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Online Guide to Writing and Research

Thinking Strategies and Writing Patterns

Patterns for Presenting Information

Specific-to-General Pattern

Vandal! Thief! Traitor! Murderer!

Details matter. They also get attention. Though the categories listed above do lack a certain level of detail, they carry more emotional resonance than, say, “criminal!” Sometimes you need to get the attention of your audience, and generalizations will not do. For this reason, the specific-to-general pattern is here to help.

Similar to its opposite (the general-to-specific pattern), the specific-to-general pattern does what its name suggests. It begins with details and leads the reader to a generalization, which may be a thesis or conclusion. In addition to getting the reader’s attention, this pattern also creates suspense and curiosity as you lead the reader through your thinking to your concluding statement.

The details listed above are quite dramatic, but a subtler approach, using the same pattern, can be just as effective.

Example of a Specific-to-General Progression

Here’s what it feels like to turn 60: weird. On the one hand, you’re still going to the gym and to dinner parties. Sixty-year-olds still perform surgery on people who could choose other doctors. There’s no dithering yet—the senescence is almost undetectable.

But on the other hand, you have been on this Earth for a really, really long time. I have a photograph of myself at age 3, standing on the docks of Cork Harbor, about to sail to New York. When I look at the picture of that small child on her sturdy legs in the foggy past, I don’t feel any connection to her. The photograph looks like something I would discover after many days on It looks like a snapshot of my own great-aunt.

There’s a reason the photograph looks like it’s from another time. Because it is from another time; it was taken more than half a century ago. How can I be in a photograph from that long ago? The math makes sense, but my own life doesn’t (Flanagan, 2021, paras. 3-5)

Example Explained

The paragraph above contains two specific-to-general progressions. First, the author begins with a specific age and how it feels. She also presents us with a mystery. Why does turning 60 feel weird? From there, the author begins to explain, providing details that are still specific, but less so. The author ends the first progression with a tentative explanation of why turning 60 feels weird, offering two general, but contrasting, observations about turning 60.

The author begins her second general-to-specific progression with a specific photograph. She follows that with an account of her personal feelings. Though these feelings are recent, they are not as timebound as the photograph or her age, and so the progression continues to become more general. Finally, the progression ends with a reflection on the passage of time, aging, and life itself. The author also solves the overall mystery. Turning 60 feels weird because she feels disconnected from the past.

Key Takeaways

  • The specific-to-general pattern can be used in a variety of places, but it usually works best when introducing a work: a paper, an article, or a book.
  • The specific-to-general pattern is a great way to grab your audience's attention from the start.

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