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September 29, 2008

Why are ‘Examples’ Important as a Writing Strategy?

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“Example isn't another way to teach, it is the only way to teach” ~ Albert Einstein

Students and Friends,

Opinions are great but provided examples make a stronger case. Many learned men and women have had much to say on the subject of examples as a method of teaching. But, do they serve a useful purpose anywhere else?

This is the question I put to my writing students when trying to get them to see the fundamentals of a good argument or position paper. With or without research data, the example is the cornerstone of good reasoning . . .

. . . While the Oxford English Dictionary astutely informs us that an example is merely "a typical instance, fact, incident [or] quotation that illustrates, or forms a particular case of, a general principle, rule, or state of things" this greatly answers the question "what" but not the question "why."

In chapter 10 of his College Writing Skills with Readings (p. 207), John Langan reminds us that in BOTH daily conversations and in academic essays, explanatory examples, i.e. details, particulars, and specific instances can:

1. Help us see for ourselves any truth in our claims.

2. Help our reading audience fully understand our points.

3. Add interest to our paper or argument.

In support of these notions, the Capital Community College Foundation's Guide to Grammar and Writing states, "One of most impressive forms of argument (which is not really an argument at all) is to use examples of whatever it is we're talking about. It is also one of the most common forms of discourse and we use it constantly, even in the most informal discussions. Ask people what they mean, and they will surely answer with an example, an illustration."

The guide continues with the following advice:

When writing an illustration or example assignment, we will have to decide how many examples will be enough to make our point and then, if we use more than one, in what order should we use them. Do we work up to the most persuasive point or illustration or do we begin with that and then fill in with more details? No one pattern will work all the time, and it's going to depend on the argument we choose to back up with examples. You'll also have to decide when to stop. If you're trying to define what it means to be a good teacher, how many examples of good teaching do you have to give before you make your point? You need enough examples to make a valid point, but not so many that your reader will put down the essay and walk out the door.

Be careful of the Transitions you use to connect your examples. It is too easy simply to number them, but then our essay begins to sound like a mathematical exercise. If it helps to organize your paper, you can number your examples at first and then go back over the paper and provide other transitions (another advantage of word-processing). Get in the habit of providing steps, though, from one piece of the puzzle to another.

To read the rest of the CCCF's helpful article--and, to see a sample essay that uses examples to prove its thesis--please visit the link HERE.

SOURCE: "Using Examples." The Guide to Grammar and Writing. Capital Community College Foundation. 29 September 2008 [http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/GRAMMAR/composition/examples.htm].


At a university I once taught as a composition instructor, there appeared daily an old-fashioned and self-proclaimed street-preacher who liked to recite his memorized religious quotations (and subsequent judgments on the student body) in an antiquated, trance-like chant (apparently how things were done before modern methods of information dissemination) during my own class's regular meeting periods outside the course room window. The university "police" system (and apparently, the student body, which did not protest) also endured his practice of speech freedom. Oftentimes, closing the windows was not an effective solution to subdue the distracting racket of his hoarse hollering. While the man's rather zealous example of proselytizing undoubtedly repelled more potential converts than it would have otherwise attracted with a more reasonable methodology, I sometimes asked my students how they felt about a non-student soliciting on their campus and infringing upon their rights "to hear what they've paid for" as a "paying customer" of the university system.

As an "example of an example" I asked them if, when attending the cinema, they enjoyed hearing the conversation of the people sitting behind them after they've patiently waited in line out in the cold (this was in Pennsylvania) and paid a hefty seven or eight dollars to attend the show. Or, did they think that the members of their own place of worship would appreciate an uninvited visitor to stand outside their church/temple/synagogue/mosque window that rudely proclaimed the virtues of secularism, humanism, socialism, atheism or some other "conflicting" message? I reminded them that one of the founding fathers of this nation, Benjamin Franklin, once said "A good example is the best sermon.” This was often our kickoff into to the essay of illustration, or, the "examples essay" project.

