Many people use the word “exemplify” without second thought. Yet when high school students are asked to write an exemplification essay, they respond with a stare. There is often no connection between the word used in daily conversation and the possible purpose of an essay of example. Before understanding how this term can describe a mode of writing, young writers need to realize how many examples they use in casual dialogue. Count the number of times the word “like” is spoken in one class period. Ask students to do the same! They will be shocked at how difficult it is for them NOT to use that word. Almost always, that word is introducing an example as a way of describing an idea more fully.
What is confusing about exemplification writing is that all of those “likes” that students use in spoken language might be introducing a comparison of some kind. Comparison is not example, but comparison can be used to illustrate an idea. Exemplification writing is meant to convey the meaning of a concept by using examples, not by making comparisons. Even as simple as this description can be, the idea of examples in an essay as the primary means of expressing a meaning is baffling when the writer begins the task of writing an exemplification essay. Why is this task so confusing?
For one thing, some instructors will suggest that exemplification never stands alone as a method of writing. These people believe that exemplifcation is only a small part of an essay. While it is true that most modes of writing are not used independently, I would argue that in fact there are times when simple exemplification is the best mode of discourse. For instance, if the purpose of a composition is to explain the best application of a particular software program, the writer might have good success in giving multiple examples of situations where that software would be effective. In this case, the writer could describe several different tasks and how the software could be applied. Each task that is explained becomes a separate example that serves to convey one idea – the concept of the software application. The when, why, and how of the software can be easily understood through the examples that illustrate the writer’s thoughts.
Interesting – do you notice that I’ve just used an example to convey the meaning of exemplification writing?
Emplification = example. Exemplification essay = an essay that presents primary support for an idea through the use of examples.