Online Guide to Writing and Research

Chapter 3: Thinking Strategies and Writing Patterns

Patterns for Presenting Information

Specific-to-General Pattern

The specific-to-general pattern reverses the one we just discussed. A paragraph written in this order begins with the details and leads the reader to the generalization, which may be the thesis or the conclusion. We can use the previous example to show how this order reverses the general-to-specific pattern:

Example of a Specific-to-General Pattern

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. Unlike speaking, writing is a complex sociocognitive process that has to be acquired through years of training or schooling. (Swales and Feak, 1994, p. 34)

This pattern is as compelling as the general-to-specific pattern. As you lead the reader through your thinking, you can build some suspense before your concluding statement. Writers often use this pattern to persuade their audience about the writer’s generalization or conclusion and when he or she isn’t sure about the audience’s attitude toward his or her conclusions.

This pattern is especially useful for writing that seeks to discover the nature of the problem and the possible solutions by carefully analyzing their details. For example, in writing a diagnosis of organizational problems, the writer might use inductive reasoning to find the major problems by examining the symptoms. These results may be presented in a specific-to-general order. In scientific reasoning, this pattern is often used with inductive reasoning, where facts or observations about a situation are evaluated to determine whether a generalization can be made.