What Are Supporting Details?

Supporting Details

Let’s talk about supporting details and how they can help strengthen your writing. A paragraph usually starts with the main idea–also called the topic sentence–and the rest of the paragraph gives specific details to support and develop that point. Today, we’ll be talking about those details, called supporting details.

Think of it this way: if you’re building a table then you need a flat surface for the tabletop, this is like your main point or topic sentence. If that flat surface doesn’t have any legs to stand on, though, it’s no good as a table! The supporting details are like the legs of the table, propping up the topic sentence.

There are six main types of supporting details: descriptions, vocabulary, proof, voices, explanation, and importance.

Description is fairly self explanatory: the writer can use the five senses, comparison, and metaphors to help paint a vivid picture for the reader. Vocabulary helps with clarification. For example, if you have a topic sentence that relies on the word “pulchritudinous,” it might help to include a definition of the word so the reader doesn’t get sidetracked. (Pulchritudinous means “beautiful,” by the way) Proof is often made up of facts, statistics, and dates that are hard evidence for your main point, and “voices” are expert quotes, individual opinions, or different perspectives that can be considered “soft proof.” Explanation is restating the main point more simply, and “importance” is answering the question “so what?” after a fact or a quote.

Let’s take a look at a quick example.

Being a celebrity is often difficult. First of all, celebrities have to look flawless all the time. Perez Hilton once said celebrities have to sacrifice their private lives when they choose to enter the spotlight. Think about the gossip rags you’ve seen with unflattering paparazzi photos of the private moments of the stars’ lives. This obsession can sometimes lead to stalking, threatening letters, and even physical attacks.

Okay, so our main point is that first sentence: being a celebrity is difficult. The supporting details follow. You can see a voice is presented, that of Perez Hilton, a descriptive explanation, directing you to think about the paparazzi photos, and two simply descriptive phrases. This paragraph would be even stronger with a testimonial about a real-life story of a celebrity facing danger because of their place in the public image–that would be a proof-based supporting detail.

When you’re writing supporting details, it’s important not to stray too far from your original point. Remember, every paragraph in a written work is pointing back in some way to your overall thesis, and every sentence in the paragraph is pointing to the main point of that paragraph.

If you have a main point about, say, how dogs are man’s best friend, you wouldn’t want to use an example of how disloyal cats are in that paragraph. Save that point for another paragraph–stay focused on facts about dogs in the supporting paragraph about dogs. If you get off track from your main point, your reader might get confused and lose interest.

A common mistake in writing a paper is not providing enough specific details. The more specific, the better. A vague detail is like a thin table leg, it will make your entire point wobbly. Often vague details come when you’re pressed for time or don’t want to research a topic fully–take the time to make your paper worth reading. Let’s look at an example to further prove this point. You could write something like this:

I felt like I was sick. By the time I got home, it was worse. The symptoms kept developing, one after the other.

Okay. You know in general what’s happening. But think how much more convincing the following sentence would be:

I was sick at my desk when I felt the tickle in my throat and started to cough. By the time I got home, the room seemed to be swimming around me, and I found I had a fever of 102. I crawled into bed, shivering.
That’s a little more vivid, isn’t it? The details are strong and vibrant, not generic and vague. It makes the writer’s point much more clearly.

So let’s look back on what we’ve learned. Supporting details help hold up your main point. They should be specific, creative, and focused on the main point of the paragraph. Do this, and your writing will greatly improve.

I hope this video has been helpful and that you feel prepped and empowered. Thanks for watching!

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by Mometrix Test Preparation | Last Updated: August 20, 2019