How to Identify Relationships Between General & Specific Ideas

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  • 0:08 General vs Specific Ideas
  • 2:03 Relationships Between Ideas
  • 4:40 Practice Identifying Ideas
  • 5:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn how to tell the difference between general and specific ideas. We will also explore the relationships between these ideas and practice identifying the ideas and their relationships.

General vs. Specific Ideas

We'll begin this lesson with a pop quiz. You will be given two statements, and your job is to identify which one is general and which one is specific.

  1. Cats are creatures of habit.
  2. Sadie, a little black cat, waits for her people at the top of the basement steps every morning and runs right to the refrigerator for her snack.

If you said that the first statement is general and the second statement is specific, you are correct.

General ideas and the statements that express them are kind of like umbrellas. They cover broad categories or groups of people or things and usually express the overall aspects, characteristics, or elements of these categories or groups. General ideas tend to communicate broad topics that need to be explained further if readers are to understand them in depth.

For example, the general idea above that cats are creatures of habit refers to a broad group, cats, and to an overall characteristic of cats, that they are creatures of habit. If readers are to understand exactly how and why cats are creatures of habit, the writer will have to give more information to support the general idea.

Specific ideas and statements offer that support. They usually clarify, explain, and illustrate general ideas and statements by referring to particular individuals, ideas, or things. They also tend to express distinct characteristics that define those individuals, ideas, and things.

For example, statement 2 presents an individual, the little black cat Sadie, who exhibits particular behaviors that illustrate exactly how cats are creatures of habit.

Relationships Between General & Specific Ideas

General ideas usually express the main point or main idea of a piece of writing. They present the topic of a paragraph, essay, or book and make a statement about it, usually a claim that needs to be proven. The general statement we've been examining does exactly that. It makes a claim that requires proof: 'Cats are creatures of habit.'

Specific ideas provide evidence to further define the general or main idea and prove that it is valid. This evidence can take many forms: examples, anecdotes, logical reasons, facts, statistics, and expert testimony. For instance, the specific statement about Sadie the cat offers an example that proves the point that cats are creatures of habit.

To further convince readers of the truth of that general idea, however, we need to provide a few more specific ideas. We might offer some statistical information like this:

In a recent survey of hundreds of cat owners, more than 90% indicated that their cats demanded to be fed at the same time every day, and more than 95% said that their cats sleep in the same spots day after day.

We might also provide expert testimony and logical reasons why cats are creatures of habit like this:

Veterinarians say that cats feel safe and secure when they are able to maintain the same routine every day and that, just like people, cats enjoy stability in life.

Now let's put together the general idea and the three specific ideas to create a full paragraph that makes and supports a claim:

Cats are creatures of habit. In a recent survey of hundreds of cat owners, more than 90% indicated that their cats demanded to be fed at the same times every day, and more than 95% said that their cats sleep in the same spots day after day. For instance, Sadie, a little black cat, waits for her people at the top of the basement steps every morning and runs right to the refrigerator for her snack. She also prefers to sleep either on her humans' bed or in her favorite recliner in the family room. Veterinarians say that cats feel safe and secure when they are able to maintain the same routine every day and that, just like people, cats enjoy stability in life.

Do you see how the general idea and the specific ideas come together to build a coherent and convincing argument?

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