Now that you know how to get started on your essay, choose your topic, and write your thesis statement, you are ready to choose how to develop your idea. Depending on the result you hope to achieve, you can use various methods of writing called methods of development. In this chapter, we’ll look at some of the more common methods of development. The method of development you choose depends on the ultimate goal for your essay and determines the approach you take in writing your essay.

Covered in This Chapter

  • Narration. Tells a story.
  • Description. Paints a picture.
  • Process. Tells how to do something or understand how something works.
  • Comparison/contrast. Shows how alike or unlike things are.
  • Cause and effect. Examines how one thing leads to another.
  • Argument/persuasion. Aims to convince the reader.
  • Transitions. Connect a train of thought.
  • Fallacies. Are misleading notions.
  • Method examples. Show how each of these approaches works.
  • Your thesis statement. A thesis statement is one sentence that sets the foundation on which you will build the whole essay. It usually is the last sentence in your introductory paragraph.

Six Methods of Development

  • Narration. An account of events, most often told in chronological order, to make a specific point.
  • Description. An account that creates a vivid mental image.
  • Process. Follows a series of steps, in chronological order, detailing how to do something or helping the readers understand how something works.
  • Comparison/Contrast. Shows how alike or unlike things are; comparison examines how two or more things are similar, and contrast examines how two or more things are different.
  • Cause and Effect. Cause is the reason an event took place; effect is the result of an event. Cause leads to effect.
  • Argument/Persuasion. Makes a strong claim on a debatable topic, sup- ported by facts, examples, and opinions; argument generally relies more on logic, while persuasion uses more emotion. Most essays contain both.

The goal of every essay is to make a point and provide insight for the reader. “No insight, no essay.”

Every method of development needs to include these elements:

  • An understanding of what the particular method requires
  • A thesis statement that establishes the topic and your point
  • Adherence to the method you’ve chosen

Whether the topic and method of development are assigned to you or you choose them, keep in mind what you’re trying to accomplish. When you’re clear about the direction, purpose, and point of your essay, it is easier to stick to your topic, as well as the format, and you can more effectively present your ideas to your readers.

Let’s look at how each of these methods can lead to an effective essay. We’ll continue with our “going green” topic and write an introductory paragraph for each method of development. Notice how the essay changes as we alter the thesis statement to fit each method.


Definition: Narration is an account of events, most often told in chronological order, to make a specific point.

Most people like a good story, but narrative essays go beyond that. They tell a story to make a point, which is generally established as the controlling idea in your thesis statement.

Using our previous thesis statement, “Individuals can help make our planet greener,” you might want to tell how you came to that conclusion in a narration essay. You could start with this introductory paragraph that tells a story. Note that the last sentence in this example is your thesis statement.

I’d never taken much notice of recycling and trash in our community. Then I met some people who volunteered in several campaigns to “go green.” They talked me into helping with a beach cleanup project. That experience really opened my eyes to what individuals can do to improve our environment.

That’s a good beginning and it seems to lead naturally into telling the story of what happened at the beach. It’s best to stay in chronological order (time order) so your readers don’t get lost; however, just listing the events in order will not necessarily hold the readers’ interest. Action and conflict add that interest to your story.

Action gets the readers involved. Rather than: We all started picking up the trash on the beach.

Put the readers there: As we bent and rose, we looked like waves rising and falling on the beach.

Now the readers have a picture, so they’re more engaged in the story. Conflict also adds interest. Rather than:As we were working, we saw some people leave trash on the beach.

Show your reaction: When we saw some people leaving trash on the beach, it bothered us, so we asked them to pick it up, and they put their trash in our bags.Telling how you feel will make the readers feel more a part of the story, and they will want to know what happens next.

Now you have your readers’ attention, and you can go on to tell what happened next and what you learned along the way. Finally, you can close your essay with how you’ve become involved in cleaning up trash and how you personally have helped make ours a greener planet.


Definition: A description is an account that creates a vivid mental image.

