19b Specific and General Words

Specific words provide precise, sensory, or concrete details. General words convey inexact, intangible, and often abstract concepts. You often want to use general terms in the beginning of a paragraph. Be sure to follow up with sentences that give the reader a more specific notion of what you are talking about. Some writing tasks require more use of abstractions than others. The degree of specificity required depends on your topic and your focus.

  • The president's knowledge of domestic issues is superior to his understanding of foreign policy. He has been more successful with welfare reform, for example, than with peace in the Middle East.

In this context, "Domestic issues" and "foreign policy" are used in a general sense in the first sentence. The writer then elaborates by clarifying specific kinds of issues ("welfare reform" and "peace in the Middle East") referred to by the more general terms in the earlier sentence.

Checklist 17 Choose Precise Words