Till innehåll på sidan

The general-to-specific principle

The general-to-specific principle of paragraph structure means that the text moves from something broad, general, or known to the readers, to more specific, and perhaps unknown, detail.

A general-to-specific organization can help the reader better understand your message, by relating it to broad concepts and well-known facts, before moving on to detail. This organization might be particularly important for readers whose first language is not English. It is not uncommon that writing guides use the analogy of a funnel to describe the general-to-specific principle (e.g. Hofmann 2020: 234–235; Swales and Feak 2012: 56).

Many scientific Introduction sections, for instance, are written with a general-to-specific organization. Example (1) is an excerpt from an Introduction to a master’s thesis (slightly adapted). The text moves from something general and well known – the importance of renewable energy, with solar energy as a specific example – to the more specific process of photosynthesis, and how photosynthesizing organisms can help fix carbon dioxide. Note how the author in example (1) leads the readers into her topic and makes them want to read on.


One of the most important tasks of today’s engineers is to convert renewable energy into useful products. Luckily, the renewable energy supplies are anything but limited. For instance, every day the earth is provided with an enormous amount of solar energy when photons reach the surface of the planet. This process contributes with 4·1024 J yearly, a generous supply of renewable energy ready to be harvested [1]. But this process is not new. For millions of years, some living organisms, such as plants, have in fact been using the process of photosynthesis to convert light energy to chemical energy [2]. The term photosynthetic refers to the conversion of light energy to chemical energy by the fixation of carbon dioxide. In times when reduction of carbon dioxide emissions is highly desired, this ability of photosynthesizing organisms has attracted the attention of scientists.

Strandberg, L. (2021)

Note, also, how the sentences in example (1) generally start with words and concepts that have already been mentioned earlier in the text. This is known as the given-to-new principle, which you can read about here .

Paragraphs which are organized according to a general-specific principle often start with a topic sentence. Read more about topic sentences here .

  Previous: Paragraph unity


Hofmann, A. (2019) Scientific Writing and Communication: Papers, Proposals, and Presentations. 4th Edition. Oxford University Press.

Swales, J. M. and Feak, C. B. (2012) Academic Writing for Graduate Students. Essential Tasks and Skills. 3rd Edition. Michigan University Press.

Reference - Example (1)

Strandberg, L. (2021) Isolation of the native chloroplast proteome from plant for identification of protein-metabolite interactions. Master's thesis, KTH.

Innehållsansvarig:Susanna Zeitler Lyne
Tillhör: Institutionen för lärande
Senast ändrad: 2024-03-20