Sometimes almost an entire essay can be made up of descriptions. Often descriptions enliven other writing when used as a part of other methods of development. Description can enhance any writing: fiction, history, biography, even technical writing. The purpose is to let the readers see exactly what you are saying. Description will help you drive home your points viv- idly. The most effective way to show your readers what you’re talking about is to use language and images that relate to the five senses (sight, taste, hear- ing, feel, smell).

For example, if you want to share the horror of what has happened to our planet, you might describe the scene that led you to that conclusion. You could start:

I flew back to Texas to visit some of my cousins. We had played together constantly while growing up, and I was looking forward to some more good times. We’d had so much fun over the years at the old creek and I couldn’t wait to feel that cool water again on my back. When I suggested going there, the cousins grinned and, reluctantly, said okay. I couldn’t believe how such a beautiful spot had been destroyed.

Now you would vividly describe what you saw, what made it so awful to you, and how that affected you. Your aim is to horrify the readers and show why you’ve become so involved in green projects.

Your next paragraph, with an opening topic sentence that ties into your thesis statement, might be:

Remembering what used to be made it even worse. Once pecan and oak trees shaded the area. Now I saw only tangled brown bushes, with tufts that looked as if an animal had left its fur there. The buttercups and even the dandelions were gone too. The wind used to sigh through the trees, but no more—no more trees. What used to be grassy banks had become slicky mud, more like oil than ground. I wanted to cry. I asked my cousins “How could this happen?” They only shrugged and took me farther beyond the creek.

You want the readers to be there by your side. Good description lets the readers share your vision. To reinforce the direction of your essay, you might end the essay with this final sentence.

The horror I saw in Texas motivated me to become involved in projects to clean up and prevent this kind of destruction.

The goal is to motivate your readers to get involved also.


Definition: Process follows a series of steps, in chronological order, to help the readers understand how something works or how to do something.

We constantly perform processes. Fixing our breakfast, preparing for school or work, and researching online are all processes. Although the basic format for most process essays – often referred to as process papers – is the same, there are slight differences in writing an essay either to understand how something works or to explain or teach how to do something. Let’s take a look at these separately.

Using the thesis statement, “Computers have some special features that make writing easier,” we’ll present two paragraphs that illustrate the difference.

Understand a Process

The Find and Replace feature in word-processing programs is invaluable in keep- ing details in a document consistent. As you work, you’ll come across details that seem inconsistent – a spelling difference here, a heading style there, a capital letter someplace else – and you’ll want to make sure that item is treated the same throughout your document. For example, you might realize that some- times you used email, and sometimes e-mail, and you prefer email. With the Find and Replace feature, you can search, in seconds, for the tiniest detail in the longest document and then replace any incorrect usage with what you prefer. With this feature, you can just type in what you’re looking for and what you’d like to replace it with. You can make the substitution on a case-by-case basis or with a single click of Replace All. This feature also offers several choices of what to look for and how to refine your search. With all of these options, the Find and Replace feature can help ensure accuracy and consistency throughout your document.

Explain a Process

The Find and Replace feature in word-processing programs is invaluable in keep- ing details in a document consistent. As you work, you’ll come across details that seem inconsistent—a spelling difference here, a heading style there, a capital letter someplace else – and you’ll want to make sure that item is treated the same throughout your document. With the Find and Replace feature, you can search, in seconds, for the tiniest detail in the longest document and then replace any incorrect usage with what you prefer. For example, you might realize that sometimes you used email, and sometimes e-mail, and you prefer email. Follow this process to make them all consistent as email:

  • Press Ctrl+H and the Find and Replace dialog box will appear.
  • In the Find what: field, type in what you’re looking for – in this case, e-mail.
  • In the Replace with: field, type in what you’d like to replace it with – in this case, email.
  • To make the substitution on a case-by-case basis, click on the Next button, and when you are taken to each occurrence of e-mail, click on the Replace button.
  • To change all occurrences of e-mail to email at once, click on the Replace All button (but be leery of this choice as it may change items you didn’t intend to change).

