Writers’ Traits: Generalizations

Writers’ Traits: Generalizations

Generalizations are dangerous. Forgive this didactic digression from the topic, but you can take this lecturer out of the lecture hall, but you can’t make him stop lecturing. Ask my long-suffering wife.

Generalizations are dangerous because they are often misinterpreted. And they are misinterpreted because people don’t know (or appreciate) what an average means, and they have no knowledge of measures of variability or how they are absolutely essential to understanding the meaning of an average.

Quick example! Consider the difference between these two sets of exam grades.

·      10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%, 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%

·      50%, 50%, 50%, 50%, 50%, 50%, 50%, 50%, 50%

The average—at least the commonest ones reported (the mean and the median)—is 50% for both groups. However, the variability is obviously very different. But you wouldn’t know that, or assume that, if you only knew the averages.

If I were to report to my students that their ‘average’ exam mark was a 50%, many of them would assume 50% was a typical score. (At least before I gave them this lecture!)

So before I dare make any generalizations about writers, I wanted to emphasize this. I strongly suspect that the variability among writers is extremely substantial. As I blithely make generalizations, I constantly think of writers I know that fail to fit them. These are not “exceptions that prove the rule”, but they are a caveat about assuming that I’m assuming little variability. I’m not. 

 Ken@Stange.com © Ken Stange 2012-2015