In addition to promoting a tolerance for the academic discourse of "tolerance," the other primary doctrine I like to emphasize--preach--in my own writing classes is the importance of example in persuasion. The academic community is just as divided as the non-academic one and we rely on example to, at least, acknowledge intellectually the validity of another's claim. Perhaps, opinion needs no example but argument seems to fare much better with them in hand (or on paper).

More examples and illustrations as they come in,

Dr. Hobbs

*To read other essays/articles on this blog that deal with either the origins, meanings, or subtleties of words in the English language, please click HERE!

Posted by lhobbs at September 29, 2008 01:38 PM

Readers' Comments:

Professor Hobbs. You want to know why examples are important. The reason why examples are important is because examples draws pictures of detain. Examples help us all see the truth of the statement that is being made. Explanatory examples are example that help you explain to your audience enough so they understand the statement. Examples draws interest to your paper. You also put examples in your paper to help support what you are saying. In every day writing there are examples mixed in between the words and sentences that are formed into paragraphs which helps us understand exactly what is being explained. The examples that are thrown in the paragraphs and the sentences is what makes up the paper. Examples play a major part in everything you write. Without, examples you will not understand a word of what anyone is trying to say. As you can see examples are important in the world all around us.

Posted by: Jennifer G at February 11, 2006 10:04 PM

Professor Hobbs,

Examples can be important in essays because they help to prove your point and allow your audience to see where you are coming from. You could use an example in your essay from your own life, so the reader see your point of view, or possibly from something you have read or viewed that the audience may be familiar with. For example, if you were writing an essay about the difficulties of training a puppy, and had trained one yourself, you could use your own experience as an example in the essay. If used appropriately, examples can be a very helpful tool in essay writing.

Kelsey L.

Posted by: Kelsey L. at February 12, 2006 03:55 PM

Professor Hobbs

Examples are a big part of writing a good essay. Without examples, essays would have no purpose, because there would be no information to back it up. By using examples we can relate an idea or opinion to the statement being made. We also use examples in essays to back up an argument. Examples are an important part of writing an essay, because they give meaning to the topic.

An example of an example that could be in an essay about ways to study is, when studying, be persistent by studying an hour for every hour of class. Another example that relates to this essay could be, when studying turn off all electrical appliances which may cause distractions. An example used in everyday life for instance, could be telling someone to run like they were in a race. Examples are used constantly whether it be in essays, work, or in everyday conversation.

Kashiff M.

Posted by: Kashiff M. at February 13, 2006 12:35 AM

Example essays are important because they show the proper technique and style for a specific essay. These essays give examples to prove a certain topic. Depending on what type of paper you write determines how many examples are used. In a more persuasive paper there will be more examples.

Some good structure examples are shown through paragraph formatting and writing styles. A good way to help essay structure is to use some prewriting skills. To do so write down the main topic and make subtopics under it. Making rough drafts and revising it all help for good structure in paragraphs and the overall paper

Posted by: Thoryn S at February 13, 2006 01:46 AM

Professor Hobbs,
Examples provided in essays are important because they help the reader understand the truth of the writer’s statements. Examples are also helpful in that they add clarity to the point the writer is trying to make and can give the reader more interest.
Using these examples support the ideas the writer is making. Everyone has different perspectives about certain topics. By using examples this helps the writer to prove his claim.

Angela H.

Posted by: angela h. at February 13, 2006 02:26 AM

Examples in essays are important to help support the thesis. Examples can be used to help prove the point that the writer is making. Examples are a good way for the reader to get a clearer view of the writer’s argument. The reader can relate to the topic better through examples.
This writing strategy helps prove the point. For example, if the point being proved is that the school bookstore cheats students out of their money, an example to support and prove this point is that the writer exchanges his new book, purchased for one hundred and fifty dollars. He receives only twenty dollars back for the book. The same book was then sold to his friend for one hundred and ten dollars. This example helps prove the point that the school bookstore cheats students out of their money.

