For Example …
Specifics & Development


Can you support a general statement with more general statements?

Consider this paragraph. There's nothing really wrong with the grammar or the structure, but is it good? Would you like to read five more pages of this writer's material?

For a beginning freshman, college is no easy thing. It's very difficult, especially after high school, where you weren't given much responsibility. Everything was cut and dried, and you had to do it. But in college nobody forces you to do anything. You just wake up one day and know you flunked. That's what is so hard about college—having to do it on your own. Nobody likes to have to have to suddenly shift for themselves. Moreover, it's difficult to develop responsibility after being taken care of all your life by parents and teachers, and responsibility is a long process. This is why college is tough for freshmen. I know, because I flunked out after the first semester.

Taking a look:

Making it specific

What about this paragraph? Is it better?

For the new freshman, adjusting to the discipline that college study demands is no easy matter. Most difficult, perhaps, is accepting increased responsibility for unsupervised work. In our English 13 class, for instance, a day-to-day journal was assigned in the first week, and no more was said about it for a month. Suddenly, in the fifth week, Mr. Brimstone called for the completed journals, penalizing all students whose journals were incomplete. One must also face the necessity of devoting many hours to study outside of class. On the first day of school, the orientation instructor pointed out that in many classes at least two hours of outside study were required for each hour in class, and this turned out to be a conservative estimate. I found, for example, that it took me an entire weekend to read even a book as interesting as John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. The student must also face such minor problems as having classes that meet only twice a week instead of every day, as in high school. In such a case, the student sometimes tends to get "cold" in the four-day period between Thursday and the following Tuesday. It becomes clear to me that President Stonehenge may have been right when he said in his opening speech to the freshmen, "shake hands with the person on your left and then on your right. By the end of this semester only one of them will still be here."

Taking a look:

Let's kill that last sentence

If we take out the president's name and the quotation, we can turn a very interesting, memorable sentence into another dull example of academic jargon.

It becomes clear to me that our college president may have been right when he said that retention is problem.

Show, don't just tell

That first paragraph, like much student writing, is terrified of specifics. It loves big, abstract words like "responsibility" (three times!) and "difficult," but can't bring itself to give an example of what kind of "responsibility" is "difficult" or why. The reader must fill in the blanks. The writer tells us what to feel, but gives us no raw material—no real reason to feel that way—and when we are finished reading we really haven't been allowed into the writer's experience at all.


The major examples are from:

Gallo, Joseph D. and Henry W. Rink. Shaping College Writing; Paragraph and Essay. New York: Harcourt, 1973. pp 74f.