Overgeneralization

Readers are likely to ignore your prose or dismiss it as an uneducated rant when you make overgeneralizations. Learn how to avoid this error.

What is Overgeneralization?

Overgeneralization refers to sweeping generalizations based on an opinions, anecdotes, assumptions, or prejudices.

Here are some examples of overgeneralization:

  • 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.

Each of these sentences presents propositions as facts. These sort of murky, underdeveloped thoughts are not grounded in authoritative evidence. Thus, this is a formal logic error, a logical fallacy.

Synonyms

Overgeneralization may also be known as

  • a sweeping statement
  • a distorted statement
  • a lack of reasoning
  • a logical fallacy
  • a cognitive error
  • a logical error
  • a methodological error

Related Concepts: Authority (in Speech and Writing); News or Opinion?


I often wonder why the whole world is so prone to generalise. Generalisations are seldom if ever true and are usually utterly inaccurate.

Agatha Christie, Murder at the Vicarage

Why Does Overgeneralization Matter?

When writers or speakers overgeneralize in public writing and workplace contexts, audiences are likely to dismiss whatever they say.

Overgeneralization undermines a writer or speaker’s ethos. Educated audiences engage in critical literacy practices. They question the authority and accuracy of information. So, when writers and speakers use overgeneralization in their discourse, audiences are likely to dismiss their work as unprofessional–as writer-based.

To educated audiences, overgeneralization may signal

How to Avoid Generalization

Engage in critical literacy practices when reviewing your work (or the compositions of others).

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

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