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Illustration

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Illustration

School buses come in a lot of colors, not just yellow. This is an interesting and very possibly a true statement, but some illustration would help. In other words, an example would be helpful in order to learn more about this claim. Illustration, which is involved in a wide range of more complex rhetorical methods, can help to prove that a statement is true or merely enrich and clarify an opinion or an account.

Definition and Purpose of Illustration

Illustration is a basic rhetorical method that adds detail to a claim or thought. The reason it is so common in rhetoric is because rarely does a statement provide all the necessary context needed to interpret it. Illustrations provide that context.

Illustration Used to Clarify a Thought

Here's something that could use an illustration:

Walking around empty malls is an almost otherworldly experience, like living in a memory.

In this example, an illustration would be helpful to enrich the idea. If the writer provided a first-hand account of their experiences in a mall, for example, it would provide helpful emotional context that might further engage the reader. The writer could also provide images of empty malls, which would both help to illustrate “empty malls” and also to engage the reader’s own sense of mystery or nostalgia.

Statements that would benefit from illustration beg for a story to be told. They have a way of making a reader ask for more.

Illustration Used to Support a Stance

Here's something that could also use an illustration:

Butterflies aren’t as common around here as they used to be.

In this example, an illustration would be helpful to prove a point. Examples would be great, including first-hand accounts or even secondhand accounts. Obviously, verifiable evidence would also add helpful detail. Verifiable evidence is the gold standard for details in essays because these details illustrate an empirical picture of a situation. In our example, our situation is a lack of butterflies in the area.

Synonyms for Illustration

Here are some ideas related to illustration:

A description narrows the mental distance between you and the subject described.

A description is similar to illustration, but it is more about detailing things in terms of a story, such as how things look and smell.

Evidence supports an argument with facts.

Evidence is a kind of illustration used in argumentation to provide support for an argument.

An anecdote is a short, informal, and descriptive personal story.

An anecdote is a method to illustrate what happened. Because it is a story, it is a kind of description, rich with sensory details.

Types of Illustration in Writing, With Examples

Nearly everything that an illustration accomplishes can be considered an example. This is why the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Here are some of the ways a writer might illustrate their ideas.

Illustration Using Common Examples

Common examples exist in the “public consciousness.” Things like famous events, historical figures, or movies fall under the public consciousness category.

It was the weirdest thing. I was walking, and I swear I saw the snowman in Sandy’s yard wave to me. It was like Frosty the Snowman or something.

This common example helps to illustrate the surreal, even magical experience that the writer experienced. The thought (which is their experience of seeing the snowman) is enriched by a common and recognizable illustration (Frosty the Snowman) that likens the writer’s experience to a magical experience the reader probably knows.

This type of illustration is good for telling a story, or quickly providing amusement or context to an argument, but it is not a strong form of illustration in formal arguments.

Illustration Using First-Hand Evidence

First-hand evidence is something that someone witnessed themselves.

This mall used to be the most happening place in town. When I was a young man, Gerald Ford came through here and gave a speech after cutting the red tape at its grand opening.

This example of a firsthand account is close to becoming an anecdote. An anecdote is a short, usually personal story that describes an event. It will often capture the flavor of a place in time, and sometimes will be used to make a point about then vs. now. An anecdote is a more complex mode of rhetoric in which the descriptive capabilities of a storyteller are put to the test.

Biographies and histories champion first-hand accounts, as well as courts of law.

Illustration Using Second-Hand Evidence

Second-hand evidence is something that someone heard from someone else. It can also be something that someone read about or heard about, although it lacks any citation.

Olympic National Park is like nowhere else in the United States. My dad went there, and he saw all these cold jungle trees and giant yellow slugs.

This second-hand account provides detail about the thought “Olympic Park is like nowhere else in the United States.”

Second-hand evidence is not as strong as first-hand evidence because the information is further from the source. The writer of this example could be misremembering what their dad said, for instance. Or, the writer might be using their dad’s illustration out of context.

This mall used to be the most happening place in town. I read in an article once that JFK gave a speech here.

This is second-hand evidence from an article that the writer once read. It is not as strong a piece of evidence as the article itself, because the article is 1. closer to the event it illustrates, and 2. contains greater and more accurate details than a memory of it.

If you remember the last section, for instance, Gerald Ford gave the speech, not JFK.

Illustration, Dead mall, StudySmarterYou can cite an article or you can use your memory. Wikimedia Commons.

Illustration Using Verifiable Evidence

Verifiable evidence includes things such as photos and research, which directly support a point. A first-hand account can become verifiable evidence if it is supported by enough corroborating evidence, including other first-hand accounts.

Ultimately though, what qualifies as verified, valid evidence will be up to the reader. This is why, when writing an essay or paper, citations are critically important. In a timed essay, citing the focal text or passage is a strong way to prove your point. This is also why when analyzing a piece of literature, the analyst will spend the majority of their time examining a piece of literature: it will contain much of the analyst’s verifiable evidence.

Alucard drinks blood. On page 123, it says, “he drank her blood like sipping soda out of a can.”

