Using Details to Support a ClaimWriter's Web
by Joe Essid; prepared with the help of Pattie Fagan, School of Continuing Studies
(printable version here)

Writing teachers often praise students for using a technique called a "telling detail" to lend support to a claim made in an essay. Since most academic writing consists of a series of supported claims, learning to employ detail can greatly help writers make points effectively.

Consider this example, from Pattie's research essay, in which she explores the use of TV cameras in courtrooms. In this section, Pattie explores how television coverage of trials emphasizes entertainment and sensationalism:

The media is in tune with the public's desire for information and entertainment because broadcasters are for-profit entities. To meet public demand for entertainment and information, "real" courtroom dramas, and legal analysis shows have joined the line-up of fictional, legal programming. Court TV was created in 1990 by Steven Brill . . . . After the 1997 buyout of Brill, investigative reports, detective shows and legal dramas, such as Perry Mason, replaced the nightly, educationally designed, legal commentary, while the daytime gavel-to-gavel coverage of trials remained the same. A perceived downside with the changes in Court TV's broadcasting schedule is that they are now no different from the average entertainment broadcasting station. In Allison Romano's interview with CEO Henry Schleiff, he openly admits that the bottom line, profit, is the driving force behind the Court TV changes toward entertainment (33).

The paragraph begins with a strong claim and a clear topic sentence that presents it. The first text in blue then shows how the writer supports her claim that Court TV has become as entertainment-oriented as other broadcasters. Next, the second example shows the writer turning to a source, without weakening her argument with an unneeded and lengthy direct quotation. Both examples use succinct, hard-to-refute details. As a result, the writer's argument and analysis become more convincing.

In Pattie's next example, note how a small detail hammers home a key point about the subjectivity of TV coverage:

Admittedly, the unbiased and unedited coverage of trials can be very dry and dull for the audience but the essence of reality is necessary to the true representation of the courtroom trial. To keep TV viewers satisfied and returning for more is a priority for broadcasters. Court TV has been accused, authors Marjorie Cohn and David Dow note, of using close-up shots and choosing angles in the O.J. Simpson case that are not flattering in order to create a negative impression, which sells better to the public (33). TV cameras in court trials should be held to the intent of providing the public with an unbiased viewpoint, so that the public trial of the defendant does not become a trial by the public of the accused.

Thus Pattie continues to build a case against the way in which Court TV uses television cameras. A weaker writer would bury the professor in strings of long indented quotations and tiresome summaries of every aspect of Court TV's way of covering trials. Instead, this writer chooses a few good pieces of evidence, each a telling detail, to hammer home her claims.

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