What "Please give more detail" means
Students are often frustrated when I mark their
papers "please give more detail." I admit the comment doesn't tell
you much about what sort of detail I would like to see (but it does
fit in the margin nicely). Here is a guide to the kinds of ways one
can add "detail" to a paper without simply repeating
Allan Bloom has posited a "taxonomy of educational
objectives" that helps us discriminate different kinds of detail.
Underneath each of these sorts of detail, I give an explanation of it
and an example. Each single example sentence would never stand by
itself in a paper, but represents what might be the topic sentence of
a paragraph. Stuff towards the top of this list is detail that is
less impressive than stuff towards the bottom.
- Knowledge: Recognition of a concept and
ability to define it. "Conformity is the change in a person's
behavior brought about by the real or imagined presence of
others." This definition suggests knowledge that the concept
"conformity" can be described in a particular way. Giving more
than one definition does not add to knowledge, unless comparisons
are made between them. Giving a simple example can be a form of
definition too. Simple examples suggest knowledge, and some
comprehension, complex ones suggest application.
- Comprehension: Clear evidence that the
nuance of knowledge is recognized. The ability to use a concept in
a sentence toward some end is also evidence of comprehension.
"Persuasion is a kind of social influence with a slightly
different approach than that of conformity." Comprehension is more
than awareness of a simple definition, it also involves the
ability to understand the meaning of a concept and use it
- Application: The use of a concept to
understand a complex real-world problem. A simple example is not
an application. Application requires the use of the concept in a
careful and thoughtful manner, in a manner that takes into account
the complexity of both the concept and the situation. "Conformity
in the Challenger disaster took on various forms, depending upon
the relation of the decision maker to positions of power."
- Analysis: This involves the ability to
understand the internal structure of a concept and to manipulate
that structure to show how the concept is put together.
"Conformity can take on several different aspects (compliance,
identification, internalization) but these aspects are not as easy
to separate as the simple list suggests; they flow into each other
and even transform each other at times." Just showing the
connections or structure is the beginning, but manipulating the
structure to show its flexibility or fragility is deeper
- Synthesis: Taking two or more concepts
and showing their similarities, differences, contrasts,
contradictions, or combinations. "Some prejudice is really a form
of conformity, or is at least motivated by a desire to fit in."
Again, showing the contrast is just the beginning; you can also
show why it matters, or how it can be resolved, or why it is
interesting (see Analysis)
- Evaluation: Is this concept up to the
task its designers' set for it? Where does it fall short? What
does it leave out? What implications does it have for other
concepts or issues? If it is useful for one purpose, might it be
useful for other, similar purposes? "Conformity can easily be
over-applied to explain almost any social decision; perhaps this
is because its definition is too vague."