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Don’t Generalize: Get Specific

Use Specific Details and Evidence

Avoid Generalizations

“Where do you want to go to lunch? Carlos asked.

“Wherever there’s food to eat and something to drink,” said Ella.

“Could you be a bit more specific? I’d like to narrow my search terms.”

“How about ‘Italian restaurants with deep-dish pizza and red and white checkered tablecloths’?”

“That might be a little too specific, but it sounds good to me.”

Definition and Examples

The hierarchy of an essay refers to the organizational structure and the relationship of ideas within that structure. The most common essay hierarchy is the general to specific organizational pattern. Ideas, groups, and patterns are general. Facts, examples, quotations, details, and statistics are specific. Examples of the General to Specific Organizational Pattern: Substance abuse has become the leading cause of preventable deaths. Last year, opioid deaths surpassed automobile deaths. More than 80,000 Americans died due to opioid overdoses.

Read the rule.

Essays usually begin with general statements and funnel down into a specific thesis statement. A narrow focus is much easier to argue, inform, or explain than a general one. Topic sentences should provide specific reasons to support the thesis statement in an argumentative essay or include specific information or explanation about the thesis statement in an informational/explanatory essay. Supporting evidence, analysis, and minor details must be even more specific. Your teacher may comment “too general” or “be specific” in your body paragraphs. The essay conclusion may return to more general applications of the proven thesis.


Write the following sentences and [bracket] the writer and essay references.

  1. Some people need to understand the issues in this world.
  2. Poisons in our waterways threaten our way of life.
  3. Many solutions create more problems than they solve.
  4. Overall, the citizens were basically happy.
  5. All challenges can be overcome with everyone’s support.

Revise the “too general” sentence to eliminate the writer or essay references.

Generally be sport of specific in your writing.


  1. [Some people] need to understand the [issues] in this [world].
  2. [Poisons] in our [waterways] threaten our [way of life].
  3. Many [solutions] create more [problems] than they solve.
  4. [Overall], the [citizens] were [basically] happy.
  5. [All challenges] can be overcome with [everyone’s support].

Pennington Publishing's TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE


For more essay rules and practice, check out the author’s TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE. This curriculum includes 42 essay strategy worksheets corresponding to teach the Common Core State Writing Standards, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, 8 writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informative/explanatory), 64  sentence revision and 64 rhetorical stance “openers,” writing posters, and helpful editing resources. 

Differentiate your essay instruction in this comprehensive writing curriculum with remedial writing worksheets, including sentence structure, grammar, thesis statements, errors in reasoning, and transitions.

Plus, get an e-comment bank of 438 prescriptive writing responses with an link to insert into Microsoft Word® for easy e-grading (works great with Google Docs),

Download the following 24 FREE Writing Style Posters to help your students learn the essay rules. Each has a funny or ironic statement (akin to “Let’s eat Grandma) to teach the memorable rule. 

Get the Writing Style Posters FREE Resource:

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