Guilford College Writing Manual

This is the official Guilford College Writing Manual. A collaboration between the English Department and the Hege Library.

Levels of Generality

Another way we can categorize words is on the basis of how general or specific they are.

Take the following list:

  • vehicle (very general)
  • car (still general)
  • Pontiac (more specific)
  • black '79 Firebird with a crumpled right fender (very specific)

"Vehicle" is an abstract category. It does not create a concrete picture in the reader's mind. Even "car" is general, though less so than "vehicle." With "Pontiac," we're descending into the concrete world, though we're still referring to a category, even if it's a smaller one than "car." It's only when we get to the black '79 Firebird that the reader can begin to imagine a specific, individual car.

Writing involves weaving together the different levels. If you're chiefly working with ideas, which are abstract by nature, you'll operate on a more general level. If you are trying to represent the world in all its material glory, you'll need to downshift to a more specific level. If your goal is to connect your ideas to the world, interpenetration of the levels is necessary.