Many current challenges involve understanding the complex dynamical interplay between the constituents of systems. Typically, the number of such constituents is high, but only limited data sources on them are available. Conventional dynamical models of complex systems are rarely mathematically tractable and their numerical exploration suffers both from computational and data limitations. Here we review generalized modeling, an alternative approach for formulating dynamical models to gain insights into dynamics and bifurcations of uncertain systems. We argue that this approach deals elegantly with the uncertainties that exist in real world data and enables analytical insight or highly efficient numerical investigation. We provide a survey of recent successes of generalized modeling and a guide to the application of this modeling approach in future studies such as complex integrative ecological models.