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Details: The 3 Es

Details are a problem for every writer. Some people never have enough, some folks always have too many, and others go either way depending on the piece.

Planning for details

It's hard to get exactly the right details on the first try. That's pretty much because what we think we need as we're planning a piece may change as we research and write it. Nature of the beast. It's important to put a stake in the ground as you're planning, of course, so you know what information to go after. But that may change as you go.

Folks who have too little details usually don't do any planning. Without knowing what they want to include, they can't dig into the subject matter to mine the most relevant information. Oops.

Those with too many details may also lack planning, but it's just as likely that they did plan, but didn't let the story evolve naturally. So when they came upon new information that might be useful, they just stuffed it on in, along with the now-less-useful stuff.

This why revision is so important.

The 3 categories of details

But before you can revise for the right details, you have to have some details. There are three categories of details. We call them The Three Es:

Examples are little stories and anecdotes. You see these a lot at the beginning of an article (they're called story ledes). Examples are great for people who don't need convincing.

You’re successful at work. You know loads of great friends. And you’ve got strong bones and teeth. In short, you’ve got it made. Despite all this, you’re a mess when it comes to love, continually dating people in some kind of crisis or another. What gives?

Explanations are definitions and are best for readers who are curious and ask why.  Explanations often support examples or technical terms.

Many builders work with suppliers to get more versatile terrain-tolerant  vehicles to deliver the products, or they spread deliveries out. More trips means less progress. “If you need 10 semis of material, you’ll probably have to order … one truck 10 days in a row,” Reese laments.)

Evidence is good for decision-makers -- strategic partners, high-end donors and anyone who needs to make the case. Evidence is the metric or statistic that provides proof for the explanation or example and can be used to add punch to ledes, nut grafs and the body of a piece.

There are more than 200,000 new breast cancer cases each year in U.S., making it the second-leading cancer in women behind only lung cancer. Perou’s lab is documenting the biological diversity of human tumors to make it easier for physicians to diagnose and treat them more effectively.

Think about these kinds of details as you write today. If you find yourself using more of one kind than another, ask yourself if that's the best thing for your audience (it may well be). If it's not, try adding a different type of detail now and then.

For more on details, read this blog post: The right details.

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