The Find and Replace feature can help ensure accuracy and consistency throughout your document.

In an essay intended to teach the readers precisely how to perform a process, remember to be complete. Often, when you know something very well, you will leave out steps and, therefore, the process will not work for your readers.The most important process papers you write will probably be those in a business or work environment, where it is important that a task be performed properly. Learning to write an effective process paper will be valuable throughout your life.


Teachers assign a comparison/contrast essay for a variety of subjects. You may be comparing the merits of buying a Mac or a PC, which college to attend, two poems, or where to go on vacation. Almost always, you are trying to decide which option better fits your needs or requirements.

Be careful to compare things that are actually comparable. There is not much to compare between bananas and Facebook.

Often ideas become clearer when they are presented and analyzed based on how they relate to one another. Comparison and contrast allow a writer to explore the ways in which ideas are related. Often, comparison and contrast are used in the same essay.

As an example, a possible introduction and thesis statement might be:

I’ve become so much more aware of ecology since I first noticed the mounds of garbage outside the mall stores late one night. I checked Google and discovered how much the United States is actually doing to correct the nation’s bad habits. The other day, however, I read an article about what Sweden is doing to “be green.” We could learn some valuable techniques by looking at what they are doing.

Be sure that after you’ve compared and contrasted you’ve actually made a point. It’s not enough to show the differences – you need to let the readers know why it matters to them.

Block and Alternating Methods

There are two primary techniques to use in a comparison/contrast essay the block method and the alternating method. As an example, let’s compare and contrast two books, The Old Man and the Sea and The Life of Pi.

What does an 85-year-old Cuban man have in common with a 14-year-old Indian boy? Not much you’d say. But you’d be only half-right. Both of them went through life-changing events. Following Santiago and Pi through their adventures shows us how perseverance can conquer adversity. Though the characters are very different, both books discuss the same thing—how we can conquer our fears.

Using the block method in your developmental paragraphs (discussed further in Chapter 5), begin by discussing one book and three key points about that book, for example:

  • Age
  • The ordeal
  • The outcome

In the next paragraph you would do the same for the other book. In the third developmental paragraph, you’d show how these factors impacted the characters. With the block method, be careful to cover the same points for each item being compared or contrasted.

The block method forces the readers to keep track of the items in the previous paragraph. For many, a clearer method is the alternating method. With this technique, you alternate your information within paragraphs. For example, your first developmental paragraph would discuss how age contributed to Santiago’s situation and then Pi’s situation, Santiago’s ordeal and then Pi’s ordeal, and finally the importance of the outcomes. Your conclusion to either method shows what the readers can learn by reading these two books.

Cause and Effect

Definition: A cause is the reason an event took place. An effect is the result of an event. Cause leads to effect.

A cause-and-effect essay explains why something happened. Cause examines why actions, events, or conditions exist, while effect looks at the consequences. In many situations we question what happened or what to do. Why did Scott stop dating Jeannie? What will happen if I join a soccer team, on top of my already packed schedule? Will I benefit from getting a part-time job? By choosing cause and effect as our method of development for discussing the green theme, our introductory paragraph might look like this:

I threw the can in the trash. My mother had taught me to be neat and pick up after myself. But my friend Marsha yelled at me, “What are you doing, don’t you know you need to recycle those cans? Why do you want to mess up our planet?” Frankly, I just hadn’t thought about it. Since then, I’ve learned ways I can contribute to making our planet greener and healthier.

Next you discuss what we are doing now to reverse the negative trend of trashing our planet and show what the projected results would be. This takes some research, but the aim is to show how much cleaner our environment will be if we act now.

Be careful to not attribute an effect to the wrong cause. If a person is failing a course and is always late to class, it’s easy to say, “He’s always late and that’s why he’s failing.” Actually, he might be failing simply because he doesn’t do the work and he is often late because his ride is usually late.

