10-second review: The command by teachers on students’ written compositions to “be specific” is simplistic. Student writers do not know how to put that command into action.
Title: “Specificity in Context: Some Difficulties for the Inexperienced Writer.” SP MacDonald. College Composition and Communication (May 1986), 195-203. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).
Summary: “Students…need to learn to use specifics, but merely enjoining them to do so will not produce the transformation in their writing we desire.” One device that does not help is to use examples from literature, because students are engaged in learning academic writing, not literature. The author tries to analyze the process of adding specifics, but her explanation is complicated and abstract and will probably be impossible for students to follow. So the question remains: How can we teach students to “be specific”?
Comment: One way is to show them: teachers add the specifics to the student’s composition and explain how and why they did it. RayS.