2: Expository and analytical genres
While we listed characteristics of the various genres in Course 1, it is important to be aware that texts in one genre may also make use of features that are typical of other genres. Writers use whatever means they feel will help them accomplish their task, so in your analyses you should be on the lookout for all the features writers use to create an effect in their texts.
1) Expository texts
The aim of expository texts is to inform, describe something or instruct the reader. The factual texts in this book are expository, as they seek to inform you about social studies issues in English-speaking countries. A news article is an expository text as its purpose is to inform the reader about a news event. Police reports and insurance claims are also expository.
Here we provide a few short analyses of texts in expository genres.
Read the two paragraphs on page 118, starting with “The Obama administration inherited a very difficult situation” paying attention to the language and tone of the two paragraphs.
The purpose of the text is to teach Norwegian students about a specific period in American history.The text has an objective tone that lends it credence. Due to this objective tone, it is easy for the reader to assume that the facts presented are the result of research and knowledge (“an economy in deep recession”). The text also informs about the divide in the country in an objective way. For example, the adjective “bitterly” is used to describe the split between the two parties, while the adverb “deeply” is used to describe the intensity of the Republican opposition to the health care reform, but the reader feels this is a true and objective description of the political climate at the time. Even when the conflict between to the two main sides in American politics is described as “a bruising (adjective) set of political battles” we feel this is an informed description of the situation. The first-person pronoun is never used and nowhere does the text give a clue as to the political ideas or sympathies of the writer.
The language is quite formal, using linking adverbial phrases such as “in the years that followed”, and it has a relatively high lexical density, using terminology typical of a social studies text (“deep recession”, “Congress”, “political agenda”, “federal program”, “Obamacare”, “federal debt”). However, the lexical density is not so high as to make the text difficult to read. For the most part, the sentences are also quite short as the writer is aiming at a particular audience, students who do not have English as a native language.
1b Encyclopaedia/dictionary text
Dictionaries and encyclopaedias normally have the most formal language of the genres we are looking at in the genre course. The function of these texts is simply to inform and to be as neutral as possible. The example below is a definition of the welfare state from an encyclopaedia:
Welfare state, concept of government in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for a good life. The general term may cover a variety of forms of economic and social organization and includes the concept of social insurance.
This text is more formal than the textbook material we looked at. It has high lexical density with terms specific to the field of social studies (“concept of government”, “equality of opportunity”, “equitable distribution of wealth”, “social insurance”). The purpose of the text is to inform with absolute accuracy. The information provided only defines the term “welfare state”, no other information is imparted and no attempt is made to embellish the text.
1c News article
The news article is a genre most people come into contact with every day, either by reading a paper edition of a newspaper or magazine or by reading their net versions. Its main purpose is to inform about a news event, and a typical convention of the article is to answer the questions who, what, when, where, why and how, as we can see in the example attached (PDF).
We can see many of the key elements of the news article in this text. There is no attempt to judge or affix blame to anyone, the reporter’s job is simply to report the facts as they stand at the time of writing. The text is neutral, where the sense of urgency and importance in trying to reach the MDG targets is supplied by the experts through the direct quotations rather than directly through the reporter. The article objectively informs us about what is happening (the missed targets have “led to a consolidated call for action”; and the facts about the people without proper sanitation are “according to a joint WHO/UNICEF report”). The journalist is thus reviewing and condensing a report for us. There is no use of personal pronouns as no personal opinions are given.
The language is fairly straightforward, but as it is very subject specific there are also some high lexical density words (sanitation target, MDG, call to action). The paragraphs are relatively short which makes it easier to keep the reader’s attention. In general, paragraphs in online news articles are shorter than those in printed newspapers. How many of the questions who, what, when, where, why and how can you answer from reading this extract from the article?
2) Analytical texts
An analytical text will look into a problem, issue, argument or case. If the aim of the report is to convince the reader of a particular point of view, the analytical text is also a persuasive text. We will look at some types of analytical texts below.
Expository genre: Police report
In the attachment (PDF) you can look at an expository report (the police report) that aims to objectively report an event. This is an expository text where the arresting officer’s main aim is to report the incident, the arrest and what sections of the criminal code the arrest was made under. It is neutral and objectively written, the only things of interest are what happened and what led to the arrest. Therefore, the facts are given in chronological order. This is a text written for legal processing, it is descriptive, but the description is given in legal jargon. The text is formal, the noun “intoxication” is used rather than “drunk”. The first full sentence does not have a subject as it is inferred from the name at the top of the report. Only the facts are stated, it is up to others in the legal system to determine the question of guilt and punishment (“apparent fit of rage”, “is alleged to have…”). The report is repetitive as it mentions intoxication four times and describes why intoxication is suspected using quite formal language (“smelled of ingested alcohol”).