Remember to stay focused on your main point throughout your essay. Ask yourself, why are you telling your readers these facts? You might want to warn them of a danger (increasing garbage is a danger to our planet). Or you might want to show how doing something produces consequences. In the thesis statement mentioned previously, you’re telling your readers these facts because you want them to take some action.


Definition: An argument/persuasion essay makes a strong claim on a debatable topic, supported by facts, examples, and opinions. Argument generally relies more on logic, while persuasion uses more emotion. Most essays contain both.

To many people the word argument means loud voices, insults, and disharmony. In developing an essay, however, it means constructing logical evience to convince the readers to accept an opinion, take some action, or do both. Remember, when writing an argument/persuasion essay, presume that the readers do not agree with you. Argument/persuasion as a method of development has three ultimate aims:

  • To stir the readers to action
  • To change the readers’ minds
  • To help the readers understand your point of view

Rosie fixed a marvelous meal for us last night: roasted chicken, fresh corn, and green beans. I commented on how tasty everything was. She said, “That’s because all the ingredients are organic.” She went on to explain not only how organic food tastes better but how going organic is better for our planet. She had some pretty convincing arguments about why buying organic can be so beneficial.

Good arguments rest on a clear, logical foundation (argument); however, logic alone does not generally convince readers. It helps to include some emotional appeal (persuasion) to stir the readers and get them involved. Just as logic benefits from an emotional appeal, an emotional appeal should be substantiated by solid evidence. An argument, then, consists of a conclusion you want to support, your reasons for that conclusion, and the evidence that supports your reasons.

The opinions of authorities add weight to your argument. Use quotes from well-known and acknowledged experts – people and written material – to support your claims. The first step in developing an argument essay is to find a topic that has two sides, preferably a topic that interests you and one that you can research. Your thesis statement, as always, will signal your direction, but you need to be careful that you do not alienate your readers. Asserting a thesis statement and backing it up with reasons, evidence, and the emotional appeal are key pieces in an argument/persuasion essay, but they are not enough. You need to also acknowledge your readers’ possible objections to your point of view – called counterclaims – and answer those objections. Otherwise, readers may be less likely to consider your opinion. since they feel you didn’t consider theirs.

A thesis statement such as the following won’t be very effective, or create interest in what you have to say.

Obviously, everyone should actively recycle.

If something really is obvious, you don’t need to argue for it. Also, the word everyone is seldom successful. If your readers are not one of everyone, you will alienate them and they won’t read on. If your readers don’t agree with you, then they may feel you’re questioning their intelligence. A better thesis statement could be:

Recycling can be worth the effort.

Even if the readers don’t agree, they would probably read on to see what you have to say. In developing the body of an argument/persuasion essay, you could start each paragraph with a counterclaim, such as:

Many people claim it takes too much time to recycle.

To refute this claim, you might counter with:

It doesn’t take that much time to recycle if you’re well organized.

Your conclusion, then, should reiterate your position in a positive way.

It takes less time than you think to recycle, and the rewards are great for everyone.

Although it takes a little time and some effort, the benefits of learning to argue effectively can be beneficial in clarifying your thoughts. Looking at both sides of an issue can provide more insight and broaden your view of the subject.If you have been clear, positive, and logical; have appealed to your readers’ emotions; and have backed up your opinion with the opinions of authorities, your readers should understand your side, even if they haven’t changed their minds.


One device that helps your readers follow a train of thought is the use of transitions. Transitions provide the glue that holds an essay together. They help readers clearly follow what you have to say and consist mainly of the following:

  • Connective words and phrases
  • Repeated keywords
  • Pronouns and demonstrative adjectives
  • Parallelism

Without transitions, readers can easily become lost, but be careful not to overuse transitions; you don’t need one in every sentence. Use transitions to join complex ideas or to give structure to a long paragraph.

Connective Words and Phrases

Use connective words and phrases to show relationships. Something as simple as too, then, but, however, on the other hand, yet, because, after, as a result, also, besides, while, and next can move your essay along.

I like Facebook because it gives me a way to make friends around the world. As a result of my having a Facebook account, I was invited to visit a friend in France.

