelated examples

  • Use one longer example per paragraph, or you may take two or three paragraphs to tell the story of the example

  • A longer paper like this may require some research to add more examples – use reliable sources for these examples

  • Remember – a 5 paragraph essay is only one way to write – you will be expected to write longer or even shorter pieces than the 5 paragraph essay


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Help In Writing Essays

  • These sites will help you with different parts of any essay:

  • The Nature of an Essay: Unity and Essay Form: http://www.accd.edu/sac/english/lirvin/wguides/EsForm.htm

  • Writing Guide on Essay Organization: http://www.accd.edu/sac/english/lirvin/wguides/Organization.htm

  • Note: if the link to these sites don’t work, copy the link and paste it into the address.


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