LINGUIST List 19.3079|
Fri Oct 10 2008
Review: Applied Linguistics: Bruce (2008)
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Academic Writing and Genre
Message 1: Academic Writing and Genre
From: Marina Santini <MarinaSantini.MSgmail.com>
Subject: Academic Writing and Genre
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AUTHOR: Bruce, Ian
TITLE: Academic Writing and Genre
SUBTITLE: A Systematic Analysis
PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd.
Marina Santini, Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute
(HATII), University of Glasgow (UK).
This is a monograph consisting of 7 chapters and 5 appendices. It focuses on
genre-based approaches to the teaching of academic writing. The book reviews
pedagogical approaches to genre and presents a comprehensive synthesis of the
current research in the field. After a thorough review, which includes also
reflections on the nature of human categorization, the author, Ian Bruce,
proposes an innovative model to teach academic writing through a two-layer
genre-based approach, and discusses the ways in which such a model can be
implemented in an academic curriculum for undergraduates and post-graduates, and
native and non-speakers. The book is informative, clearly written and well
organized. It is a significant contribution to the genre discussion in general,
and to the teaching of academic writing in particular. Since it helps unveil the
dynamics underlying the acquisition of genre competence, this book is a
recommended reading to all those working in areas where genre classification has
a bearing – from pedagogy to genre analysis, applied linguistics, corpus
linguistics, computational linguistics, information studies, context-based
information retrieval etc.
Chapter 1 (''The teaching of academic writing'') is the solid and compact corner
stone of the whole book. It starts by stressing the importance of learning and
teaching English as an additional language (EAL) in the current days. The author
argues that genre-based courses enable second language learners and novice
writers to integrate their linguistic, organizational and contextual knowledge
in a variety of different tasks, especially in a university environment.
Realistically, the author emphasizes: ''there is still a considerable diversity
of views about how genre should be defined'' (p. 7). For this reason, he
observes, there is a wide diversity of types of knowledge that constitute
genres: this is not just a terminological problem, but '' It is also a problem
that arises out of fundamental disagreement about the very nature of the object
of enquiry, what it is that is being investigated and classified'' (p. 7-8). The
author provides two useful signposts for orientation: (1) a table (Table 1.1)
where the designations proposed by the different authors are listed (strangely,
Longacre's typology (Longacre, 1976, 1983) is missing), and (2) two ''benchmark
terms''. The two terms are ''social genres'' and ''cognitive genres''. Social genres
refer to ''socially recognized constructs according to which whole texts are
classified in terms of their overall social purpose'' (p. 8), for instance
personal letters, novels and academic articles. Cognitive genres (also 'text
types' by some authors) refer to classification terms like narrative,
expository, descriptive, argumentative or instructional, and represent
rhetorical purposes. The author anticipates that cognitive genres and social
genres are characterized by different kind of features (listed in Chapter 6).
Chapter 2 (''From social genre towards pedagogy'') presents and discusses two
influential approaches to social genre: one put forward by the Systemic
Functional School and one developed within English for Specific Purposes (ESP).
The chapter is clear and organized with a regular structure, i.e. a presentation
of the approaches, followed by a discussion and comparison. The discussion shows
that both approaches tend to focus on the conventionally recognized staging of
content, which is related to the actual linguistic features of exemplar texts.
However, the author is not entirely convinced by these approaches because
findings from empirical studies (Biber 1988, 1989 and Paltridge 1993, 1997)
disconfirm this view (p. 36). This chapter helps identify the core ideas of the
two approaches by outlining their contributions and limitations. This
contrastive analysis leads the author to motivate and support his own stance. In
particular, the final discussion (p. 34-37) reinforces and strengthens the
author's view on genre (i.e. the differentiation between cognitive genre and
social genre) introduced at the end of the previous chapter by setting the three
necessary elements that characterize genre constructs. These three elements are:
1) social motivation and socially constructed elements of genre; 2) cognitive
conventionalized structures; 3) the actual linguistic realizations of the
discourse. Since the author sees discourse creation as a process of
representation, he proposes a theory of genres in terms of discourse categories.
