Monday, October 3, 2011

Over-generalization Problem in GP essays

Let me begin with an example:
"Everyone uses Facebook nowadays."

Is this sentence correct? Perhaps not! And as a GP student you must know what's wrong with this sentence.

What's wrong with this sentence?

You may agree with this sentence (because you might have seen an overwhelming number of people spending their days and nights on Facebook) but there are some folks who don't agree. Who are they? You got it right, the General Paper Examiners! (yes the copy checkers.) So, why don't they agree then?

It's simple: they have a problem with the use of the word "everyone" in the above sentence. And after reading this sentence they will begin questioning, "Aren't there people who don't use Facebook?" Then they will exclaim, "Yes there are, my sixty year old grandma, illiterate people of Nepal, poverty-stricken people who can't manage even just to have meals twice a day, and perhaps many more." And they'll start murmuring, "Hmm! There are people who don't use Facebook and how can this guy say "everyone" uses Facebook nowadays?"

This is just one of the many questions that arise in their minds. They can ask a lot of questions to challenge this simple 4 word sentence. Probably they may ask, "Has technology become so ubiquitous that it has made way to every nook and corners of the world?" and utter "Perhaps not yet!" with a :( mouth!

What is Over-generalization?

CIE examiners understand the mistake made above as over-generalization. To understand this look at this example: If 'A' is greater than 'B' and 'B' is greater than 'C' then 'A' is also greater than 'C'. Another example:
Peter spoke for the first time and he said a true fact.

He spoke for the second time and said another true fact.

So, Whenever Peter speaks he says a true fact.

These are the examples of generalization (when done wrongly the same thing becomes over-generalization, the term used by GP examiners).

Now, Generalization in above sentence

Probably the above sentence might have come from inductive reasoning like:
My family members use Facebook.

My friends use Facebook.

The people in my society too use Facebook.

So, everyone uses Facebook.

Have you got what I am trying to say by now? If yes, then let's seek out its solutions. If not, then read again.

How can this sentence be rectified (or corrected)?

A very easy way is to reduce the intensity of the word "everyone". Here's how:


  1. Most of the people using the internet use Facebook nowadays.

  2. Many people use Facebook nowadays.


Here, the first sentence uses the word "most" which would still be wrong if you use it directly because there are not even 1 billion people who use Facebook daily which is quite low compared to the world's population of about 7 billion. Therefore, by using the words "people using the internet" we reduced that 7 billion people to around 1 to 2 billion people who have internet access. Thus, if we use the language of physics then, our uncertainty is reduced greatly by using these words and hence our sentence becomes more accurate.

In the second sentence, I have used "many" which simply means people more than several. This word does not keep concern with the statistics as shown above. Many can mean around 100 people at one time and 1 billion people at another time. We perceive its meaning ourselves. For example, consider these two sentences and try to guess how many people you imagine when you read these two sentences:
Many people died in a bus accident. (How many people?)

Many people lost their lives in the recent earthquake in Japan. (How many people?)

Whatever, you may guess but it will obviously be a different number! If you disagree, then comment below with your reasons.

A Better Solution

The corrected sentences above are alright but certainly not the best ones, not at least for General Paper. Now, you could write a better sentence in place of above sentence by using statistics from a trusted source. Then, the above sentence would become something like:


  • More than 800 million people use Facebook actively, according to the statistics of Facebook. Or,

  • There are as many as 800 million people using Facebook at present. Or,

  • Quite a large number of people, about 800 million, use Facebook nowadays.



These are some of the different forms of the above sentence which give almost, but not exactly, a same meaning. So, you should be able to decide which one is more suitable in a given circumstance. Choose your words properly, and try to guess what other people would mean by reading your sentence. The sentences like above are thought right by most of the students (and common people) but the examiners (language experts) can easily question them and even prove them false.

That's all. I hope you have understood what I have tried to convey. If you aren't satisfied, or disagree with me, or simply want to say something about this topic then you are warmly welcome to do so in the comments below.

9 comments:

  1. totally understand your concept. over generalization has always been a problem for me and i greatly use such sentences when m nt sure of particular statistics. so i try to use a safer option like instead of ALWAYS, i use OFTEN or MOSTLY to be on the safe side. i dont know if its correct though. hehe

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  2. Thanks for your comment. But as I can see now, you still have some areas where you need to take care of like "totally". Your idea to try being on a safer side is very welcoming, and using OFTEN and MOSTLY instead of ALWAYS can solve most of your problems. However, you should notice that often and mostly can be synonymous but still have a distinctly different meaning. You should be precise enough to note the difference and know when to use which word.

    Best of luck for your exams.

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  3. Hey bro help me on this: "Writing is easier way to express ourselves than speaking." Do u agree?

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  4. I think speaking is an easier way to express ourselves in most of the circumstances. Many people find it difficult to write.

    However, through writing you can almost express any type of messege. For example, you might find it offensive to utter certain words, but you may find yourselves relaxed to write them. Such words would include the offensive and vulgar words.

    Some people cannot speak in front of certain people, such as strangers, or in a mass. In such a situation writing can be better to express their message.

    In the end, whether writing is easier, or speaking, depends upon the purpose and occasion of the communication.

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  5. I have a comment. Sometimes, we don't know about statistical facts like number of people using facebook or number of accident in the country, so what should we do? What is the safe word to replace "many"? :D

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  6. "Many" is a safe word. And I have already answered your question in this article itself. Still I will repeat it here as well.

    When you don't know statistical facts you can use words like many, several, a few, etc. Depending upon the context either of these words may be more appropriate than others. And sometimes same word can give different estimate. Consider the following sentences:

    "Many people attended the awareness program in the village." &
    "He has many siblings."

    Therefore, these words are used in a relative sense not in an absolute sense. Hence, they do not run you into the problem of over-generalization.

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  7. Big fan of yours! Thanks for all the help I'm getting from your site. I'm sure it'll help me greatly in my upcoming GP exam. Thanks again!

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    Replies
    1. You're welcome bro! Thanks for your comment!

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  8. I had my gp exam today but I forgot to put the no, of question for my essays :( .what should I do :(

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