Three Ways to Expand a Paragraph: Elaboration

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I previously talked about expanding a paragraph to avoid “one-sentence” paragraphs. Otherwise, the logical flow of ideas will not be clear.

This kind of paragraphing, as I recently found out, is called a Schaffer paragraph. It consists of 3-5 sentences, indicating the need to add concrete details and commentaries supporting the topic sentence, before wrapping up with a concluding statement.

For expanding a paragraph, there are three overarching strategies: elaborating, extending and enhancing (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004). Each can be linguistically explained, and deserves a separate post.

This post will focus on the first “E”: elaborating.

Elaboration refers to how a meaning construed in one sentence makes that in the previous sentence clear. While this concept applies to relations between two clauses or combination of sentences, I focus on the elaborating relations between sentences here.

There are three kinds of elaboration, namely clarifying, explaining and exemplifying. You can find that each kind of elaboration has a representative Latin abbreviation.

  • Exemplification (e.g.)
  • Exposition (i.e.)
  • Clarification (viz.)


Exemplification is straightforward: giving examples. When the topic sentence covers a broad concept or an author’s initial comment, this can be considered an “inductive argument”, requiring evidence to support. For example:

See’s (2010) research discovered several types of abusive partners who resolve conflicts through abusive behaviors. For instance, they might have a low socioeconomic status, psychological disorder or “poor anger management skills” (2010).

Sample from Student X

The more general noun phrase “several types” needs to be exemplified with more specific terms (text in bolded orange). The three terms are exactly how one demonstrates his/her disciplinary knowledge.

The transition markers for this type of elaboration are, obviously, for example, for instance, such as, like, namely, etc. But be careful to distinguish which is used for linking sentences, clauses or phrases. I’m not elaborating on this here.


Exposition seeks to illustrate something in simpler terms. This strategy usually happens when a topic sentence contains a long noun phrase, typically resulting from the “A is B” sentence structure that compresses meaning from a clause into a noun phrase.

The notion of possibilities for self-hood resonates with Gee’s (1990) notion of “‘Discourse with a big ‘D’” as an “identity kit” (p. 142). That is, Discourse is not just a set of textual features but it embodies socially shared assumptions and practices that allow people to construct their identity or ways of being in society.

(Matsuda, 2015, p. 144)

The first sentence proposes two technical terms “Discourse with a big ‘D'” and “identity kit”. They deserve a “paraphrase” in the subsequent sentence:

  • Discourse with a big ‘D’: not just a set of textual features… socially shared assumption and practices
  • Identity kit: to construct their identity…

Aside from the abbreviation, exposition is usually signalled with transition markers such as in other words, that is to say, put simply, etc. This relation seeks to simplify arguments “in English” to help laypeople understand.


Clarification seeks to make something precise in the subsequent sentence, which backs up the first sentence as an explanation or a comment.

The partner having greater authority for assessing family’s resources could use this as a means to exact control on the others in the family. In fact, the power of assessing resources is possibly a matter of culture legacy, as Kirkwood indicated “women’s social dependency on men, as prescribed by cultural roles” (1993).

Sample from Student X

The second sentence elaborates on “authority for assessing family’s resources” with a quote from an external source, explaining it from a cultural perspective.

The relevant transition phrases can be to be precise, indeed, in fact, and so on. Interestingly, this kind of elaboration may suggest an opposite meaning in the subsequent phase, showing that this is a “more precise” statement, e.g. They weren’t show animals; we just have them as pets. (Example from IFG3, p. 399)

Using these three types of elaboration strategies requires us to recognise that a sentence is a topic sentence or one that deserves some explanations. The above examples show that elaboration is indeed a way for one to demonstrate his/her subject knowledge and thinking processes.

It’s a bit long today. Next up will be the second “E” — Extension.

Halliday, M. A. K., & Matthiessen, C. M. I. M. (2004). IFG3. London, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
Matsuda, P. K. (2015). Identity in Written Discourse. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 35, 140-159.


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