C. Robinson

Posted by: Cathy at February 13, 2006 10:24 AM

Professor Hobbs,

Examples are important in the writing process because it helps to build ideas. If you start with a topic and write down examples of how your topic is true it gives you things to talk about and it gives you a foundation for your entire essay. Each example you write down can become a new paragraph in your essay.
Let’s say you were writing about eight AM classes. Your thesis statement is: Eight AM classes are not healthy for a college student to have. Then you wrote down examples: It’s too early. You can’t think clearly. You’re always up late studying. Most people don’t have time to get breakfast before class. All of these examples you listed can be used to support your thesis statement. Now you have the layout of your essay. The first paragraph will talk about your thesis statement and the next will talk about it being too early in the morning and so on.
So you can see examples are a great way to begin the writing process. They build ideas that can be used in the rest of your essay.

Sam H.

Posted by: Sam H. at February 13, 2006 12:09 PM


Examples are important when writing essays and as a writing strategy because they are a direct link to what the writer is trying to say and what their point is. They also are able to provide the reader with a more in depth knowledge of what the essay is trying to suggest and what how the writer of the essay developed his or her stance on the subject.

For an example of what these skills are able to provide a writer with, I am able to in turn provide my own example of a writing assignment that we were asked to write for English 101.019. The essay that we wrote in class for road not yet taken, demanded that we use our own example in order to get the point across. This allowed our professor to see how much of the essay we were able to understand and how we used that knowledged gained and applied it to our own life.

Emily S.

Posted by: Emily S. at February 13, 2006 01:25 PM

Professor Hobbs

Example essays are used to explain and support your thesis, while expanding your thoughts and ideas. These essays are used to support and defend your claims about the topic sentence. In order to develop a good explanatory essay you must unite, support, and provide coherence. This will allow for you to correctly support and defend your statements.

By using explanatory statements you allow for the audience to become more aware of the point you are trying to make. You are drawling a picture in the audiences’ mind, allowing them to see the point you are making. You will be able to support your claims by using specific instances and actual cases that will convince the audience that the statements are correct.


Posted by: Samantha V. at February 13, 2006 01:50 PM

Examples in essays are important because it backs up your statements in your essays. It also makes the audience comprehend your subject a little better.

An example in a essay can be: The restaurant is always busy. It is busy since the workers are slow and they're are numerous covers during the night.

Posted by: David, R at February 13, 2006 01:58 PM

Example essays are important, because it gets the point that you are trying to make across. It gives people a visual idea of what you are trying to say. It also enables the audience to be able to relate to the topic and have a better understanding of what you are talking about. Plus, it proves how different aspects or ideas could correlate with each other.

An example that can be effectively used could mostly be in the body paragraph of the essay, because that is where you are trying to prove your thesis or topic sentence. You could also use them to explain difficult ideas. It is effectively used to support the research used in the essay or if it is a personal essay, it can support the ideas.

Posted by: Linda M. at February 13, 2006 01:59 PM

Professor Hobbs,

Examples provide essential support when trying to convince an audience of a given position. After stating a certain point of view, examples offer concrete evidence of that view’s truthfulness and a gateway to understanding why that view is valid. Sometimes examples just make concepts easier to understand, but this simple aid can be critical to opening the eyes of readers to different ideas. Often, examples can provide a personal connection or inspire a way of thinking that the audience hadn’t considered before. Without such support, a paper can become no more than a bunch of empty claims. Examples are the convincing elements that give readers a good reason to believe what they’re reading, even if the ideas being presented are completely alien to them.

Sean O.

Posted by: Sean O. at February 15, 2006 12:05 AM

Professor Hobbs,
I am a firm believe in backing up what I believe in. I am currently a pre-law major and it is obvious that lawyers have to argue and must have evidence to back up their arguments. This may come out the wrong way, but I enjoy arguing (only when I’m right). I think it is because of the challenge by proving that my point outweighs my opponents’.
I desperately wanted to go away to college, yet my parents didn’t seem to agree with me. I became extremely persistent by doing things such as, leaving IUP’s brochures all around the house and constantly bringing up the positive things about leaving home. Eventually, I convinced my parents that I was making the right decision. At this time, I also realized I could not wait to become a successful lawyer.
Angela H.

