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17.1 Specificity Taxonomy

Good description lives and dies in particularities. It takes deliberate effort to refine our general ideas and memories into more focused, specific language that the reader can identify with.

Picture of a red fox in the forest.

A taxonomy is a system of classification that arranges a variety of items into an order that makes sense to someone. You might remember from your biology class the ranking taxonomy based on Carl Linnaeus’ classifications, pictured here.




Taxonomy of fox

Gustav Freytag is credited with this particular model, often referred to as “Freytag’s pyramid.” Freytag studied the works of Shakespeare and a collection of Greek tragic plays to develop this model in Die Technik des Dramas (1863).

To practice shifting from general to specific, fill in the blanks in the taxonomy below. After you have filled in the blanks, use the bottom three rows to make your own. As you work, notice how attention to detail, even on the scale of an individual word, builds a more tangible image.

More General General Specific More Specific
Example Animal Mammal Dog Great Dane
1a Organism . Conifer Douglas Fir
1b Airplane Boeing 757
2a Novel Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
2b Clothing Blue Jeans
3a Medical Condition Respiratory Infection
3b School College
4a Artist Pop Singer
4b Structure Building White House
5a Coffee Starbucks Coffee
5b Scientist Sir Isaac Newton

Compare your answers with a classmate. What similarities do you share with other students? What differences? Why do you think this is the case? How can you apply this thinking to your own writing?


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Expression and Inquiry by Christopher Manning; Sally Pierce; and Melissa Lucken is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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