Updated June 2023
Details are the make or break of content success. Some people never have enough, some folks always have too many, and others go either way depending on the piece. There's even a kind-of golden ratio of details -- a mix of exposition and evidence -- that readers seem to like. More about that below.
Getting the right mix of detail in your writing
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. Keeping your audience in mind as you do your research and writing is vital. So is revising to make sure you have the right details to support your audience in the right way (but that's a-whole-nother topic that you can learn about here).
The 3 categories of details
There are three categories of details, two are exposition and one is evidentiary. We call them The Three Es. Notice that two of them -- explanations and examples -- are primarily expository. They describe something. Evidence, on the other hand, is the set of facts we can deploy to support or prove the exposition. So an easy guidance is to err on the side of two expositions to one evidence for most audiences.
Explanations are definitions and descriptions that provide important context for our ideas and positions. They're most effective for audience members who are curious or lack sufficient background knowledge and want to know how and why.
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.)
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 have a lot of information and aren't sure if your content is relevant to them. They help your audience see themselves, or people they know, in your content which creates the kind of connection we need to motivate action.
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?
Evidence are facts and data points (and in some cases, examples) that are generally accepted as accurate information from a trusted source. It's is good for people who are ready to make a decision and want hard data to support it. Use metrics or statistics that provide proof for the explanation or example and for your main idea. Evidence can add punch to ledes, nut grafs and the body of a piece. If your audience isn't super-knowledgable on the topic, don't flood them with data. A good ratio is two exposition points (explanations and or examples) for every evidentiary one.
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. Most readers need a mix of both. Always ask yourself what's the best thing for your audience.