His theory takes into account the types of social, linguistic and cognitive
knowledge that are involved in the representation process, arguing that these
elements are very important to understand, operationalize and learn genres.
Chapter 3 (''Constraints on a cognitive genre construct'') starts by re-affirming
the author's doubts with respect to the deterministic relation between social
genres and their linguistic realization put forward by the systemic and ESP
approaches. He realizes that, although this deterministic link has been
questioned by corpus studies and genre analyses, there has been no ''attempt to
acknowledge the additional existence of more general cognitive discourse
structures that might in some way mediate between socially constructed,
conscious patterns of textual organization and the linguistic systems that they
employ'' (p. 29). In this chapter, the author reviews theories relating to the
categorization and organization of knowledge through the notion of prototype,
hierarchy, schema, scripts and goals, scenarios, frames, mental spaces, and
image schemata. The reviewed theories help 1) establish the cognitive basis for
the categorization and organization of knowledge; 2) assess the role of
prototypes in making category judgments; 3) define the approaches to types and
levels of categories; 4) point out issues of complex categorization within
discourse; and 5) define the implications for discourse categorization. The
author concludes by saying that ''the organization of the language output is not
a homogeneous activity to which a single type of categorization can be applied.
Any representation of knowledge in coherent discourse involves intermeshing
systems of categorization.'' (p. 77).
Chapter 4 (''Operationalizing cognitive genres in academic writing'') contains the
operationalization of cognitive genre knowledge. This chapter is divided into
three sections. The first section underpins the need to acknowledge the
operationalization of cognitive genres with extended written discourse. The
second section presents a review of taxonomy of cognitive genres. In the third
section, a model for describing cognitive genres is presented. The author
proposes a joint model that combines linguistic, cognitive and social knowledge
within a framework for rhetorical organization. Since the previous chapter
showed that human categorization is carried out on a cognitive basis, the author
argues that ''there can be no valid reasons for attempting to separate linguistic
and non-linguistic categorizing knowledge in relation to rhetorical structuring''
(p. 83). The model suggested draws on three areas of knowledge (each of which
employs prototypes as a basis for categorization), namely 1) social genres, 2)
cognitive genres, and 3) linguistic system. However, in the model presented in
this chapter, social genres are temporarily disregarded. The focus of this
version of the model is on cognitive genre structures, which may be used to
organize the realization in language of texts. The description of the model is
followed by two empirical studies that show that the model has a basis in the
real world. The model proposed and the studies reported focus on four cognitive
genres that occur in English academic prose: report, explanation, discussion and
recount. They are based on the four pedagogic text types (Quinn, 1993) and the
four corpus-based text types (Biber 1989). Bruce's empirical studies show that
the knowledge and ability to use cognitive genres relate to the level of
discourse proficiency of writers.
Chapter 5 (''Relating cognitive genres to the teaching and learning of writing'')
contains a detailed account of how the proposed cognitive genre model should be
related to language teaching and learning, and in particular to the development
of discourse competence in academic writing. The chapter is divided into four
main parts: 1) language learning theory, 2) curriculum design for English for
Academic Purposes (EAP) courses, 3) integration of the cognitive genre model
into the syllabus, and finally 4) an outline of a possible syllabus unit based
on a cognitive genre. In the first part, the cognitive genre construct is
discussed in relation to the dual processing theory of language learning and
language use. It appears that if the learning of structured material is
beneficial, then the cognitive genre model can provide the basis for a discourse
framework to be employed in pedagogic contexts. The second part discusses some
principles regulating the design of general EAP writing courses, such as the
pre-university or foundation level. The third part discusses a top-down approach
to syllabus design involving types of knowledge relating to four processes,
namely a) rhetorical purpose, b) gestalt structuring, c) discourse patterns, and
d) interpropositional relations. The proposal for a general EAP writing syllabus
is summarized in Table 5.1. The last part provides the outline of a possible
syllabus unit based on ''report'' cognitive genre with a summary of the aims and
content of a sample syllabus unit (Table 5.2). The writing syllabus, based on
the cognitive genre model, that comes out from this discussion is: top-down, not
discipline specific, and focuses on the realizations of common types of
rhetorical purposes and related organizational structures.
