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Researcher Development

Researcher Development

Academic genres

From a theoretical perspective ‘good’ writing is not a standard but socio-culturally determined and is not uniform around the world.

Professor of Education, University of Exeter

There is a certain level of nuance needed to answer this. ‘Good academic writing’ is contentious. Academic writing differs across geographical regions; what is accepted as ‘good’ in Bangladesh, Malaysia or Pakistan might not apply to the UK, Australia or Canada. Differences exist, for example in terms of how “direct” or “indirect” the writing is; the latter countries tend to adopt a more critical approach. By critical here, I imply the willingness to question an author. Even if you have not had experience of writing in other countries, you could have learnt certain “standards”, whether from school or otherwise, that might not quite fit the expectations at university.

There are some things: sentence structure; coherence; clarity; structure which are likely to be characteristics of ‘good’ writing in any writing, not just academic genres.

Professor of Education, University of Exeter


Think about what makes ‘good’ writing in your field. Describe your writing context.

Tip: Find out what is the “accepted” norm in your discipline. This may require research and effort but it will be time spent well. Try to access your departmental PGR (postgraduate researcher) Handbook.

It is the ‘expectations’ and ‘norms’ that go into the mix of explaining genre. The next section is closely related to this one, so read on.

An expert in writing research, Hyland, explains that genre is not simply about subject content, though this is important, but involves a lot more:

… [genre goes beyond] subject content, composing processes and textual forms to see writing as attempts to communicate with readers. … how to use language patterns to accomplish coherent, purposeful prose. The central belief here is that we don’t just write, we write something to achieve some purpose: it is a way of getting something done. To get things done, to tell a story, request an overdraft, craft a love letter, describe a technical process and so on, we follow certain social conventions for organizing messages because we want our readers to recognize our purpose. These abstract, socially recognized ways of using language for particular purposes are called genres.

(Hyland, 2019, p. 18)

Earlier, I asked you to think about the purpose of your writing – what is it you want to achieve? The idea behind genre is that you learn to use language to not only “compose text for particular readers, but it can also be used” to illustrate “how texts actually work as communication.”  (Hyland, 2019, p. 18). The principal is that writing has a communicative purpose and socio-cultural rules of language should be followed purposefully. In sum, writers can use a genre-based approach to engage with readers.


The activity below is taken from Hyland’s book (p.19)

Look at this list of genres, partly taken from Cook (1989: 95). Can you see any similarities and differences between them? Try to group them into categories in different ways, for example, spoken versus written, similar purposes, type of audience, main grammar patterns, key vocabulary, formality, and so on. You will find that genres often have things in common but are distinct in various ways.
sales letter joke anecdote label poem memo
inventory advertisement report note chat seminar
essay manifesto toast argument song novel
notice biography sermon consultation jingle article
warrant ticket letter manual will conversation
menu prescription telegram editorial sign film review

What do you understand by genre? Why do you think it is important to understand this approach? If possible, discuss this with your peers and mentors.


*Source: Hyland, K. (2019). Second language writing. Cambridge university press.

The first question that needs answering is: what and how am I required to write?

Read and understand the requirements carefully and find examples of written articles or templates.

Lecturer of Engineering, University of Exeter

One of the first things you should understand is that requirements differ:

… writing a systematic literature review is different from writing a report which is different from writing a theoretical argument… Writers need to understand the audiences and purposes and genres that are used in academia.

Professor of Education, University of Exeter


<<Attach podcast + transcript>>

Listen to this podcast with Tracey Warren, who’s a PGR in Education and Special Educational Needs; she recently did here viva. Tracey discusses strategies she used to find out about expectations/requirements, genre and clarity.

Understanding the terms of reference and requirements is imperative; without this your writing is likely to be disconnected from your discipline.

Different requirements of writing: this is key because you have to understand the precise genre of writing you are tackling, and with that the sociocultural expectations within which that genre sits.

Professor of Education, University of Exeter

This quote ties in with the previous section. Socio-cultural expectations and genre are key tenets deserving our attention. It is society, the university system, academics and other stakeholders that actually decide ‘expectations’ and ‘norms’ – these simply have to be met by you. So, for example, are you expected to write long, multi-clause sentences, using the third person? If you are unsure of any of this, the Grammar section may help.

Disciplinary traditions and conventions are very important too – for example, in my discipline it is often expected (even required) that the first person is used for transparency.

Senior Lecturer of Education, University of Exeter

The topic of academic genres is vast, and I would encourage you to do further research on specific ones that could apply to your own writing target.

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