Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – ABSTRACT vs. CONCRETE

by Grace

The distinction between abstract/general and concrete/specific is highlighted in this assignment that is part of Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of Writing to the Point (This is part of my project to study and learn the entire Six-Step method, explained in my initial post in this series.)  For a recap, here are Steps 1 through 4.

STEP 1. Write a short, simple declarative sentence that makes one statement. (Chapter 1, page 6)

STEP 2. Write three sentences about the sentence in Step 1—clearly and directly about the whole of that sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 2, page 18.)

STEP 3. Write four or five sentences about each of the three sentences in Step 2—clearly and directly about the whole of the Step 2 sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 3, page 31.)

STEP 4. Make the material in the four or five sentences of Step 3 as specific and concrete as possible. Go into detail. Use examples. Don’t ask, “What will I say next?” Instead, say some more about what you have just said. Your goal is to say a lot about a little, not a little about a lot.  (Chapter 4, page 43)

By their very nature, sentences X-1-2-3  (Kerrigan Method Steps 1 & 2) are usually abstract or general.  The sentences that follow from 1-2-3 must fill in the details by being concrete and specific.  Both types of sentences are vital in good writing.

… True sophistication in writing requires not just the concrete and specific, nor just the abstract and general, but a skillful combination of the two.  Look at any professional writing you admire, and you’ll see what I mean.

[W]rite two pairs of sentences.  The first sentence of each pair is to be in general, even abstract, terms; the second is to state the same idea in specific, concrete terms.

Example from the book:

  1. GENERAL:  In her room I noticed two books.
  2. SPECIFIC:  On the small table near Jessica’s plaid easy chair I noticed Heller’s Catch-22 and Galsworthy’s Man of Property. 

What I wrote:

  1. GENERAL:  Today is gloomy
  2. SPECIFIC:  Today I was forced to turn on my desk light because gray clouds are blocking any trace of sunlight while the constant drip of chilly raindrops is creating dampness in the air.
  1. GENERAL:  My office is messy.
  2. SPECIFIC:  Piles of books and papers cover most surfaces in my office, a shabby Easter basket filled with old scraps of paper is shoved in one corner, and various wires lay haphazardly around my desk.

Expressing the same idea in two distinct sentences, one using general terms and the other using details, made it easy to see the differences and the benefits of adding concrete details.  This would be a good exercise to do occasionally as a check if I’m including enough details in my writing or to remind me of the contrasts between both types of sentences. ..

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4 Responses to “Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – ABSTRACT vs. CONCRETE”

  1. While I like the idea of the exercise, your pair of descriptions seem to me almost diametrically opposed, rather than expressing the same concept. The office being messy strikes me as being normally busy, and wires laying haphazardly around the desk as being in the midst of some exciting project, not chilly and gloomy at all.


  2. Oops, I misunderstood the punctuation and though 2 was intended to be the specific version of 1 rather than that the “/” was separator of the general and the specific—my apologies for my stupidity.


  3. Actually, I see your confusion and I’ve made changes I think help clarify. Hmm, reminds me that being clear in your writing also involves the formatting part. 🙂 Sometimes it’s the “little” things that trip me up.



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