Academic Writing

Rhetorical functions in academic writing: Generalising

Introduction

One important aspect of critical writing is making general claims from specific examples. This is something that you learn in higher education.

These general claims need to be supported with evidence. A common organisational principle in academic writing is the general-specific pattern. This patterns involves a general statement supported by specific examples or details.

Example

Look at the following examples involving generalisations. In some cases the generalisations are supported by details or examples.:

It believed that the USA wanted a round-the-world air route with access to all countries including the Soviet Union, China, the Middle East, and Africa, as well as the British Commonwealth and Empire.

 

Marx and Engels followed their contemporaries in believing that the history of mankind usually went through the same sequence of technological improvement. The sequence, by and large, went like this: first gathering of plants and small animals, second fishing, third hunting, fourth pottery, fifth pastoralism, sixth agriculture, seventh metalworking.

 

Throughout most of known human existence the processes, materials and tools of production were available to individuals involved in both utilitarian and expressive work. Since the Renaissance, however, the exponential growth and sophistication of technology has made it impossible for the majority of artists to gain access to many potential tools for expression.

 

Covert operations are different from espionage in that their main purpose is to influence a foreign situation without the source of the influence becoming known. Such operations may take the form of secretly financing, advising, or otherwise helping a group which is trying to overthrow an unfriendly foreign government. They may take the form of secret money subsidies or other assistance to a foreign political party or to a particular faction of a foreign labour movement, or student organization, or similar groups. They may take the form of psychological warfare - for example, the publication of an underground newspaper or the operation of a clandestine radio station which, according to the circumstances, may report the truth or spread unfounded rumours calculated to destroy morale or to mislead. They may take the form of an outright bribe of a foreign official to make a certain decision. They may take the form of infiltrating one or more secret agents into positions of power in a foreign government or any important foreign political, economic, or social group.

Pat Holt, United States policy and foreign affairs. Allyn & Bacon, 1972.

 

Language

Plural nouns are often used for broad generalisions ("Covert operations are"). It is often possible to be more specific about the generalisation that is being made by the use of:

Percentage

Quantity

Frequency

Certainty

Verbs
100%

all/every/each
most
a majority (of)
many/much

some
a number (of)
several

a minority (of)
a few/a little

always


usual(ly)
normal(ly)
general(ly)
as a rule
on the whole

often
frequent(ly)
sometimes
occasional(ly)

certain(ly)
definite(ly)
undoubtedly
clearly
presumably
probably/probable
likely


conceivably
possibly/possible
perhaps
maybe

will
is/are
must
have to

should
ought to


can
could
may
might


0%

few/little
no/none/not any

rare(ly)
seldom
hardly ever
scarcely ever

never

uncertain
unlikely

could not
will not
cannot
is/are not

Some of the probability qualifications can he further qualified, e.g.

It

is

fairly

certain
likely

probable
possible
likely
unlikely

unlikely

certain

that ....

very
quite

rather

almost
quite

seems
appears

Sometimes generalisations may be introduced or qualified in the following way:

In

the (vast) majority
a large number

of

cases, ....

most
some
a few
(+ other "quantity" words)

Supporting generalisations

These general claims need to be supported with evidence.

More information:

  • Providing support

You need to provide evidence to support your points of view and conclusions.

See: Writing Functions 20: Supporting

  • Supporting an argument: Illustrating and exemplifying ideas

You can use examples to support your conclusions.

See: Writing Functions 8: Examples

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