Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – going into DETAIL

by Grace

The next assignment in Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of Writing to the Point asks the writer to focus on including details.  (This is part of my project to study and learn the entire Six-Step method, explained in my initial post in this series.)  For a recap, here are Steps 1 through 4.

STEP 1. Write a short, simple declarative sentence that makes one statement. (Chapter 1, page 6)

STEP 2. Write three sentences about the sentence in Step 1—clearly and directly about the whole of that sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 2, page 18.)

STEP 3. Write four or five sentences about each of the three sentences in Step 2—clearly and directly about the whole of the Step 2 sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 3, page 31.)

STEP 4. Make the material in the four or five sentences of Step 3 as specific and concrete as possible. Go into detail. Use examples. Don’t ask, “What will I say next?” Instead, say some more about what you have just said. Your goal is to say a lot about a little, not a little about a lot.  (Chapter 4, page 43)

C.  GOING INTO DETAIL:
Step 4 calls on the writer to supply the facts that go along with the 1-2-3 sentences. Give evidence, NOT just repetition.  Omitting details and simply repeating different versions of the topic sentence is what some students do; this is poor writing.

THE ASSIGNMENT
Write five to ten sentences on this sentence “I’d hate to have you see my _______ drawer.”  Give details.  Here’s what I wrote:

I’d hate to have you see my kitchen junk drawer.  It is full of items that should be thrown out, if I ever got around to taking on that task.  It contains a few black metal buttons for a coat long discarded. There is a blue scrubbing sponge.  Several water bottle tops in assorted bright colors are in the drawer.  Three brass cabinet knobs with off-white centers are in a plastic zip-lock bag.  The steel and copper inner parts of an old kitchen faucet are in another bag. An old Bic Wite-Out bottle containing dried up sludge is in the drawer.  Finally, the strangest item of all is a bag with a couple of filthy, burned out cigarette butts saved in case we needed evidence for a trash fire we had a few years ago.

WHAT I LEARNED
By focusing on details and being required to write a minimum number of sentences, I avoided the mistake of  simply writing in generalities about all the “stuff” or “junk” or “things” in my drawer.  It was a good exercise in learning how to make an effort to pull out informative details that paint a picture for the reader and make for more effective writing.


Previous posts in this series:

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5 Responses to “Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – going into DETAIL”

  1. I found out yesterday that my son’s teacher calls “stuff” the “s” word. He was pleased that he’d written several paragraphs without using it.

    Actually, you mentioned that you think this method could be used with HS and middle school students. Do you really think so, and what grades do you consider middle school? My son is in 5th grade, and young for grade, and is working on improving his writing – both handwriting and content. Spelling and grammar are fine, the issues appear to be speed and (probably related) just putting enough down on the page. I imagine the structure and clear steps in this method might help him include enough detail and communicate his thoughts better.

  2. For most students, I think using this technique would work best starting in grade 6 or later. Before then, writing instruction should focus on sentence composition and basic grammar. This is consistent with the classical education “trivium”, but is not commonly followed by many public schools. Our local public schools have students writing short essays and even “research” papers in 5th grade.

    http://www.welltrainedmind.com/classical-education/

    But if a student has mastered the basics in sentence composition by 5th grade, he could be ready for the Kerrigan method. I’m sure many students are.

  3. Wanted to add that essay replies are part of New York State testing, starting at least as early as 5th grade, iirc. I imagine that other states have similar standards. It’s pretty clear to me that the Kerrigan method could be excellent training for many types of standardized tests, including the SAT.

  4. Yes, I think the CT 5th grade test is expository writing.

    For now, I think we’ll keep the focus on his handwriting. A lot of other pieces might fall into place once his speed improves. He’s exasperated enough by all the handwriting homework he gets that I probably don’t need to go adding anything on right now.

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