Often, whenever I write a topic sentence, whether or not I include it in the paragraph, I cannot expound on the topic for any length. I seem to be so deficient in the ability to add detail to a simple thought that I only write down simple thoughts.

What can I do to fix this problem? What knowledge do I need and what exercises can I do?

  • 1
    Before I write a full answer: decide whether this is actually a problem. If you can maintain flow and pacing, conciseness can often be a gift.
    – Weckar E.
    Jul 17, 2021 at 7:49
  • It sort of is a problem for me.
    – garbus
    Jul 17, 2021 at 8:43
  • 2
    Maybe look up the 'snowflake method' for writers. It starts with the 'simple' seed thought and builds up step by step (analogous to how a snowflake forms).
    – wetcircuit
    Jul 17, 2021 at 12:20

1 Answer 1


I suspect you're having difficulty precisely because you think of this as 'adding detail.' You'll have more success if you think of it as 'unpacking detail that already exists.' When you try to add something, your mind is faced with a wide open field — because anything in the universe could potentially be added — and that can produce a kind of brain-freeze as your mind tries to sort through it all. But if you look within the thing itself it narrows the field significantly.

If you'll forgive the analogy, a mental concept is a lot like a packing box. I might metaphorically reach into my head and pull out a box with the label (say) 'Newtonian Physics' printed on the side. I plop that box on the table and announce that I'm going to say something (hopefully) interesting about Newtonian physics. That is my topic sentence. Then I open the box and start pulling out the things I might want. Do I want to reference Newton's foundational assumptions? The derivation of the Calculus? The strange friction between Newton's physics and Newton's occult beliefs? The frustrations and inspirations I felt as I was learning Newton's work? The logic or math of the Laws and Principles?

Whenever you make a topic sentence, it comes pre-loaded with your previous knowledge, your presumptions and assumptions (right or wrong), your emotional experiences, your intellectual insights, and more. All of this is in your head, packed within your understanding of the concept. But your readers can't get inside your head: they don't (necessarily) know what you know; they don't (necessarily) assume what you assume; they don't (necessarily) feel what you feel. And they likely never will, unless you pull those details out and express them. For example, I could say "Newton's Calculus has an interesting relationship to Zeno's paradox", and I know exactly what I mean by that. But I can't assume you do, and so I have to stop and dig through that box a bit to figure out what you might need to know to make that topic sentence comprehensible to you. And then suddenly my problem isn't finding things to say; my problem is I have too much to say, and need to weed out the things that won't help you get to the point.

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