1: Genre characteristics
When you read a text for the first time, you usually don’t have to read many lines before you begin to get some sort of idea what kind of text it is – a news report, an advertisement, a feature article or whatever. That is because, either consciously or unconsciously, you recognise features that you have come across in other texts you have read. Below is a list of some of these features that are important in deciding which genre a text belongs to:
Purpose is about what is a text tries to do. Is it aiming to inform you, entertain you, persuade you, or perhaps a mixture of these things?
Tone is the term for the writer’s attitude to the subject he or she is writing about. The tone of a text might be, for example, serious, flippant, witty, indignant or ironic.
Style and tone can sometimes be difficult to differentiate. We could say that, while tone reflects the writer’s underlying attitude, style is about the choice of words and language he or she chooses to get this attitude across. There are many features of a text that might be called elements of style: for example, whether a text is formal or informal or whether the lexical density is high or low (see PDF for explanation of lexical density). Other features of style are sentence length, imagery, direct speech and pronoun use (particularly whether a text uses the first person or not).
The structure of a text means the way it is ordered. Some genres – e.g. essays – usually have an introduction and a conclusion. Others – e.g. news articles – generally start with the most important information first.
Layout and structure are related, but while structure has to do with the content of the text, layout is about appearance. Headlines, subheadings and illustrations are examples of layout features that can vary between different text genres.
In the attached table of genre characteristics (PDF), the first column lists the most important genres you will be working with in this course, and the second column lists typical features of each.
Study the table and work with the tasks given below.
Look at the table in pairs:
a) What are some common characteristics of expository genres?
b) What are some common characteristics of analytical genres?
c) Do persuasive genres have any features in common?
d) What is meant by the following:
- lexical density?
- literary devices?
- level of formality?
- emotive words?
Read the text extracts below and write one or two paragraphs in which you explain what genre you think each of the texts belongs to. Using the table for help, give examples of language features from the texts in your answer.
American tourists visiting the Pacific island of New Guinea were shocked when they disembarked from their cruise ship and were met by members of a tribe who were more or less completely naked.
The tribal members, both men and women, greeted the tourists with smiles, but some of the tourists were not amused. Eighty-year old spinster Lily Smith, from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, was shocked.
“The tour operators should have avoided this stop. It’s not what we Americans are used to,” she said.
Her grand-nephew, Tommy Smith, however, had another opinion, saying: “it was kind of cool, something different.”
Anthropologists define a tribe as a collection of people who share the same way of speech, basic cultural characteristics and a common territory. Some traditional tribes in the south Pacific still eschew clothing.
Recommendation: When doing business in a foreign country it is important to be aware of local customs and traditions. In this particular case our findings are that the tour operator Excitement Tours should have been more cognizant of what the locals might do in their domestic territory. Due to the company’s failure to quality assure this part of the trip, the tourists were exposed to an unfortunate incident and the company left itself open to litigation.
Lily Smith, a strong and very active 80-year-old spinster was on her life’s journey. After almost 60 years of employment with the US Postal Service the white-haired, energetic pensioner went on a well-deserved world tour on the cruise ship Enterprise. While she has many grand memories from the tour, one episode on the island of New Guinea has left a bad taste in her mouth. When she disembarked to visit a small town on the New Guinea coast she was met by members of a local tribe dressed in their best Sunday suits, or to put it more bluntly, they were stark naked, women and men, young and old. That’s right, they were as naked as the day they were born. Listening to how Lily tells her story brings to mind the many issues that arise when two very different cultures meet, or should I say collide.
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In the poem “The Mysterious Naked Man”, the poet Alden Nowlan has fun with an incident in the everyday life of people on a typical Toronto street. But perhaps there is a more serious tone to the poem as well. In lines six and seven the witness responding to the police officer’s question admits to not having a clue what the man looked like because “he was naked”. One would think that nakedness would make the man more noticeable and memorable, but instead, in our impersonal world, the man was virtually invisible in his nakedness. In the last part of the poem the poet empathises with the mysterious naked man, imagining his feelings and the embarrassment any one of us would feel if we were suddenly caught naked in public. Perhaps the final question the poem hints at is why is our most natural of states such a cause for concern?
Determine the genre of each of the texts below. Write a short paragraph about each text in which you give reasons for your choices using examples from the texts.
Can a country survive if it does not educate its young people well? Can a country have dignity if it does not look after its elderly citizens well? I ask you, the voters, do we want dignity, honour and hope? Or would you settle for disrespect, immorality and despair? The choice is yours.
The movie “The Butler” cruises through history like we were on a fancy Disney ride, and like any amusement ride, the thrill is short-lived. In trying to cover almost a century of racial conflict in the United States, the director, Lee Daniels, is overwhelmed by his task and ends up going in so many directions that you never feel satisfied with any part of the story that is told.
The evening was still young, the sky a dull grey slipping into purple; soon the dark would come. The dark, that was Oscar’s time, when he would creep out of his seedy hotel room and flow out into the stream of sordid night creatures, the pushers, the pimps, the hookers, the losers, the desperate and the joy seekers. Oscar was one of them, a sweaty, balding loner long on anger and short on hope.
Write one or two paragraphs about each text in which you explain what genre the text is aspiring to be and where it goes wrong.
a) The U.S. system of government is a republic, a type of democracy in which elected officials, called politicians, if we want to be kind, carry out the will of the people. These officials will know more about issues that face society and how the government functions than the average citizen does. But, really, do they? This means they are entrusted to speak on behalf of the people they represent. The citizens bestow their trust by voting officials into office, but be careful of giving those democrats too much power! There are presidential elections once every four years and that’s more than enough.
b) We are the Flag people. At Flags-R-Us you can find flags of all sizes for the home, school, office building. Made of durable material the flags are weather-proof and now fire-proof. That’ll stop the nasty little so-and-sos who think they can burn our glorious flag. Remember, we know flags.
c) On Tuesday, June 11 the Junior Elliot corner store was robbed by two armed bandits. The store’s owner, Junior Elliot, claims that the robbers got away with only a small portion of the day’s takings and they also took a few cartons of cigarettes. Makes you wonder why they bothered. Police Officer James Stubbits said there was very little to go on, but added that the police were examining CC film from four surveillance cameras on the street to see if that could help them identify the thieves. It seems like we are being monitored wherever we go and that might be cause for concern, but it can surely help the police.
Work in groups of three or four pupils. Search the net or printed media for your own examples of texts for each of the genres mentioned in the table. Write down your reasons for determining what text type they are. Share your texts with the rest of the class and be prepared to explain your reasoning.
Which genre would you choose if your purpose was …
- to share your views on what you see as a very biased TV coverage of the latest political election
- to describe the election system in India for young learners in Norway
- to tell the story of Jim and Samantha, a young couple who travelled from coast to coast in Australia riding on ostriches
- to compare and contrast the election systems in the United Kingdom and Norway