Posted by: angela h. at February 18, 2006 08:48 PM

Dear Professor Hobbs,

Do you believe everything you hear?

This is a wonderful question to be asking. There are hundreds of rumors going around the world every second. What should you believe, what shouldn't you believe? These are wonderful questions. You know not everything that is being told to you is true. You have to sit back and really think about if what was told to you is a believable comment or not. You first have to look at the source that gave it to you. Is this person a known practical joker or is this individual trust worthy? You also, have to look at if the comment that is being made about the person fits there personality and what you know about them. There are many steps you have to take to exactly know if the rumor is believe able or not. You need evidence or examples to back up what the individual is saying about a certain individual. This happens to me every day I hear certain things and I have to go through a process to find out if it is true information or not. Heres an example of one of the situations I had to go through to figure out if what I was being told was true or not. I was walked up by a individual in my school telling me something very shocking about my sister. At first, I wanted to jump up and say when did this happen why am I the last to find out about this. But, first I had to sit back and really think about it. I first, approached my sister with what I was told by one individual. That wasn't such a smart idea this is because I had nothing else to back up what I was telling her but one individuals statement. I couldn't win my case. So, I had to back off the subject till I had more information. Later on that day I was approached by different individuals each with a different story of what exactly happened the other night. I was getting so confused, that I seriously had to stop everyone from telling me thing until i could straighten the whole thing out. With enough information to back up my concern. I approached my sister with more information and examples of what I was telling her that she had no way to tell me false information. At the end of our discussion, we came up to the conclusion that what was being told to me was false. We, wouldn't of been able to come up with that conclusion if I didn't have all the facts and examples to back up what I was being told. I would of always had a thing against my sister if we never straightened the whole thing up. This is why you don't believe everything everyone says without information to back you up and back up what you are being told.

Jennifer G.

Posted by: Jennifer G at February 19, 2006 12:31 PM

Often times using specific examples are beneficial to me because sometimes not all is comprehended until it is related to something else. I use specific examples for that reason, to realate for better understanding.

Yesterday I was writing my mom a letter and I talked about a situation I was in , mainly how I felt about it. Not knowing if she could relate to how I was feeling, I said "It was like when...."specific example...". She later told me that she could understand me better once I gave her that example.

Posted by: P.Beckles at February 19, 2006 04:25 PM

Professor Hobbs,

Personally, I believe that people use examples in their lives on an almost daily basis. We are oftentimes challenged and asked to prove things. When we get into even the littlest argument or debate, we must use examples in order to prove ourselves correct. I know that I have a friend with whom I am constantly bickering about small issues with. I use examples to show that I am correct. Because both of us are so stubborn and always think that the other is wrong, to prove that I am right, I have found that using examples has helped my friend see my point of view.

Kelsey L.

Posted by: Kelsey L. at February 19, 2006 11:15 PM

Professor Hobbs

One day I was helping my friends do I video for a class in high school. They wanted to do this effect where the one person in the video suddenly lit up into flames, but they didn’t want to actually burn him. They also wanted to make on person be a ghost. I used examples from movies to try to explain how it could be done. You take video from the background with no action on it. Then without moving the camera you take video of the action. Then when you put it on the computer you fade one on top of the other to get the effect of transparency. This is the same thing you would do with the fire. It’s done in a lot of ghost movies especially old ones with not as big of a budget.

-Sam Hakes

Posted by: Sam H. at February 20, 2006 12:06 AM

Professor Hobbs,

I have learned that sometimes when using examples to prove a point, it can be easy. When I was writing an essay for my first semester of college writing, I was asked to write whether the war in Iraq was wrong and I had to use examples to prove my point. I stated my point of view and I used several examples to support my point. My professor stated to me that I had great examples and that my paper was wonderful.

