Research Your Rhetoric: Generalizations and Citation

Filed in Ask the Editor by on October 13, 2014 0 Comments

Generalizations are a common aspect of rhetorical communication, as it creates a common ground in conversation. In any area of education and entertainment, viewers/readers are subjected to generalizations, as they are easy to relate to and often contain a grain of truth. This post will briefly examine the pros and cons of generalizations/stereotypes and the importance of citing content in your manuscript.

Generalizations are convenient, because the writer is allowed to classify a subject effectively. They function as stereotypes would to bring awareness to commonly known subject matters. However, this can be tricky, because there are always exceptions to stereotypes and generalizations. When a writer uses “hasty generalizations”—oversimplifications or judgments of groups without credible data (e.g. “All people do such and such”, “All women or men behave in a certain manner”), it can harm the credibility in your book, and become off-putting to many readers.

Why? Because there will always be exceptions; it is wise to use blanket statements with caution. Using stereotypes in readings can be tricky, as various groups of people practice various cultural habits; keeping an open mind in evaluating whether these practices are just or unjust should be treated with compassion.

•  Harmful: Readers may become curious with how you have arrived to such conclusions. Using a credible source answers such a  question—not citing a source can create the question.
•  Helpful: Generalizations exist for a reason, and readers can easily agree when a writer uses this in a given text. It’s also entertaining and comfortable (if not extremely offensive or hairsplitting).

Personal biases can often be found in rants, which embody impassioned viewpoints. However, if made too personal or targeted toward a certain group of people, overly opinionated content can easily be dismissed as opinion. Too many biases take away from the impact of the author’s narrative voice. Personal biases, for example, can stem from distasteful emotional memories, capturing a personal feeling rather than a common truth.

•  Harmful: Personal biases presented as truth can ignore exceptions; readers may wonder why a specific argument cannot be argued against. The author can also lose the reader if biases do not have data to support commentary, (as with generalizations).
  Helpful: Personal biases can establish a strong narrative perspective and viewpoints, which can stimulate ideas. Biases can be presented in a matter-of-fact form, which can be attractive to readers.

In the event you are inserting quantitative data (percentages, numbers, results from studies, dates, etc.), it’s helpful to list which source you’ve gotten the information from in the same sentence, so your citation is complete; readers want to know where you’ve read these fascinating facts contained in your book.

The bottom line is, we are all entitled to express opinions, however, in writing a book, it’s important to consider your reader, your audience. Using generalizations effectively can make or break the effect of your book; what’s key is a reliable source. Stereotypes—a type of generalization based on cultural findings and personal observations—often contain truth, however, there are always exceptions. Using personal biases without any citation or supported evidence can do more harm than good.

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About the Author ()

Krystina Murray is a Staff Editor at Xulon Press with over six years of editing experience. When she isn’t helping writers improve their manuscripts, she devotes her time to crafting poetry and short stories, maintains an exciting food blog and completes copy writing advertisements for small businesses.

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