Power Tools: Content & Development

The following section was originally part of Power Tools for Technical Writing, published by Harcourt, but taken out because of length considerations. This section was part of a chapter made up of the following:
  1. Content—provides strategies for thinking of useful content for writing projects, in other words, developing the content of a project.
  2. Organization—provides strategies for reviewing the sequence and arrangement of the contents of a writing project.
  3. Transitions—provides review strategies for checking the coherence of a writing project, in other words, the "flow" of the project as created by the transitions.

As a writer, you need to know some strategies for developing the content for a writing project: what topics and subtopics to include, what to write about, how to think of material to cover concerning a topic.

What to Say—What to Write?

Are you one of those writers who can't seem to find enough to say about a topic or who feels that no further elaboration is necessary? The following provides some strategies that may help you find good detail to pump into your rough drafts and to give your readers that extra time to understand your message. Notice how the following content-development tools are used in the content-development example.

Content-development tool Description
Definitions Take a look at your draft for terms that need to be defined, or that need further definition.
Descriptions Review your draft for objects, mechanisms, places, locations that need to be described, or described in further detail.
Processes, functions Check your draft for references to processes that you could discuss in detail, perhaps step by step.
Examples Look for areas in your draft where certain concepts could be made clearer with examples.
Comparisons, analogies Review your draft to see whether objects, processes, or concepts can be compared to similar items. Consider whether analogies—comparisons to familiar items¾would help readers understand your discussion.
Causes Think about situations or problems discussed in your document. Consider whether you need to discuss the causes of those situations or problems—or further elaborate on them.
Effects, results, consequences Think about those same situations or problems in terms of their results or consequences. Do you need to discuss these?
Problems, solutions Review your draft for problem or solutions that you could discuss, or discuss further.
Types, categories Think about whether certain topics in your draft can be divided into categories. Consider whether discussion of those categories would help readers.
Classification Would it be useful to discuss which category some topic in your draft belongs in? Discuss whether its characteristics match each of the categories.
Applications, uses Search your rough draft for topics whose applications or uses you can discuss.
Advantages, benefits Similarly, see whether there are areas in your draft in which you can discuss the advantages or benefits of a topic.
Disadvantages, limitations Similarly, see whether there are disadvantages or limitations related to your discussion that ought to discussed—or discussed in further detail.
Importance, significance Review your draft for areas in which you could explain the importance or significance of the topic.
Historical background, important names Think about your draft in terms of important historical events, important people's names¾for example, inventors, discoverers, and so on.
Word derivations To help people understand certain terms, it's useful to discuss the Latin or Greek (Germanic, Arabic, or other) roots of the terms you define. For example, the term "biome" comes from the Greek bio- meaning "life" and the –ome meaning "mass."

Workshop—Content & Development

For practice and workshop material, see the exercises on content & development to get some practice with identifying types of paragraph development and selecting them for excerpts.

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