What does it mean when a teacher writes "Dev" or "development" next to a passage?

In most cases, "development" refers to a problem with the way a paragraph is organized or the way the paragraph supports its Topic Sentence. If the Topic Sentence, itself, is weak or missing, that would be noted by the instructor. But assuming the writer has an adequate Topic Sentence, the supporting sentences must "develop" the main point or controlling idea. Both the quantity and the quality of this support must be adequate.

Quantity, like length, is always a difficult issue. Texts and teachers are quite reluctant to specify "how long" or "how much" is necessary. In very general terms, however, short paragraphs (one, two or even three sentences) are likely to be weak in supporting the topic. Readers may not be convinced or enlightened by a single example or fact. Three or four, however, are likely to be sufficient. More than this may be overkill -- "OK, OK, I get it!" This is not to say that a writer should never use a single example; each writing situation much be examined on its own merits.

The quality of the information in your supporting sentences is equally important. First, consider the importance of sources. Information attributed to the New York Times, for example, is likely to be more effective than information from the Tattler. The appropriateness of the material is also a qualitative consideration. It should clearly be relevant. Finally, explicitly detailed information is more effective than vague generalities. A specific number or percentage is better than a vague reference such as "most" or "few."

For a more detailed discussion, see William Strunk's very pointed advise from Elements of Style: "Make the paragraph the unit of composition: one paragraph to each topic."

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