Fresno gets very hot. Its median yearly high temperature is among the top 1% of cities in America, according to a 2021 report in Oh My Gosh That’s Crazy Magazine.

This mall used to be the most happening place in town. The Gagawaw Gazette frequently ran stories about it, including one story from 1978 in which everyone from the whole town passed through the mall in a thirty-six hour span.

Illustration, Another dead mall, StudySmarterWhen illustrating something, you want to make sure that illustration is true. Wikimedia Commons.

How Illustration Functions in Sentences and Essays

Essays are built from building blocks: sentences. Every time you complete another sentence, you add another brick to the wall. Your goal is a firm construction so that your thesis doesn’t come crashing down around you.

As we’ve discussed, illustrations are a key way for a writer to provide details about their thoughts and claims. That’s all well and good, but how should a writer connect their “thoughts and claims” to their illustrations?

With transitions.

Transitions are a basic way to provide context to thoughts by linking them to other related thoughts. Transitions, which use dozens of words such as “therefore” and “for example,” can stitch together sentences, paragraphs, and chapters to create vast illustrative anecdotes or logical arguments.

If sentences are the building blocks for your essay, then transitions are the mortar. Use transitions to bind together your various points and examples.

How to Write Good Illustrations

Effective illustrations are consistent with your audience and your tone. Use illustrations when they provide necessary context or logical support for your points. Anecdotes, which we have discussed, should not be used in a formal argumentative essay, for example. Anecdotes are far more helpful in casual essays and histories. They can be used in longer papers and books where many forms of context might be helpful.

In your essay, use stronger forms of illustration. Use evidence or first-hand accounts from reputable sources who know more about a topic than you do. In timed essays, you will want to draw on the passage as much as you can to support your ideas.

How to Analyze Illustrations in a Casual Account

First, identify the kind of work you are analyzing. If it is a casual account, don’t worry about evidence. Analyze the emotional effectiveness of the illustrations, such as how well they communicate the feelings of the scene or idea. Analyze how vibrant a picture the illustrations paint. The more details, the better.

Casual accounts can include short passages, short stories, memoirs, and other media that don’t present a thesis.

Here is a passage from Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889) and an example analysis.

When I came to again, I was sitting under an oak tree, on the grass, with a whole beautiful and broad country landscape all to myself—nearly. Not entirely; for there was a fellow on a horse, looking down at me—a fellow fresh out of a picture-book. He was in old-time iron armor from head to heel, with a helmet on his head the shape of a nail-keg with slits in it; and he had a shield, and a sword, and a prodigious spear; and his horse had armor on, too, and a steel horn projecting from his forehead, and gorgeous red and green silk trappings that hung down all around him like a bedquilt, nearly to the ground." (A word of explanation)

This is the moment that Hank Morgan wakes up in Camelot. Here, Hank illustrates the idyllic and peaceful surroundings, which are in sharp contrast to Connecticut, which he described earlier. This illustration paints a place not crowded with industry. Twain is also very purposeful in how he writes Hank’s description of the knight. Rather than describing the knight’s armor in terms of its actual pieces, Hank describes it in terms of things he knows: picture-books, nail-kegs, and bedquilts. Mark Twain’s illustration creates a contrast between Hank’s world and the knight's world. These illustrations set up the humor and satire to follow.

How to Analyze Illustrations in an Essay

If you are analyzing an essay or report, consider the objectivity of its sources. In other words, does the essay or report use verified evidence to support its points? If not, you should analyze the flaws of the illustrations. Compare the illustrations to the thesis. Do they directly support it? If not, search for logical fallacies and other errors in the essay or report.

Illustration - Key Takeaways

  • Illustration is a basic rhetorical method that adds detail to a claim or thought.
  • Methods of illustration might include:
    • Common examples
    • First-hand evidence
    • Second-hand evidence
    • Verifiable evidence
  • Use transitions to effectively bind your illustrations to their claim or thought.
  • Effective illustrations are consistent with your audience and your tone.
  • In your essay use stronger forms of illustration, such as first-hand accounts.

Frequently Asked Questions about Illustration

Illustration is a basic rhetorical method that adds detail to a claim or thought.

"This mall used to be the most happening place in town. When I was a young man, Gerald Ford came through here and gave a speech after cutting the red tape at its grand opening."


This is an example of first-hand evidence being used to illustrate a thought.

Illustrations can include words in a rhetorical sense. "Illustration" is used in many fields and contexts. Illustrations can also be drawn pictures.

Effective illustrations are consistent with your audience and your tone. Illustrations should provide necessary context or logical support for your points.

It is a basic rhetorical mode. The reason that illustration is so common in rhetoric is because rarely does a statement provide all the necessary context needed to interpret it. Illustrations provide that context.

Final Illustration Quiz

Question

A transition is in any device that _____ two ideas.

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Bridges

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What are the most simple transitions?

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Single words.

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Can a transition be a phrase?

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Yes.

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Identify the transition in the following sentence:


"We will begin by herding cats. Then we will go to store for cheese."

