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What Is the Hasty Generalization Fallacy?

Updated on December 30, 2022Students

Lots of recent posts on the Grammarly blog have been about logical fallacies, so it’s safe to conclude Grammarly’s blog is focused on logical fallacies. 

Not quite. While it’s true that we’ve published a number of posts on logical fallacies, it’s inaccurate to say the blog is focused on logical fallacies. In fact, it’s not even logically sound to make that claim, because if you look at all the posts we publish, you’ll see that the majority aren’t about logical fallacies.

There’s a name for this type of illogical claim: a hasty generalization. 

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What is the hasty generalization fallacy?

The hasty generalization fallacy, also known as the overgeneralization fallacy, is the logical fallacy of making a claim based on a sample size far too small to support the claim. 

Whether a sample size is large enough to support a claim depends on the specific claim. For example, a traveler from another country who visits New York City and concludes that most Americans don’t own cars would be making a hasty generalization. However, if that individual instead claimed that, based on their observation, most New Yorkers don’t own cars, it wouldn’t be a hasty generalization. 

A hasty generalization is structured like this: A small sample is taken from a large body of data, and a conclusion is drawn based on that small sample, then applied to the entire body of data. 

The hasty generalization fallacy is an informal fallacy. This means the logical disconnect occurs in the argument’s content, not its structure. An easy way to recognize an informal fallacy is whether you can keep the argument’s structure, but swap in a logically sound statement. If it makes sense, it’s an informal fallacy. Here is a quick example using the hasty generalization fallacy: 

Illogical: Both of the published authors I know have English degrees, so an English degree must be key to getting your book published. 

Logical: Both of the published authors I know have English degrees, so an English degree seems to be a helpful asset for authors. 

See how the second statement doesn’t make an absolute claim based on the data presented, but instead acknowledges a correlation that appears to exist? Informal fallacies can be corrected by adapting the language to create logical statements, whereas formal fallacies cannot. 

Getting more specific, the hasty generalization fallacy is a fallacy of defective induction. This means that the logical disconnect is a faulty conclusion based on the evidence the arguer examined.

Synonyms for hasty generalization

As we mentioned above, the hasty generalization fallacy is also known as the overgeneralization fallacy. It’s called this because it refers to the arguer’s overgeneralization about the topic they’re discussing. 

A hasty generalization is a type of faulty generalization. A faulty generalization is any conclusion an arguer makes about all or most people, places, or specific instances despite only having data from one or a few people, places, or specific instances. Here’s a quick example: 

At the birthday I attended over the weekend, there was a clown. Clowns are a part of birthday parties. 

The difference is subtle, but what makes a hasty generalization distinct is that the arguer rushes to a conclusion about their topic without considering all the variables that could invalidate their conclusion. The faulty generalization fallacy is broader and covers any conclusion drawn from insufficient evidence. 

Anecdotal evidence and cherry-picking are similar fallacies, but there’s a key difference between these and hasty generalizations: With a hasty generalization, the arguer incorrectly (but in good faith) reaches a conclusion based on a small amount of evidence. With anecdotal evidence and cherry-picking, the arguer instead seeks specific evidence to support their conclusion, even if this means disregarding contradictory evidence. In most cases, arguers who cherry-pick data and rely on anecdotal evidence are arguing in bad faith. 

Examples of the hasty generalization fallacy

  • At an orientation event for new students majoring in English, you might notice that many attendees are female and conclude that only women major in English. 
  • “I always wait until the last minute to complete my assignments, and I’m still passing all my classes. Therefore, there’s nothing wrong with procrastinating and putting off your assignments.”
  • Spotted lanternflies are an invasive species, so flies with spots must be invasive. 

How to avoid the hasty generalization fallacy in your writing

When you make hasty generalizations, you’re making invalid statements. Although your hasty generalization may turn out to be sort of correct or even fully correct on a factual basis, you still aren’t making a well-reasoned claim. 

In writing that presents objective facts, like a research paper, making poorly reasoned claims undermines the positions presented in your writing. It can signal that you don’t have a strong understanding of your topic or show that you didn’t do enough research to make well-reasoned claims. In other kinds of writing, like blog posts and persuasive essays, hasty generalizations can give readers a reason to make similar assumptions about how well you actually understand the topic you’re discussing. 

As with other logical fallacies, you can avoid making hasty generalizations in your writing by ensuring that every claim you make is well-researched and supported by credible sources

Sometimes, a completely logical statement can look like a hasty generalization because of its context or word choice. In situations like this, you can often rework the passage to make your claim clear. This is why careful editing and proofreading are such important stages in the writing process—an otherwise solid piece of writing can earn a low grade or fail to make its intended impact on readers. 

Hasty generalization fallacy FAQs

What is the hasty generalization fallacy?

The hasty generalization fallacy, also known as the overgeneralization fallacy, is the logical fallacy of making a claim based on a sample size far too small to support that claim. 

How does the hasty generalization fallacy work?

The hasty generalization fallacy is as follows: 

  1. Small sample is taken from a large body of data. 
  2. A conclusion is drawn based on that small sample, then applied to the entire body of data.

How can I avoid the hasty generalization fallacy in my writing?

You can avoid making hasty generalizations in your writing by reading and thinking critically about all of the sources you use, to ensure that you have an accurate understanding of the data they contain. By doing this, you can ensure that the claims you make using this evidence are logical and accurate. Read your completed draft and check that you supported each claim with a sufficient amount of evidence. If you come across any hasty generalizations, rework the sections that contain them so they’re logically sound. In some cases, this means changing your claim to reflect the evidence from your sources.

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