Online Guide to Writing and Research

Chapter 3: Thinking Strategies and Writing Patterns

Patterns for Presenting Information

General-to-Specific Pattern

The general-to-specific pattern is probably one of the more common patterns in college writing. It may be used in any of these familiar places:

  • introduction to a paper
  • background in a research paper
  • opening paragraphs for a discussion or an analysis
  • essay examination answers

As the name suggests, this pattern is characterized by a movement in your thinking from a generalization to specific details. Your opening paragraph would begin with a general statement and then add details that explain it. The details may continue to become increasingly more specific. The pattern ends with a broad statement that summarizes your thinking that resulted from the details.

Example of a General-to-Specific Pattern

Writing is a complex sociocognitive process involving the construction of recorded messages on paper or on some other material, and, more recently, on a computer screen. The skills needed to write range from making the appropriate graphic marks, through utilizing the resources of the chosen language, to anticipating the reactions of the intended readers. The first skill area involves acquiring a writing system, which may be alphabetic (as in European languages) or nonalphabetic (as in many Asian languages). The second skill area requires selecting the appropriate grammar and vocabulary to form acceptable sentences and then arranging them in paragraphs. Third, writing involves thinking about the purpose of the text to be composed and about its possible effects on the intended readership. One important aspect of this last feature is the choice of a suitable style. Because of these characteristics, writing is not an innate natural ability like speaking but has to be acquired through years of training or schooling. (Swales and Feak, 1994, p. 34)


In this example, the first sentence presents the general statement about the writing process. The succeeding statements consist of details and examples, introduced by the transitions first, second, and third. Finally, the pattern ends with a broad or general statement that summarizes what the writer wishes to conclude about the meaning of the details.

This paragraph could have introduced a longer paper in which the writer discusses the kinds of training needed to learn to write, analyzes the results of a study about learning to write, or even introduces a topical literature review about teaching writing. You can see that the general-to-specific pattern is one you will use frequently because of its versatility as well as its obvious ability to quickly and effectively introduce your readers to your ideas.

You might find this pattern useful for writing mission and vision statements, definitions, marketing analyses, reports of scientific investigations, topical literature reviews, feature articles, editorials, and formal arguments from principle. Also, this mode of writing reflects deductive reasoning, where your conclusion follows necessarily from your premises.