Understanding General-to-Specific Order in Composition

The Collector's Office by Pieter Brueghel the Younger
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In composition, general-to-specific order is a method of developing a paragraph, essay, or speech by moving from a broad observation about a topic to specific details in support of that topic. 

Also known as the deductive method of organization, general-to-specific order is more commonly used than the reverse method, specific-to-general order (the inductive method).

Examples and Observations

  • Steps for General-to-Specific Order in Body Paragraphs
    This strategy is effective in cause/effect, comparison/contrast, classification, and argumentation essays. . . .
    1. The topic sentence should identify a general statement about the subject.
    2. The writer should choose details that make specific points about the general statement.
    3. The writer should make sure the reader can understand and relate to the specific examples. (Roberta L. Sejnost and Sharon Thiese, Reading and Writing Across Content Areas, 2nd ed. Corwin Press, 2007)
    "Clearly, 'America the Beautiful' deserves to be our national anthem. For years now, it has been gaining popularity in school assemblies, at official state functions, and even in our ball parks. The music is simple, dignified, and--most important--easy to sing. The lyrics celebrate our history ('O beautiful for pilgrim feet . . .'), our land ('For purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain'), our heroes ('Who more than self their country loved'), and our future ('That sees beyond the years'). It is proud but not warlike, idealistic without sounding silly."
    (Body paragraph in "Time for an Anthem the Country Can Sing" [a student's revised argumentative essay])
  • General-to-Specific Order in Introductory Paragraphs
    - Many opening paragraphs for college papers start with a general statement of the main idea in a topic sentence. Subsequent sentences contain specific examples that support or expand on that statement, and the paragraph ends with a thesis statement. Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going. A study of the English language reveals a dramatic history and astonishing versatility. It is the language of survivors, of conquerors, of laughter.
    - Rita Mae Brown, "To the Victor Belongs the Language (Toby Fulwiler and Alan Hayakawa, The Blair Handbook. Prentice Hall, 2003)
    - "Working part-time as a cashier at the Piggly Wiggly has given me a great opportunity to observe human behavior. Sometimes I think of the shoppers as white rats in a lab experiment and the aisles as a maze designed by a psychologist. Most of the rats--customers, I mean--follow a routine pattern, strolling up and down the aisles, checking through my chute, and then escaping through the exit hatch. But not everyone is so dependable. My research has revealed three distinct types of abnormal customer: the amnesiac, the super shopper, and the dawdler. . . ."
    (Introduction to "Shopping at the Pig" [a student's revised classification essay])
  • General-to-Specific Order in Technical Writing
    - "General to a specific or deductive logical order . . . is the most common logical organisation used in technical communication. This logical pattern involves the process of moving from a general statement, premise, principle, or law to specific details. Technical writers and speakers find this logical sequence quite helpful in organising short informative talks and presentations, technical descriptions of objects and processes, classificatory information, and so on. . . .
    "General to specific organisation follows a direct approach. It leaves very little to the imagination of readers or listeners because the writer/speaker makes everything clear in the beginning itself. Generalisations help readers/listeners to understand the details, examples, and illustrations quickly."
    (M. Ashraf Rizvi, Effective Technical Communication. Tata McGraw-Hill, 2005)
    - "Now, once the tide is low, you are ready to begin crabbing. Drop your lines overboard, but not before you have tied them securely to the boat rail. Because crabs are sensitive to sudden movements, the lines must be slowly lifted until the chicken necks are visible just below the surface of the water. If you spy a crab nibbling the bait, snatch him up with a quick sweep of your scoop. The crab will be furious, snapping its claws and bubbling at the mouth. Drop the crab into the wooden crate before it has a chance to get revenge. You should leave the crabs brooding in the crate as you make your way home."
    (Body paragraph in "How to Catch River Crabs" [a student's process-analysis essay])
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Understanding General-to-Specific Order in Composition." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/general-to-specific-order-composition-1690812. Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Understanding General-to-Specific Order in Composition. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/general-to-specific-order-composition-1690812 Nordquist, Richard. "Understanding General-to-Specific Order in Composition." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/general-to-specific-order-composition-1690812 (accessed May 30, 2023).