Generalizations, Overgeneralizations

Learn the proper use of guiding questions and other techniques to assist in avoiding generalizations.
Generalizations and Overgeneralizations - Looking up through the trees to the sky / Piktochart Generalizations and Overgeneralizations - Looking up through the trees to the sky / Piktochart

What is Overgeneralization?

Overgeneralizations are

  • sweeping generalizations about a group of people, things, topics.

Here are some examples of overgeneralizations:

  • Pit bulls are aggressive.
  • Rich people are greedy.
  • Beautiful people are conceited.
  • Politicians are corrupt.
  • People who commit crimes come from troubled backgrounds.
  • College students love partying.
  • Marijuana users are lazy.
  • People always demand too much of my time.
  • Why do I always catch every red light?
  • She always forgets to buy milk.

These are overgeneralizations: Each of these sentences presents claims as facts rather than as propositions.

While it is possible that the characteristic may be true in one or some cases, they simply cannot be true in all cases and, therefore, such statements are to be avoided.


Why Do Overgeneralizations Matter?

Overgeneralizations are not permitted in professional discourse.

Readers are likely to ignore your prose or dismiss it as an uneducated rant when you make overgeneralization or inappropriate appeals to pathos and/or ethos

Frequent use of overgeneralized language reflects poorly on the user, suggesting a lack of metacognitive competencies.

Like vague language, overgeneralized language is associated with writer-based prose as opposed to professional prose.

How to Avoid Generalizations

Here is a list of guiding questions to assist in avoiding generalizations.

  • Does the statement make an assumption about a group of people, things, or a topic?
  • Can the statement be backed up in my evidence?
  • Is the statement true in all cases? If not, have I sufficiently explained exceptions to the statement?
  • Have I considered situations in which this statement may not apply?