Kelly J

Posted by: Kelly J at February 20, 2006 12:41 AM

Professor Hobbs

A short time ago, I was forced to prove my “case” to my girlfriend. She tried to accuse me of cheating on her, when she heard from one of her friends that I was with another female. I explained to her that there was no way that I could have been where her friend said I was. Her friend said that she had seen me at Wal-Mart at 7:30 p.m., but I was playing basketball during that time with my friend, Dan. This was evident because Dan confirmed that he was with me from 7:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. that night. She later was forced to apologize for her accusation since I was able to prove my point through examples.

Kashiff M.

Posted by: Kashiff M. at February 20, 2006 12:44 AM

Prof. Hobbs

Examples have proven beneficial to

both writing exercises and assignments for the

assisting of getting a point across. An example

of this would be in the beginning of the month

of February I wrote a passage about Black

History Month on a blog on Myspace.com. My

argument in that passage was that moving forward

but looking back can be detrimental to the

process of growth. I used examples like the

passage in the Bible about Lot's wife and how

she was turned to a pillar of salt for turning

around upon leaving Sodom and Gommorah. I also

used the passage in the Bible about the

Israelites lamenting the "comforts" of Egypt

after God delivered them from that place and

their punishment was 40 years wandering in the

wilderness. As you can see, making a claim and

trying to sell it to people would be more

difficult if there wasn't an example or

something to bring familiarity or context to the

claim. It has made the process of writing easier

to do.

Posted by: Holden B. Jones at February 20, 2006 08:36 AM

Professor Hobbs

When I was trying to explain someone the severity of a dangerous road, I had to use examples of car accidents to explain how careful you must be. I had had an experience myself and I didn’t want my friends or family to have the same experience. Luckily my situation wasn’t as bad as some of the other examples I used. By informing my friends I felt like I was protecting them from disaster.

Samantha V.

Posted by: Samantha V. at February 20, 2006 12:14 PM

Professor Hobbs

I remember when I was in grade school I wanted to take karate. My mother did not want me to because she thought it was dangerous. I do not think karate is dangerous. I had tried all kinds of sports before I wanted to try karate. I did dance soccer, softball, and track. I gave my mother examples of ways that all of these sports could possibly be dangerous. I told her of all the ways I though of that I could get hurt in these sports. Then I told her I would be very careful if she let me take karate. Using examples to show my mother that karate is no more dangerous than the other sports I have done benefited me because she let me enroll in karate class.

C. Robinson

Posted by: Cathy at February 20, 2006 12:20 PM

Dear Professor Hobbs,

A time when writing examples were beneficial to me was when I would argue with my twin brother. He is a Bengals fan, and I am a Steelers fan. We argue about which team is better all of the time. I have to come up with examples of when the Steelers proved they were a better team. I also have to find examples to counter the points he makes. Sometimes the best examples are wrestling moves to get him to agree with me, but with the recent Super Bowl win, I think I have the edge for quite some time.

Brendan L

Posted by: Brendan L at February 20, 2006 12:25 PM

The most prominent moment in my life where I can remember using specific examples was during an job interview. As you know, during an interview ther is a section where the employer will ask you to tell him/her about your past experiences. This was an opportunity for me to make a list of my abilities and that is essentially what examples mainly are; a list.
I was asked about my job duties and responsibilities at various jobs. I preceded to give exapmles such as, assisiting customers with their shopping needs, ringing sales, merchandising, customer service and delegating responsibilty. Upon hearing my specific examples, the employer was impressed and had all the information needed in order to consider me a spot within the company. Days later, I was hired.
This goes to show how examples give your listener and readers a better understanding of your topic or points that you are trying to make. They are a list that one can pick and choose from and to better clarify and follow your path.