Analytical genre: Organization report
In the section above we looked at an expository report (the police report) that aimed to objectively report an event, but most reports for governments, businesses and organisations normally critically analyse a problem, condition or trend. The report may be objective and offer recommendations, but the analysis it presents is generally more detailed than an expository text, looking at the pros and cons of the subject in question, and providing statistics and graphs/charts/tables.
There are two paragraphs from the UN Millennium Development Goals Report 2013 in the PDF attached.The opening paragraph refers to the goal of eliminating extreme poverty while the last paragraph summarises problems in compiling useful data on the subject, thus, typical to this type of report we are given facts and then a recommendation, a call for action or call for more research. Lexical density is high and the language is formal, neutral and objective, but drier than, for example, the text in this textbook as the aim is just to present information and statistics.
2b Feature article
The feature article is an analytical genre in which the author’s purpose is to give the reader an in-depth picture of an issue. The author is often “present” in the text, making it subjective, and the language is generally more informal than in expository genres as the author tries to establish a rapport with the reader.
Go to page 314 and read the opening six paragraphs of a long feature article in the American magazine Newsweek on the gun problem in the USA. Like a news article, this article has statistics and quotations from politicians, citizens and police officers, but unlike the news article it tells narratives as a way of digging deeper into the overall problem and giving the reader the big picture.
The article starts with a narrative, giving the personal story of one young American man. When the journalist writes “they were wild shots”, he makes it sound as if he was there (like an omniscient narrator) when in fact he was not. This style of writing makes the scene come alive for readers.
The journalist is subjectively present in the text (“as we sit in the Bushwick apartment”) and the tone suggests sympathy with Tyquran without being too obviously on his side. The text is more than an analysis of the problem, it seeks to entertain through its narrative structure so the reader will be drawn into Tyquran’s story. To accomplish this, literary devices such as the simile are used (“blood spread across the sidewalk like a Rorschach of urban violence”). This is a comparison of the blood pattern to the ink splotches used in psychological testing, a vivid image that also suggests that these types of killing are madness.
The journalist allows Tyquran to speak in his street vernacular, bad grammar and all ("The cops is doing a bit too much to us"). The quotations from Tyquran allow us to see this young man’s world the way he experiences it. This personal approach makes us more involved and caring. Later, the article offers statistics and facts about gun violence in America that we will associate with Tyquran’s story. Facts and figures are thus brought down to the human level.
The journalist tells us about Tyquran’s dreams, but these are juxtaposed with his day-to-day experiences (“gangs and the guns, the cops and the stops”). The poetic alliteration and rhyming of the plural endings enhances the feeling that Tyquran has an uphill battle to fight to make it in society and also echoes the music typical of his social environment. The journalist ends this segment of his article with Tyquran asking an important question: why are there guns in America? This appeal comes from the “character” in this story of the street and this makes us more interested in looking for answers. This is also an interesting way to introduce the theme of the article as Tyquran is a representative of the group of people who are perhaps most often blamed for street violence in America, yet it is he who is asking the important question.
This is just the start of the article. The author will move on to tell other narratives of the street, he will look at gun laws and police actions aimed at curbing violence on the street. He will also address what can be done about the problem. But it all starts with the personal story of Tyquran and several pages later it will end back in the Bushwick home because this is Tyquran’s story.
2c Analytical essay
One of the typical text types for students in school is the essay. The essay is a method of working that helps you learn to organise your thoughts, ideas, arguments and impressions. It also enables you to prove that you have learned things and that you can apply them in new “settings”.
