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October 23, 2014
 
 
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In General, Avoid Generalizations by Lindsay Meaning

In General, Avoid Generalizations
By Lindsay Meaning

Since the dawn of time, students have been using statements such as “since the dawn of time” to begin their writing. The urge to do this is understandable, since it implies your work is touching on the universal truths of human nature and history, and as such deserves a prominent place in the hallowed halls of academic scholarship; it also happens to be an easy way to start a sentence without having to expend a great deal of thought or effort. Other examples of this type of opening sentence include “over/in/throughout the course of human history” or “as every human being understands”. However, statements such as these are nothing more than vague, overly broad generalizations about your topic; they are neither original nor informative, and it may be best to avoid them entirely.

You might be thinking to yourself, saying that sweeping generalizations are bad is in and of itself a sweeping generalization! You are correct; when it comes to writing style, there are no absolutes and rules are made to be broken. This is demonstrated most famously with the opening lines of Pride and Prejudice, which read, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Unless your name is Jane Austen, however, it might be best to avoid assigning the status of universal truth to the topic of your paper.Instead of saying “It is known”, admit that, much like Jon Snow, you know nothing - but over the course of your paper you’ll learn.

In crafting a good opening sentence, it is important to be specific. You could open with an idea that is relevant not only to the broader topic of your paper, but to the specific argument that you will be making. Another option is to begin your paper with an interesting anecdote or quote, and explain its relevance to your topic. Remember that the purpose of your introduction is to provide context for and an overview of your topic, argument, and thesis; it is not to convince your reader that the entirety of recorded history has reached its culminating point in this, your 2000 word long undergraduate research paper.

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