Repeated Keywords

To keep the readers on track, it can help to repeat keywords. You have to be careful, though, not to overdo it or you will lose your readers.

Being intelligent is rewarding. Being popular is fun. Being both is a great combination.

Pronouns and Demonstrative Adjectives

Pronouns stand in for nouns and, so, prevent the monotony of repeating those nouns. Demonstrative adjectives (this, that, these, those) also help hook ideas together.

I always have great thoughts, but these never seem to be available for an exam.


With pronouns and demonstrative adjectives, you need to be sure the reference is clear and that the replacement agrees in number and gender with the noun.

If you say, “Paul waited, but when Tommy was late he got upset,” it’s not clear who is upset.

It is clearer to say “Paul waited, but he got upset when Tommy was late.”


A major danger in writing (and thinking) occurs when you fall prey to what are termed logical fallacies. There are eight commonly accepted logical fallacies:

  • Hasty Generalization. Drawing a conclusion from too little evidence. (The teenagers I work with do as little as possible, so I know that young people aren’t hard workers.)
  • Stereotyping. Attaching supposed characteristics to a group. (Surfers are all irresponsible.)
  • Either/Or. Assertions that only two options exist. (Either you buy a car or you can’t go to the school across town.)
  • Begging the Question. Arguing that a claim is true by repeating that claim in other words. (You should drive 65 miles per hour on the freeway because that is what the law says, and the law is the law.)
  • Ad Hominem. Attacking the person rather than the position. (Dianne’s new business idea will never work because she never got a college degree.)
  • Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc. Claiming that one thing caused another thing when there may be no connection. (I fell asleep doing my home- work, so homework makes people sleepy.)
  • Faulty Analogy. Assuming that if one thing resembles another, conclusions made on one apply to the other. (Well, the plane model worked in the wind tunnel, so that plane will fly.)
  • Slippery Slope. Pretending that one thing inevitably leads to another. (We can’t reduce our military budget. The whole world will think we are a weak country.)

It’s important to avoid these fallacies, since they considerably weaken your effectiveness.

Method Examples

Choosing your method of development allows you to more clearly see your goal: a well-written, first-class essay. Your method also helps you shape your thesis statement. Following are examples of how one fact can be used to create different thesis statements depending on the direction you want your essay to take.

We’ll start with a fact (which cannot be a thesis statement because there is no controlling idea). Then, you’ll see how, with a little tweaking, you can create an appropriate thesis statement for each method of development.

Fact: I went to Disneyland last weekend.

Narration. Tell the story of what happened and how it was unexpected.

We had an unexpected adventure when we went to Disneyland.

Description. Pick three sights and show how they were unexpected.

Disneyland presents so many unexpected sights.

Comparison/Contrast. Pick three things and show how they were and how they have changed, and why that matters to you.

Disneyland has certainly changed since I first went there five years ago.

Cause and Effect. Tell how Disneyland’s methods have caused these changes.

Disneyland has changed the way most theme parks operate.

Process. Show what you need to do.

With a little careful planning, you can make your trip to Disneyland successful.

Argument/Persuasion. Be aware and mention why some think the trip is not beneficial and then show how these objections might be incorrect.

Although some may not agree, the cost of a trip to Disneyland can be well worth it.

Practice Methods of Development

To check how well you can identify the various methods of development, identify which type of essay each of these thesis statements sets up (narration, description, process, comparison/contrast, cause and effect, or argument/persuasion), and underline the key word(s) in each that lead(s) to your decision. See the Answer Key at the end of this book for the correct answers.

  1. It’s difficult to decide which type of exercise program is best.
  2. Schools should do more to develop students’ physical development.
  3. I will always remember the sights and sounds of my first baseball game.
  4. Exercising can change your life in more ways than one.

Next Steps

As you can see, the goal of your essay influences which method of development you use. The deciding factors remain – what do you want to achieve and how can you best do so? Once you’ve decided which method fits your needs, you’re ready to take the next step – creating an outline for your essay.