What Are Concrete Details In An Essay

The Schaffer method is a research-based writing formula commonly taught in middle and high school settings. The multi-paragraph essay structure was coined by Jane Schaffer in an effort to provide students and teachers with a consistent and proven formula for constructing essays. The method is backed by Schaffer's own research on the most effective means of crafting an essay as well as the best techniques to use in order to generate high paper scores.

Schaffer's format ensures that each paragraph is fully developed by designating specific types of sentences, a set number for these sentences (5-8 to be exact) and a specific order when composing them. In addition to these details the Schaffer method also suggest approximately how many words should go in each section as well as the ratio or sentence distribution depending on the type of paper that is being written.

The schaffer paragraph

When writing an essay using the Schaffer method, effective paragraph construction is essential. And the key terms to remember in doing so are concrete detail and commentary. These are two of the five basic sentence types that are to be included in Schaffer's paragraph format. This method calls for the following order of sentence writing; (a) topic sentence (b) concrete detail (c) two commentary sentences (d) and a concluding sentence. And as mentioned earlier there may be some variants with this as well as changes in the order of the sentences (for example, two detail sentences and then a concrete sentences) based on the subject or type of essay.

And though this formula is generally introduced and utilized amongst high school students, others may also benefit from it as well (possibly if faced with a blank page and no idea where to start!). But like many formulas, with specific guidelines and structures, you may be tempted to ask the questions; All of this for an essay? What's the benefit?

Excellent benefits of the Schaffer method

Though often criticized for stifling creativity and limiting many aspects of student writing, formulaic writing methods such as the five-paragraph-essay or the Schaffer method definitely have their share of benefits as well. With the Schaffer method in particular some features do stand out; which make it a desirable writing tool for students and teachers alike. A few are mentioned below.

  1. Since the formula breaks down the key sentences in every paragraph it really forces students to hone in on the most important parts of any essay. They can separate the important points of their essay from any 'fluff' that they may gather up when writing. It also helps to take away any type of ambiguity or confusion surrounded around grading; the student knows exactly what the teacher is looking for and what to do in order to correct a poor score.
  2. The method is also especially useful for inexperienced students that may find it difficult to put together an essay or really any form of writing (*this is by far may be the greatest advantage it offers). The instructions are plain and simple and hard to misinterpret.
  3. The distinction between 'commentary' sentences and 'concrete' ones really helps students to understand that essays are made up evidential support such as facts and raw data and a writer's input such as evaluations, 'comments', or states and claims.

Likewise, the placement of the commentary sentences after the concrete ones also indicates to students that it's necessary for them to evaluate or expand upon the evidence that they present and not to just leave it 'in the air' for the audience to decipher its relevance on their own.

Understanding Schaffer's terminology

When constructing an essay following the Schaffer method, by choice or due to the request of an instructor, it's important to understand the exact meaning of each of term that Schaffer utilizes. Though some are obvious, some may need a little clarification. The following terms relate to Schaffer's paragraph structure and are listed in the order that they should appear when written.

1. Topic Sentence

The topic sentence of a paragraph is simply the main idea and should reflect the primary concept or message that is being conveyed. The topic sentence of the essay differs in that it is being used to introduce the entire essay and therefore may be broader, but should still be connected to the thesis statement or central purpose/objective of the essay.

2. Concrete Detail

The concrete detail that is provided after the topic sentence is simply a statement that supports what was previously mentioned. It may include several things and is essentially a fact, or something know to be true as it relates to the topic. For instance, for a concrete detail you may choose to provide...

  • Statistics
  • Direct quotes
  • Paraphrases
  • Plot references
  • Illustrations
  • Examples
  • Or other researched facts

Along with providing supportive evidence the concrete detail sentence should also be properly written. Meaning that the detail is not simply placed alone in the paragraph. Its a good idea to first introduce it by providing a signal or transitional phrase. Examples can be seen below (these can be placed directly in front of your concrete detail);

  • For instance
  • For example
  • To illustrate
  • Illustrated with
  • In this case
  • Specifically

3. Commentary

The third sentence that is used with this formula refers to the author's opinion or evaluation of the concrete detail that was presented. There can be several commentary lines depending on the length of your paragraphs. The commentary sentences should not introduce any new evidence but rather work with the information that has already been provided by analyzing, interpreting, and expanding upon it. The main objective of the commentary is to explain how the evidence supports the writer's primary point, argument or objective. So along with interpreting this information more detail can be also be extracted by looking at 'deeper issues' that may be present for instance, trying to understand the true meaning of it, or even looking at it in a more abstract or alternative manner (depending on the nature of the subject).