Chapter 6 (''The scope of social genre knowledge'') has two main aims: 1) the
discussion of knowledge used in the construction of social genres, and 2) the
inspection of the social genre/cognitive genre relationship, particularly in
terms of its application to the teaching of academic writing. The framework of
social genre knowledge is based on: a) context, b) epistemology, c) writer
stance, d) schematic structure, and e) use of cognitive genres. One important
conclusion presented in this chapter stresses the different levels of linguistic
realization activated for cognitive genres and social genres: ''Social genre
influences are exerted in relation to context specific choices, such as the use
of the specialized technical vocabulary (related to a particular field) and the
choices of metatextual language relating to the area of writer stance,
addressivity and audience. Furthermore, in terms of discourse organization,
social genre knowledge relates to the conventionalized structuring of certain
genres, such as Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion sections of the
research article. On the other hand, the use of cognitive genres relates to an
aim to represent a certain type of knowledge (usually within one section or
sub-section of a larger text) and influences linguistic choice in terms of the
signaling of local discourse organization and lower-level, more specific aspect
of coherence and cohesion'' (p. 144). Once the distinction between these two
levels is clear and acknowledged, the designer of an academic course should
select the genre construct s/he wants to focus on (social genre or cognitive
genre), and the type of knowledge to be included in the course and how it should
be arranged. Helpful examples are provided and discussed on pp. 144-150, with
''enquiry questions'' that can assist novice writers in analyzing the discourse of
their specific subject areas.
Chapter 7 (''Teaching genre knowledge in an advanced writing course'') illustrates
the inter-relationship between social and cognitive genre constructs in a
postgraduate writing course. This course was taught by the author himself and
was addressed to ''students engaged in research and dissertation writing research
in a variety of disciplines, and who are non-native speakers of English'' (p.
151). The course comprises 12 unit topics and is mostly organized in terms of
Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion (IMRD) structure. The author argues
that IMRD provides a general prototype or baseline against which ''disciplinary
differences and preferences in research reporting can be identified and
analysed'' (p. 151) because developing an understanding of the characteristics of
research reporting in one's own particular discipline can be empowered by the
awareness of the differences that can occur across disciplines. In the chapter,
the 6th unit of the course – ''Reporting Research: Results'' – is examined in
detail. Table 7.2 shows the syllabus of this unit, which is divided into two
aims. In relation to the first aim (i.e. social genre), the ''enquiry questions''
exemplified in the previous chapter are answered here with respect to the
Results section. In relation to the second aim (i.e. cognitive genre), a small
study is presented (using Wordsmith) that provides the basis for the selection
of the cognitive genre focus in the Results section course unit. Finally, the
pedagogic focus of the 6th unit is outlined. The book wraps up by re-stating the
motivations for a more comprehensive and exhaustive genre model where textual
competence, generic competence and social competence are all woven together in a
unifying view of discourse competence, since genres are discourse categories.
The book is a valuable resource for two main reasons: 1) it presents a thorough
discussion on genre, and 2) proposes a genre-based model for the teaching of
academic writing that assist novice writers in developing their own capacity to
deconstruct, analyze and reconstruct both cognitive genres and social genres.
* Discussion on genre
This monograph provides an in-depth insight into the relation between two
different genre constructs, rhetorical genres and socially defined and
stipulated text types. It provides some orientation in the maze of different
genre terminologies and conceptualizations through the two benchmark terms of
cognitive genres and social genres. These two terms are underpinned by
theoretical motivations, empirical evidence and a methodological framework, and
can, hopefully, become steady reference points in the current genre discussion.
In their simplicity, these two benchmark terms – unified by the noun head
(''genres'') and differentiated by the attributive adjectives (''cognitive'' and
''social'') – have the potential for streamlining and clarifying different
typology of genre classes.