There are four types of essay: the expository, the persuasive, the argumentative and the analytical essay. In the following we will look more closely at the analytical essay. Why? The purpose of this type of essay is to dig deeper into a limited area of inquiry and present it in an objective way. Below is the opening paragraph from an essay where a student is writing about the political message in Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics:
“We Take Care of Our Own” and “Death to My Hometown” both have a strong political message. They are about the loss of solidarity, the government’s abuse of power and the destruction of jobs and towns across the country. Bruce Springsteen is critical of his government and his country. He is looking for the solidarity and human spirit that he believes once were the main principles of the US. But now he sees an inadequate health care system that discriminates against the poor, gun laws that need to be changed and vulture venture capitalists eager to get rich on the shattered dreams of ordinary Americans. His lyrics speak for the average citizen and the challenges they face and the disappointment they have. Indeed, this, Springsteen’s most powerful album for years, is a genuine call to action to restore America to its former greatness. Springsteen is appealing to the American heart so that out of the despair he describes we can find hope.
Typical to this type of essay is the fact that it is written in an objective tone, it is not written in a first-person voice. The language is formal, there are no contractions and the sentence structure is varied. While the objective tone is important in such an essay, the writer also offers a personal response to the lyrics (note the use of “vulture”) so it is not quite like the textbook text we read above. But when the personal response is presented in a neutral voice, the analysis has more authority. In this respect, it reads much like a review (see below). As the student develops this essay, she will dig deeper into the lyrics, quoting directly from them and analysing how Springsteen uses rhyme, similes and metaphors to help get his points across.
One genre that analyses and also to some degree tries to be persuasive is the review (of a book, film, literary text, television show etc.). The critic analyses the work and tries to persuade us that it is either a good or bad work of art. The example attached (PDF) is a film review of the movie “The Help”. On page 398, you will find an extract from the novel the film is based on.
As is typical of the review, the critic immediately stakes out his territory, stating in the opening sentence that he likes the film even though he has some issues with it. One of these issues is that it is an “airbrushed fairytale”. The adjective “airbrushed” suggests covering over mistakes and taking away the rough edges. This adjective and the noun “fairytale” are both very expressive words in this context, telling us that we should not expect too realistic a film about race relations in 1960s America. But in spite of this the critic calls the film “rousingly effective”, the adverb suggests that the audience will find the film emotionally fulfilling. Already in the first sentence we see the important role adjectives and adverbs play in the review.
The critic then proceeds to look at the negative aspects of the film first, as if to clear them away before moving on to his praise of the film. On the negative side he says the story is told in “bright cartoonish strokes” again implying that the film is not that close to reality. Furthermore, the white “do-gooder” is “conveniently” allowed to carry on with no repercussions. By using the adverb “conveniently” the critic suggests that the premise of the story (a white woman writing the story of black maids at a time when black maids did not have a voice in white dominated society) is questionable. Then the critic returns to the airbrushing metaphor and adds some “Dettol” into the mix. This is a reference to a disinfectant, again suggesting that the story has been sanitized so we will not be seeing the true extent of racism in American in the early 1960s. The noun “do-gooder” is meant in a derogatory sense as the definition of the word is “naive idealist”.
The text has a high lexical density with words like “caveats” and references to socio-political terms like “Jim Crow”. The critic also makes cultural references, for example the reference to “Stepford-style racists”.
When the critic turns to what he likes about the film he uses positive language: “polished handsome yarn”, “boasts”, “bold”. The critic winds up his review by again calling into question whether the premise for the movie is realistic but ends by suggesting that if we willingly suspend our disbelief, the film “should slip down as smoothly as honeyed yams”, suggesting something sweet and easy to take.
Work in groups of three and four and decide what genre each of the texts below belongs to. Discuss in groups and give reasons for your decisions.
a) The puffin is a small bird, predominantly black but also white plumage and a large beak. The beak takes on a bright colour during breeding season. The bird feeds on fish which it captures by diving into the water. The puffin breeds in colonies, nesting, for example, in rock crevices.
b) “Mad Max” Gudmundsson is an environmental activist and Icelandic researcher named after a Mel Gibson character. His rugged wind-blown features speak of his years working in the cold north. Lately he has been charting the puffin population on the small remote islands in the ice-cold sea around Iceland. Climbing the dangerous and slippery rocky cliffs and observing the nests first-hand, this brave outdoors man estimates the size of the bird population and sends data back to researchers in Reykjavik.
