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Online Guide to Writing and Research

Thinking Strategies and Writing Patterns

Patterns for Presenting Information

General-to-Specific Pattern

The general-to-specific pattern is a common pattern in college writing. Although you can use it as an overall essay structure, writers find it most useful when writing introductions. Here are some examples.

  • Introduce an essay or other, larger work.

  • Introduce essay examination answers.

  • Introduce or transition into a discussion of synthesized research.

  • Introduce a discussion or an analysis.

When using the general-to-specific pattern, as the name suggests, you move from general to specific details. Your opening paragraph should begin with a general statement, then add details that explain it. The details should become increasingly more specific. The pattern ends with a broad statement drawn from your thinking that resulted from the details.

Notice how the author of the example below, Gabriel Winant, uses progressions from general to specific to introduce his subject and move his argument forward.

Of all the social policy reforms to emerge from the New Deal, Social Security has proven the most far-reaching and enduring, at least in its direct effects. The program drastically reorganized the normative American life course—in turn leaving a lasting imprint on American politics and resisting challenges decades after its passage. Why did old age in particular prove so amenable to such thoroughgoing social intervention in the 1930s—such that Social Security became the flagship program of the New Deal coalition (Winant, 2021, p. 75)?

The example above begins with a general statement about the impact of Social Security. Then, the author begins to add details about the nature of that impact, ending the paragraph by asking a question about the one, main feature of Social Security.

In this paragraph, the author presents his thesis, a broad claim drawn from his discussion of Social Security and old age in the previous paragraph. This completes the first progression from specific to general. After the thesis, the author begins a second progression, defining a concept and then providing examples of its application.

… the elderly emerged into a politically central position in the interwar period because of a contradiction that they came to embody in the category of “dependency,” the key concept in the discourse governing the nexus of market, family, and state. Dependency had emerged during the nineteenth century as the negative face of the work ethic: as Nancy Fraser and Linda Gordon observe, the pauper, the native, the slave, and the housewife appeared as its personifications, each subjected to regulatory discipline and subordination—with the housewife the sole “good” dependent. In principle, working-class white men could attain the status of virtuous producer under the sign of the family wage (Winant, 2021, p. 75).

Although the passages above begin a lengthy article, with a few adjustments they could be used as a conclusion. The author could also use the passage to introduce a book-length treatment of the subject. Because it is so versatile, the general-to-specific pattern is one you will use frequently. 

Key Takeaways

  • You will find the general-to-specific pattern useful for writing introductions. 
  • However, you can use it for a variety of documents: mission and vision statements, definitions, marketing analyses, reports of scientific investigations, topical literature reviews, feature articles, editorials, and formal arguments.

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