How to Use Exemplification in Writing

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In composition, example (or exemplification) is a method of paragraph or essay development by which a writer clarifies, explains, or justifies a point through narrative or informative details.

"The best way to reveal a problem, phenomenon, or social circumstance," says William Ruehlmann, "is to illustrate it with a single, specific instance." ("Stalking the Feature Story", 1978). The etymology comes from the Latin, "to take out".

Examples and Observations

  • "I argue that there is a sense of belonging, a sense of national/cultural identity that differentiates one people from others. Let me look at Vietnamese students studying in Australia as an example. . . ."
    (Le Ha Phan, "Teaching English as an International Language: Identity, Resistance, and Negotiation". Multilingual Matters, 2008)
  • "Illustrations affected me more strongly than reality; a picture of falling snow, for example, whether in black-and-white line drawing or blurry four-color reproduction, moves me more than any actual storm."
    (John Updike, "Self-Consciousness", 1989)
  • "Not all chemicals are bad. Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer."
    (Dave Barry)
  • "There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance, is a very slight interference."
    (Henry David Thoreau, "Paradise (to Be) Regained." "Democratic Review", Nov. 1843)
  • "Before long I came to regard all kinds of activities — asking for more toast in a hotel, buying wool-rich socks at Marks & Spencer, getting two pairs of pants when I really needed only one — as something daring, very nearly illicit. My life became immensely richer."
    (Bill Bryson, "Notes From a Small Island". Doubleday, 1995)
    • ensure that you use specific and relevant examples;
    • include multiple examples to make your point; and
    • provide an effective argument"

Functions and Methods
"Because examples are so important for clarification, adding interest, and persuasion, writers rely on them all the time, even when they use other patterns of development. Thus, you will see examples in essays developed largely with cause-and-effect analysis, process analysis, comparison-contrast, and other patterns or combinations of patterns. Say, for instance, that you are using cause-and-effect analysis to explain why sexually active teenagers often do not use birth control. Once you note that teenagers may not always understand when and how pregnancy can occur, you can illustrate with an example you read of a 15-year-old who became pregnant because she thought she was 'safe' since it was her first sexual experience.
"Regardless of your purpose for using exemplification, your examples will support, clarify, or explain a generalization, which is a statement of something that is typically true in your own life or in a broader context."
(Barbara Fine Clouse, "Patterns for a Purpose". McGraw-Hill, 2003)
"Whether example is a supporting mode or the dominant technique, you need to
(W.J. Kelly, "Strategy and Structure". Allyn & Bacon, 1999)

Examples of Superstitions
"Many superstitions are so widespread and so old that they must have risen from a depth of the human mind that is indifferent to race or creed. Orthodox Jews place a charm on their door-posts; so do (or did) the Chinese. Some peoples of Middle Europe believe that when a man sneezes, his soul, for that moment, is absent from his body, and they hasten to bless him, lest the soul should be seized by the Devil. How did the Melanesians come by the same idea? Superstition seems to have a link with somebody of belief that far antedates the religions we know — religions which have no place for such comforting little ceremonies and charities."
(Robertson Davies, "A Few Kind Words for Superstition." Newsweek, Nov. 20, 1978)

"In the small, shabby apartment there were mementos of other places, other things. There was, for example, a child's day bed folded up in a corner of the living room. Toys — if you opened the closet door too quickly — fell on your head. Tiny scuffed white shoes were still hiding — one of them, anyhow — under the headboard of the bed. Small worn dresses, ripped, faded or in good repair, hung on nails in a small back room."
(Alice Walker, "Meridian". Harcourt Brace, 1976)

Memories of Autumn in England
"Soon it will be the endless evenings, fraught with old, thin memories of Bovril and Sooty, wet streets, lighting-up time, tentative girlfriends gone away to university, beer and colds, waiting outside Halfords for the number 29 bus, melancholy nights with headlights making patterns on the bedroom wall. Autumn is a Sunday evening indefinitely expended. It is the season of the provinces, bedsits in Sheffield, Cardiff sea-mists, raincoats and station platforms, desolation and loss."
(Michael Bywater, "The Chronicles of Bargepole". Jonathan Cape, 1992)

The Lighter Side of Examples
"It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons."
(Douglas Adams, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". Pan, 1979)

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "How to Use Exemplification in Writing." ThoughtCo, Aug. 29, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 29). How to Use Exemplification in Writing. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "How to Use Exemplification in Writing." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 1, 2023).