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We will begin by herding cats. Then we will go to store for cheese.

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Transition words that indicate _____ create order.

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Time

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"Transition words that indicate place indicate the direct relationship between ideas and things."

True or false?

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False. Transition words that indicate place indicate the spatial relationship between ideas and things.

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Transition words that explain _____.

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Create reasons.

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Transition words that _____ create groups.

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Compare and contrast

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Transitions that emphasize indicate how ideas and things relate _____.

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In a hierarchy

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Transition words that add _____.

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Create more

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Transition words that _____ create conclusions.

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Indicate a result

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Transition words that summarize relate things and ideas to a _____.

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Broader reality

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 If you find that your transition is _____, consider a different transition. 


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dragging on

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Is using a variety of transition words a good idea?

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Yes! But don't overuse the rarer ones. Basic ones like "however," "for example," and "therefore" are great because they stick out less.

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Should you rely on your transitions to get your point across in an essay?

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No, you should rely on your ideas. Transitions are there to facilitate, not to star in your essay. 

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If an illustration would be helpful to a thought or claim, it would likely come in the form of a(n) _____.

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Example

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Illustration is a basic rhetorical mode that adds _____ to a claim or thought.

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Details

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Can illustrations clarify a thought?

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Yes. This is one of their main uses: to enrich ideas with details.

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Can illustrations be used to support a stance?

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Yes. If they are sufficiently accurate or detailed, can be used to prove a point.

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"I've never been to the zoo before."

Would this statement benefit from illustration?

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No. It is does not beg for a story, since there is no story to be told. Illustrations are good where details would be helpful in capturing an idea.

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"The cars on the streets seem to be getting older and older."

Would this statement benefit from illustration?

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Yes, this would benefit from some illustration, such as first or second hand evidence. For example: "At one intersection, my brother and I counted 12 cars from the 90s!" 

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"50% of all income on the Mars Colony is not taxed, reports Earth Weekly."

Would this statement benefit from illustration?

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Trick question. This piece of evidence is the illustration. 

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"My boss is a penny-pincher. He's a real Mr. Potter type, like from It's A Wonderful Life."

What kind of illustration is the underlined part?

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A common example.

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Does an illustration require evidence?

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No, it can be purely anecdotal.

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What is an example of a strong illustration in an essay?

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Verifiable evidence.

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If you are writing a timed essay, where can you look for verifiable evidence?

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In the provided article or passage. Direct quotations are excellent illustrations to make a point.

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How can you link your ideas to your illustrations?

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Transitions

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Effective illustrations are _____ with your audience and tone.

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Consistent

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"For a casual account, evidence is necessary."

True or false?

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False. Casual accounts, like short stories and memoirs, do not require formal evidence.

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In your essay, should your illustrations support your thesis?

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Yes! In an essay, everything you write should support your thesis.

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This is an example of which verb tense?


I was going to the library.

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past progressive

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This is an example of which verb tense?


They will lock the doors at midnight.

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future simple

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What is tense consistency?

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Verb tense consistency is maintaining the same verb tense within a clause, sentence, or paragraph.

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True or false: tense does not always need to be consistent.

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True

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Tense consistency is not necessary in which of the following situations?

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When directly quoting an outside source

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True or False: The results of a study are usually described in the present tense.

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False

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True or False: Argumentation in an essay is usually in the present tense.

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True

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How would you correct this verb tense inconsistency? (Hint: there is more than one right answer!)


I went to the store as soon as Adam gets home.

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1. I went to the store as soon as Adam got home.


2. I'll go to the store as soon as Adam gets home.

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How would you correct this verb tense inconsistency? (Hint: there is more than one right answer!)


She stares at her phone while walking and fell down the stairs.

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1. She stared at her phone while walking and fell down the stairs.


2. She stares at her phone while walking and falls down the stairs.

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Should this verb tense consistency be corrected or left as is?


Jackie visited our friend in the hospital today, I'm visiting him today, and Chase will visit him tomorrow.

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Leave it as is

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Should this verb tense consistency be corrected or left as is?


I went to the movies at 8, but first I'm going out for dinner at 6.

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Correct it

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Which is not a part of voice?

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Evidence

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What is a writer's tone?

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A writer’s tone is the style of their written delivery. 

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What is syntax?

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Syntax is the way that words are arranged into meaningful phrases, clauses, and sentences. 

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What is vocabulary? 

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Vocabulary is the words that a writer uses for himself, his narrator, or his characters.

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_____ is maintaining a voice that is consistent with the writing’s genre, narration, characters, grammar, and previously established voice.


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Consistent voice

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A consistent voice guides a reader’s _____ of a piece of writing. 


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Understanding

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A consistent voice gives the reader a _____ of what your piece of writing is like.


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Strong impression

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What is the active voice?

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Active voice is when you put the subject before the object in a sentence. For example, “I pass the ball” is an active voice construction.

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What is passive voice?

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Passive voice is when you put the object before the subject in a sentence. For example, “The ball was passed by me” is a passive voice construction.

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