4. Concluding Sentence

Finally, each paragraph should end with a formal conclusionary statement. Your conclusion statement should properly synthesize all of the information in the paragraph and relate back to the topic sentence. The conclusion sentence of a paragraph should be insightful but does not have to be as comprehensive as the ones found in the conclusion of an essay. Likewise, a good conclusion sentence should also be a connecting one; therefore it will sufficiently prepare the reader for the next topic sentence that is to come.

Concrete Details

The opposite of concrete details is abstractions. The concrete includes references to solid objects—anything you could see or touch. The abstract deals with ideas and thoughts.

The car was perfect.  The mere thought of it sent a thrill through her body.   She had to own it.  All through class, her mind traced its image over and over.  Her nervousness wouldn't let her do anything, life was a waste until the car was hers. 
Every beautiful square inch of candy-apple red paint shone in the bright morning sun.  Erin carressed its smooth lines with her eyes from the finger print-smeared school bus window.  From the thin red racing stripes running from bumper to shining bumper, to the lightly tinted windows, to the low-profile tires, this racing machine took her breath away.  At school, she could think of nothing else--algebra, English, even parenting just floated by.  At lunch, she couldn't eat.  "Probably best," she thought, pushing the plate of mystery meat and rubbery vegetables from her.  "My life is worth nothing until I have those car keys in my hand," Erin muttered.

Most people are better at thinking concretely (after all, we are surrounded by a very concrete world. Most people are classified as visual learners) than abstractly. Concrete details are therefore easier for readers to grasp (literally). Lucky for us, any abstraction can be explained through concrete details. You may have to use a metaphor or example, but concrete details can make your ideas clearer and easier to understand.

Using concrete details also makes your paper more interesting and more memorable. Because your readers’ minds are not so tied up trying to follow your ideas, they stay awake better and have better retention. If you have a section in your paper where readers get lost or bored out of their skulls, there’s a very high chance that you haven’t used many concrete details there. Toss a few in and you may just solve your problem.


One difficulty many students have in using concrete details is that they seem to have a fear of using too many. Instead, they often end up with far too few. Here’s a little trick I learned from teaching people to water ski. When we would finally get someone up on one ski, they were often afraid to ski outside of the wake or to try to lean and cut back and forth. Without their permission, we’d crank the boat up to 50 mph. If they were really scared, they could always let go of the rope. At 50 mph, the wake is only about two feet wide. When we’d slow back down to 30 mph, everything seemed easy and safe in comparison. So go ahead, get carried away. Write too many concrete details. When you’ve finished, it should be easier.

  • Write a sentence. A descriptive one will work best for this exercise.
  • Now, without moving on to any new subjects, double the amount of writing you use to cover the description.
  • Double it again.
  • And again.
  • And again.

Here’s the kind of thing you might come up with:

  • My lawn was covered with leaves.
  • Leaves blew through my yard and piled up against the shrubs and fence.
  • A cold autumn breeze blew leaves through my yard. I stared out the window and watched them pile up against the sparse shrubs and worn out fence.
  • A cold autumn breeze blew leaves through my yard. Summer had ended and I would be the last one to leave the cabin. I sat alone, holding a mug of hot chocolate without drinking, and stared out the back window, watching the red, gold, and brown leaves pile up violently against the sparse shrubs and worn out fence. I had long since given up caring about anything.

If you have trouble coming up with more details, just close your eyes and try to envision it. If you have a hard time seeing things in your mind’s eye, map out the area on paper and write down the things you might find there. Take a few of those items and describe how they feel, look, taste, or act.

Here’s an example of an idea expressed both abstractly and concretely.


Young children are difficult to control and teach. Their minds have not yet developed the necessary skills to solve complex or even simple problems. Even so, their lives seem in no way incomplete. They live surrounded by unbounded mysteries and wonder. We could learn about life from children.


Young children often experience difficulty learning even the simplest lessons. Before a certain age, they can not grasp that a square peg will not fit into a round hole. They only know that they make noise when thrown against the wall. Even so, they live surrounded by unbounded mysteries and wonder. Their tiny hands reach out to grasp everything within reach. They don’t stop at touching, either, but most objects are immediately pulled into their mouths in an effort to experience life completely and fully—a lesson we could all learn from.

There’s nothing wrong with abstractions. Abstractions provide some of the richest knowledge and insight available and offer chances to solve difficult problems. And precisely because of their great value, they should be combined with concrete details to ensure their effective communication.


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