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* OVERGENERALIZATIONS & EXAGGERATION

Generalizations are necessary. We cannot make any sensible conclusions about anything without generalizing from
specific examples. Especially in your introduction, topic sentences, and conclusion, you will need to generalize. However,
there is a danger of overgeneralization.

Overgeneralizations (or sweeping generalizations as they are also called) do not help your argument because they give
the impression that you are not very thoughtful. In academic writing, opinions or predictions are not usually expressed as
absolute statements. Words such as like, every, and always are often avoided. Consider these examples:
1. Everybody uses the Internet nowadays.
2. No one can run a business without information technology.
3. Any business can be successful if it uses modern information technology.

These are clearly overgeneralizations or exaggerations, and would not help your argument. An essay is not a political
speech or a form of advertising!

Read the sentences below and answer questions 1-2.


Excessive Internet use leads to social isolation.
Excessive Internet use can lead to social isolation.
1. Which of these sentences is more appropriate for an academic context? Why?
2. In what other ways could you modify the first sentence to make it less sweeping?

ANSWERS:
1. The second sentence is more appropriate because it is less sweeping and, therefore, easier to defend as valid.
2. You could modify the sentences in several ways:
Excessive Internet use sometimes leads to social isolation. (frequency adverb)
Excessive Internet use possibly leads to social isolation. (probability adverb)
It is said that excessive Internet use sometimes leads to social isolation. (expressions)
Excessive Internet use appears to lead to social isolation. (less absolute language)

It is important not to make absolute or sweeping statements. You can do this by using a range of modifiers and “softer”
vocabulary.
Quantifiers Verbs Frequency adverbs
few look frequently
some appear sometimes
many seem often
most tend rarely
Expressions Modal verbs Probability adverbs
It is said that… can possibly
It is generally agreed that… could probably
It is possible… may perhaps
In some circumstances… might maybe
According to most scientists, … would perchance

Example:
Rapid technological change destroys traditional values.
Rapid technological change can weaken traditional values.
EXERCISES: AVOIDING ABSOLUTE STATEMENTS
Rewrite the sentences below, replacing the words in italics with language from the box.
Example: It is not true that poor road conditions are the only explanation for road accidents.
It seems unlikely that poor road conditions are the only explanation for road accidents.

1. All road accidents cause fatal injuries.


___________________________________________________________________________________________
2. Everyone believes that drivers always drive too fast.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
3. Higher fines for speeding will reduce the number of accidents.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
4. Having speed cameras on all streets is the best solution to the problem of speeding.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
5. It is a fact that every accident involves drivers who have consumed alcohol.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
Consider ways of increasing or reducing the strength of the following statements so that they become more acceptable.

1. People over the age of fifty cannot grasp new technology.

2. Everyone wants to own the latest gadget.

3. Children are corrupted by the Internet.

4. People do not like new technology because they do not understand it.

5. Too much technology makes people lazy.

6. The world’s problems will be solved by advances in science and technology.

7. The Internet has made life more convenient for everyone.

8. Computers are the perfect tool for education.

9. In some cases, money may not increase our happiness all the time.

10. Oil is the best source of energy, but nuclear energy is much better.

11. Traffic congestion is an absolute disaster in all cities.

12. Alternative energy probably seems to be a possible answer to our future energy needs.

13. Television encourages violence.

14. Overpopulation will possibly cause many problems in the future.

15. Our environment is being completely destroyed.

16. People are only interested in money these days.

17. Maybe the continuing destruction of the rainforest will increase the greenhouse effect.

18. Students who go to study abroad could perhaps find that they may have some unexpected experiences.

EXERCISE: AVOIDING OVERGENERALIZATIONS BY BEING MORE SPECIFIC


Replace the words in italics in sentences 1-6 with more precise expressions from the choices below.
a their necessities c aspects of e take action
b their possessions d products f advantages

_____ 1. People often buy things, even when they do not need them.
_____ 2. One of the interesting things about consumer behavior is that it is often irrational.
_____ 3. People can do things to avoid getting into debt.
_____ 4. One of the good things about shopping online is the convenience.
_____ 5. Often people’s income barely covers the cost of the things that they need.
_____ 6. People are often very attached to the things that they own.