Illustrating General Statements
with Specific Examples

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Illustrating general statements with specific examples will give you a sense of authority to you. When you want readers to grasp your ideas quickly, use personal and specific examples to illustrate your general statements. Writers all have to generalize at times. If they didn’t, they could never get beyond the examples. But notice how often magazine or newspaper writers begin an article with specific examples that lead up to a broader statement they want to make. In the following account of the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the impact of the larger statement about grandparent’s taking on new families comes from the specific opening example:

Geneva Dunbar’s days are a blur of snowsuits, snacks and subtraction problem. From early morning when she readies three children for school to nightfall when she tucks them into bed, she is like any bone-weary, two hands-aren’t – enough mother. The difference is that Mrs. Dunbar, 51, has already raised her family […] but when her daughter died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, Mrs. Dunbar found herself part of a vast army of grandparents suddenly thrust into a second round of child – rearing. (
Jane Gross : Grandma Helps fills the void left by September 11)

Watch how Anna Quintile illustrates her generalization about the success of the national school lunch program in this opening paragraph :

The school lunch program […] has been by most measures an enormous success. For lots of poor families, it’s become a way to count on getting of least one decent meal into their children. America’s second harvest, the biggest nonprofit supply source for the food banks, talks of parents who go hungry themselves so their kinds can eat, who put off paying utility and phone bills, who insist that their children attend remedial summer – school programs simply so they can get a meal. The parents themselves are loath to talk. Of all the humiliations attached to being poor in a prosperous nation, not being able to feed your kinds is at the top of the list. (
Anna Quindlen : School’s out for summer)

Here’s an example from the paper about Artemisia Gentileschi:

The sheer size of the canvases required for the history painting so highly valued in the renaissance posed problems for women [painters]. They were expensive and most women had no independent source of income. Moreover, an artist trying to work on such a large scale needed an apprentice. Almost no woman apprentices existed and male apprentices didn’t want to work for a woman. If a woman painter did succeed in en gagging a male apprentice, inevitably there were prurient rumors about a sexual relationship between them. Painters of historical subjects either biblical or from myth needed models. Not only where they expensive, but women painters weren’t allowed to draw from nude models.

You strengthen you writing when you use specifics examples :

• Specifics add the weight of facts to your writing and anchor into the real world if you write about the effect of the nonprofit organization. The Heifer Project on rural communities in central and South America, you’ll have more impact if you tell specific stories about families in those regions who received heifers (or goats or rabbits) from the project.

• Specific details catch your readers’ attention and give them stories they can visualize. If you were doing a project about the effect of poor child care on the careers of professional women in you community, you could make the deficiencies of the U.S. system vivid by comparing child care in your city with the national child care system in France and describing some features of the French system

• When you reinforce general claims with specific facts and details, you earn the confidence of your readers. Those of us who are concerned about social issues such as racial injustice, inadequate health insurance coverage or violence in the public schools can generalize about such problems to little effect. But when we reinforce those statements with specific accounts and true – life stories and we suggest concrete solutions, we become credible witnesses.

Of course when you start giving your readers, specifics and details, you’re taking a risk. If you were to generalize that public school teachers are underpaid, many of your readers would agree, but if you proposed starting salaries of $ 50, 000, some readers would protest that such salaries are unthinkable. Readers might agree in general that young people should be educated about healthy sexual practices, but some would be outraged if you were to suggest that high school student should learn about contraception. Nevertheless, if you want to gain your readers’ trust and respect, you need to take the risk of giving them specifics and details.

Other Pages in This Section :

  • Making Your Readers See Something

  • Putting People in Your Writing

  • Choosing Concrete Words

  • Adding Metaphors for Clarity

  • Successful Writing Index

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