Posted by: Adrianne E at February 20, 2006 12:31 PM

When arguing with my mother, I am always sure to provide examples. If I dont I would never be able to prove my point or state my case. There was once a time when she yelled at me for not performing some chores. I explained to her that I was trying to concentrate on a project that afternoon and that I wouldn't have time to clean up the house like she had asked me to. I also pointed out that my brother never did chores and when he was ever asked to do them, his excuse was that he had homework to do. That excuse seemed to satisfy my mother when it came to him, so why couldn't I use it?

Posted by: Emily S. at February 20, 2006 12:59 PM

Professor Hobbs:

Examples are most beneficial when it is used in an argument. For myself, I use it to argue with my parents to make a point. A lot of times, my parents like to think that they are right, because of the fact that they are older. Other times, they just think that they know everything.

Even though I know that they only want what is best for me, it usually seems to hurt me more than actually helping me. For example, my parents believe that males work and provides for the family while females are suppose to stay home and cook. Though they do want me to be successful later in life so that I can take care of them when they are older, they also want me to stay home when I get married and have children. I had to give them examples of very successful women who has children and are able to manage a job at the same time, in order to prove my point.

Linda M.

Posted by: Linda M. at February 20, 2006 01:06 PM

Professor Hobbs,

Examples are very important, especially when writing an essay. When trying to prove a point in an essay, using examples will probably be the best way to get a point across. It will also be easier for the audience to understand the topic and thesis of the paper if examples are used throughout the paper. Without examples, the essay will most likely not provide enough evidence to support the thesis. Examples will help bring different ideas in the paper together and provide enough evidence to support the thesis.

Ali L.

Posted by: Ali L. at April 17, 2006 05:15 PM

Hello Hobbs,

Examples are very important in our writing, speaking and everyday lives. They help us see for ourselves the truth of the statement that has been made. Examples give your readers or listeners a clearer understanding of what you are trying to say. At times I may have difficulty explaining my points and when I include a few examples it makes everything better and takes a load off my shoulders.

Examples are all around us and we see them everyday. When driving down the road there are examples all over. Most street signs and road directions are comprised of examples. For example, (no pun intended) a rest stop might have pictures of a gas pump or eating utensils which implies food and fuel. Examples are a very important part of our everyday lives and are not limited to writing alone.

Adrianne E

Posted by: Adrianne E at April 19, 2006 01:02 PM

Why are examples important? Examples can be important for a number of different reasons. Examples are basically a “how to” explanation. By using examples it can explain new and unfamiliar concepts to people. People who are unsure of how to do a certain task can just read directions or a “how to” that will explain the who task step by step. Example makes it easier for the unfamiliar to actually achieve completing what they want to do with out having much difficulty.
Examples of examples are also being used in everyday life. These are important to people to give them and even deeper explanation. People who are still confused with the example that was already given can be given another example that is related. Examples of examples is just another way to explain even more in depth of a concept and makes it related so that it is easier to understand.

Posted by: Liz L. at April 25, 2006 10:01 PM

Everyone should not believe everything that they hear. Sometime when a person tell you something it could just be about something that they have heard from another person. Sometimes it can kind of be like the game telephone. A bunch of people will pass down something that they heard and the further that it get down the more and more that the original changed. Eventually at the end of the game it goes to show that the original statement will end up being false. Therefore, by using examples you can actually prove what you are talking about. For instance when I was a junior in high school I had to take a class the was a governmental class. Towards the end of the year we had to debate. In order to debate you need real facts to prove your point or no one will end up taking your side on the issue. My topic was abortion and I stood against it. I had to in some way persuade the class that abortion was wrong. So, I used actual pictures that I got off the internet of what a baby looked like after it was aborted. That was an example that I should the class. Turns out after I showed that picture of the aborted baby most students felt the same way as a I did about the issue. Although, if I decide not to use that picture as a part of my debate, it might have been a good chance that most people would have actually have felt as strongly about it.

Posted by: Liz L. at April 25, 2006 10:14 PM

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