Sometimes you may hear an argument that sounds convincing at first, but when you really think about it, a logical loophole comes up. That’s why it’s important for you to be aware of the correct process for arriving at a conclusion.
When you are writing, particularly in the case of research or journalism, making fallacious conclusions will make your piece weak, and shed doubts on your accuracy and credibility.
A fallacy is when someone reaches a faulty conclusion. This usually happens when there is insufficient information or a failure in reasoning.
What Is a Hasty Generalization?
A hasty generalization is one example of a logical fallacy, wherein someone reaches a conclusion that is not justified logically by objective or sufficient evidence.
This is also known by several other names:
- insufficient sample
- faulty generalization
- biased generalization
- jumping to a conclusion
- converse accident
- neglect of qualifications
- secundum quid
One major cause of a faulty generalization is when people reach a conclusion based on a sample size that’s too small: it’s an argument that moves from the particular to the general, extrapolating a finding about that small sample size and applying it to a much larger population.
However, having a large sample size by itself does not guarantee correct conclusions. First, you need to make sure that the sample you’re using to make a generalization is representative of the whole population.
This is also where the statistical concept of random sampling plays an important role: the respondents should not all be too similar, so that your results will be more accurate and representative of the whole population.
What Is an Example of Hasty Generalization?
Examples of hasty generalization include the following:
- When I was young, my dad and brothers never helped with the household chores. All men are useless in the house.
- My child’s classmates in preschool bullied him. All children are terrorizing bullies.
- Dozens of poor families come to my grandfather for financial help. All poor people depend on other people for their living.
- I ate in three restaurants in Bangkok and didn’t like the experience. There are no good restaurants in Bangkok.
Analyze the above examples. In the first sentence, the person making the statement had the experience of a father and brothers who did not help with the chores in their home. Based on a very small sample of just the men in her own family, she then jumped to the conclusion that no men know how to help in the house.
In the second sentence, the speaker’s child was bullied in preschool—by several students, as evidenced by the plural form “classmates.” That means the sample size may be two or more students. But it’s still a very small sample size to declare that all children are terrorizing bullies. (In fact, by making that statement, she’s including her own child in the mix!)
In the third sentence, we don’t know exactly how many poor families approached the speaker’s grandfather for financial help. The phrase “dozens of” tells us it’s a big number, but it’s still too much of a stretch to describe every poor family as always being dependent on others.
In the fourth sentence, having visited three restaurants is not enough to say that all the the restaurants in Bangkok are not good.
The Problem with Making Hasty Generalizations
Because hasty generalizations tend to be a common practice, they may not always be easy to detect. But believing an idea about something based on only a few pieces of evidence is not only wrong, but potentially dangerous.
Making faulty generalizations comes with ethical ramifications: it can lead to misinformation and to the manifestation of stereotypes. Then, the people who believe the generalization may become prejudiced against whoever the fallacious argument was against.
How Do You Find Hasty Generalizations?
To identify a hasty generalization, you need to hone your critical thinking skills:
- First, step back and analyze who is giving the opinion. Is that person normally objective or very subjective? This will give you an important clue as to the validity of their claim.
- Next, check what sample size the person used to arrive at their conclusion. If the sample size is small, chances are high that they extrapolated insufficient data. If the sample size seems reasonable enough, proceed to the next step.
- Finally, check the source or evidences the person is using. If the statement is from a possibly biased source, find evidence that supports and opposes the statement being made. This added evidence will help you find a more reasonable middle ground.
How Can You Avoid Hasty Generalizations?
Not only do you have to identify when other people make a biased generalization, but you also need to avoid making them yourself. The following tips should help you make sure you always give accurate information:
Cite specific instances; do not apply findings to a larger group.
If you have experience with a small sample, only mention the specific instances. Do not apply the findings to a larger group.
For example, if you surveyed 20 homeschooling moms and fifteen of them said they work with a rigid schedule, you can’t say, “75% of all homeschooling moms work with a tight schedule.”
Instead, you can say something like, “Out of the 20 moms surveyed in [state your location], we found that three-quarters of them prefer to work with a fixed schedule.”
Let’s say you find a child with an adverse reaction to a spider bite, but you know that other children have not been affected in the same way. Be careful not to generalize; instead, you can say something like, “Although this kind of spider’s bite generally does not have adverse effects, one child had a severe reaction.”
Make sure you have research to prove the accuracy of the claim.
This can get tricky, because you also have to make sure the research you’re citing accurately interpreted the data.
This is where looking at the research methodology is important: check the sample size and look at how the researchers understood the sampling.
Also, ask yourself what kind of evidence you’re looking at. Anecdotal evidence can be faulty, so take individual examples with a grain of salt when you encounter them.
Become a More Accurate Writer
The bottom line of all this is that we strive towards the greatest accuracy possible in all our writings, both in fiction and nonfiction.
Although it may take more effort, being diligent when it comes to the accuracy of your statements will help you develop a stronger voice and credibility among your readers.
Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!
If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like:
- What Is a Red Herring? Definition and Examples
- Writing Women: How to Write Better Female Characters
- Clichés: What Are They and How Can You Avoid Them?
- 12 Female Literary Characters Who Are More Than Damsels in Distress
Yen Cabag is the Blog Writer of TCK Publishing. She is also a homeschooling mom, family coach, and speaker for the Charlotte Mason method, an educational philosophy that places great emphasis on classic literature and the masterpieces in art and music. She has also written several books, both fiction and nonfiction. Her passion is to see the next generation of children become lovers of reading and learning in the midst of short attention spans.