These are hard times for the puffin population. Global warming is ruining their favourite habitats and Icelanders hunt this bird that is served as a delicacy in this small nation’s best restaurants. I am sailing with this blond-haired hero of the Icelandic environmentalists to see this bird up close and to examine the effects of global warming in the arctic regions.
c) Reports from Iceland are voicing concern over the decline in the Puffin population. A recent count of nesting birds showed that their numbers are dramatically declining and are at the lowest levels ever. Puffins are a delicacy on the island. “It’s a shame if we are going to lose one of our natural dishes because we failed to look after the birds and their habitats better,” says Master Chef Ragnar Thorgirsson.
d) In “The Puffin Brigade”, an animated film from Johnstone studios, we see yet another example of animals given human voices and acting in particularly human ways á la Disney and Pixar. I am left to ask, will we never tire of such overdone and overused clichés? Hollywood stars may have lent their voices to the project, there may be some good one-liners, but really puffins saving the world? Would that the little critters could just be shown as birds trying to get by in a cruel world. But no - we have to see them act, and sound, like Eddie Murphy, Iggy Pop, Rowan Atkinson, Kate Beckingsale and Madonna.
Determine the genre of each of the texts below. Write one or two paragraphs for each text in which you examine its features. Use examples from the texts.
a) SAS profits bounced back in July as the return of bonus points and substantial discounts helped to win back customers who had been shaken by the liquidation proceedings earlier in the year, hence things are looking up for this major carrier.
b) Every year the President must submit a bill for a federal budget to Congress. Congress almost never passes it as it is. Both the House and the Senate make changes – increasing some parts and cutting down others. If the President cannot get a majority in Congress for his version, he may then accept a compromise. On the other hand, he can refuse to sign the bill – that is, he can veto it – and send it back to Congress. This is his way of checking the power of Congress. Both sides must then find a compromise. Neither can dictate what they want to the other. This keeps a balance of power between them.
c) Albert Einstein claimed he never thought about the future. “It comes soon enough,” he would say. And you can see his point. What would have been the good of worrying about our destiny when it was not of our making?
But life has changed since the great physicist’s day. Sweeping changes of our own creation now beset our world: carbon emissions, soaring populations, cloning, rising extinction rates.
We are changing our planet and its biosphere in ways that were once unimaginable. We are also developing lifesaving technologies that would have appeared equally incredible a few decades ago. Everywhere we witness change. But what will this bring and how will it affect our world?
d) Canadian police arrested two men on Thursday in the case of a teenage girl who died after a suicide attempt that followed months of cyber bullying, including lewd photos of an alleged sexual assault that were posted online.
e) The April, 2013, death of Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old from Halifax, Nova Scotia, focused international attention on the issue of bullying in the internet era. Who was this girl? What feelings are her parents left with? Who bullied her?
On a quiet Halifax street on an early spring day it is hard for this reporter to fathom the terrible tragedy that has struck at the very heart of this peaceful Canadian community. What has motivated the bullies? What terrible circumstances led to this drastic outcome?
It all started at school one day with Rehtaeh happily joining her friends in a game of volleyball in the school gym.
f) Cyberbullying is the electronic posting of mean-spirited messages about a person (such as a student) often done anonymously. More than a million young people are subjected to 'extreme cyberbullying' every day, according to the largest ever survey into online abuse. The report found young people are twice as likely to be bullied on Facebook than any other social network.
Experts say cyberbullying can have a 'catastrophic' impact on self-esteem and have called for parents and regulators to recognise the seriousness of the issue.
Read the extract below from a National Geographic feature attached (PDF).
a) Discuss in groups of three or four. What characteristics of the feature article does this text have?
b) Discuss whether the text makes you want to read further.
a) Use some or all of the information provided below to make three brief texts in the following genres:
- Factual text
- News article
- Feature article
b) After you have written each text, write an accompanying paragraph for each text in which you describe what characteristics you have tried to include in each text.
- In April a flock of migrating ducks landed on a tar sands toxic lake (called tailings) and died.
- Canada could reduce climate pollution over the next decade but not if it expands the tar sands industry.
- The tar sand tailings lakes in northern Alberta cover 50 square kilometres.
- The tar sand tailings lakes can be seen from space.
- Producing a barrel of oil from oil sands produces three times more greenhouse gas emissions than a barrel of conventional oil.
- Definition of tar sands: Deposit of loose sand that is saturated with highly viscous bitumen.
- Statoil involved in Alberta oil sands project
- Considered one of the largest oil resources in the world.
Brainstorm in class to arrive at a list of interesting events currently in the news.
a) Choose one of the events and search the net to find a news article about it. Analyse the article you have found and present your analysis in class or in groups.
b) Work in groups of four. Extend your search to see if you can find texts in other genres about the same theme. Present your analysis of the text you chose in class.