Although the close relationship and interaction between cognitive genres and
social genres has already been pointed out by previous authors, and in
particular by Werlich (1976) (text types vs. text forms), in this book the
author provides convincing evidence of why it is useful to unveil and exploit
this interaction. From a linguistic and textual point of view, one benefit is
the distinction of the different types of linguistic material that can help
identify cognitive and social genres (''both social and cognitive genres
influence the writer's choice of language, but influence this choice in
different areas'' p. 144). On the one hand, social genres are characterized by
context specific choices, such as the use of the specialized technical
vocabulary, writer stance and conventionalized content structuring. On the other
hand, cognitive genres are molded by more specific aspects of coherence and
cohesion (p. 144). Therefore, there are linguistic and textual cues that – when
used together – allow us to determine or characterize social genres more
satisfactorily. Cognitive genres can be seen as a kind of high-level textual
features that help identify the rhetorical aims embedded in social genres. The
identification of these aims is fundamental to operationalize genre knowledge.
Importantly, this approach not only complements the systemic and ESP approach to
genre, but also overcomes the Biberian dichotomy between external features and
internal features, so that the social aspect and the rhetorical aspect of genres
both share a linguistic ground.
Rhetorical structures (i.e. cognitive genres) are undoubtedly important and much
more universal and long-lasting than the social genres themselves, which are
historical objects, linked to time and cultural evolution, and they provide more
sophisticated and elaborated linguistic and textual material that can used to
deconstruct and reconstruct social genres in the process of learning. In this
respect, it would be interesting to have more empirical data (in the future)
coming from experiments similar to Study 2 in Chapter 4 with respect to
''cognitive genre dominance'' within social genres. Werlich (1976) puts forward
this idea of rhetorical dominance noting that, for example, leading articles or
reviews are predominantly argumentative (Werlich, 1976: 46) although they might
contain other cognitive genres. One extreme case is presented by the author
himself on page 9, where he mentions that instruction manuals are associated to
a single cognitive genre. The different combination or proportions of cognitive
genres within individual social genres could be an additional useful element for
the analysis and differentiation/identification of genre constructs.
Chapter 3 explains well the need of the intermediate layer of cognitive genres
for the understanding of social genres. But I have a remark on the word
''constraints''. Although Chapter 3, with its comprehensive review of ''theories
and constructs proposed for the categorizations and structuring of knowledge''
(p. 39) is indispensable for understanding why cognitive genres are useful as
mediating structures between linguistic system and social genre, it not clear
what kind of ''constraints'' are needed. The word ''constraints'' appears in the
title, and on the first page of the chapter (p. 39), but then disappears, and it
is not explained why we need ''constraints'' on cognitive genres, nor the kind of
constraints that should be applied. The final discussion (Section 3.5 p. 73)
does not refers back to need of constraints, but summarizes and discuss the
implications of categorization theories for discourse creation and
categorization. Whatever the author had in mind with the word ''constrains'',
Chapter 3 and especially Section 3.5 are an invaluable aid to better understand
the nature of human categorization and how any ''coherent discourse involves
intermeshing systems of categorization'' (p. 77).
One interesting fact is the importance given by the author to empirical data.
The author's dissatisfaction with the systemic and ESP approaches is triggered
by findings from the empirical study conducted by Biber (1988, 1989) and genre
analyses by Paltridge (1993, 1997) (p. 36). Biber's text types for academic
genres are then taken as benchmark for the new model (p. 106). Biber's text
types are found to be equivalent to Quinn's text types (see Table 4.2 and p.
94). Interestingly, the author borrows labels from Quinn (namely, Report,
Explanation, Discussion and Recount) and not from Biber. On the one hand, this
confirms the validity of Biber's statistical approach to reveal useful
groupings, but, on the other hand, this also shows that Biber's labeling could
be somewhat streamlined (e.g. cf. Table 4.2: Involved Persuasion vs. Discussion
or Learned Scientific Exposition vs. Explanation). Strangely, the author never
mentions Biber's terminological shift from ''genre'' to ''register''.
* The model
The main aim of the genre-based model for the teaching of academic writing is to
help students to develop the ability to deconstruct, understand and reconstruct
genre constructs. The model is refined throughout the book with the aid of
empirical studies and pedagogical considerations. In Chapter 4, a model for
cognitive genres is first presented (Table 4.3) and subsequently enriched by the
findings of two empirical studies. In Chapter 5 this cognitive genre model is
related to a syllabus design (Table 5.1). The outline of a possible syllabus
unit is exemplified by the ''report'' cognitive genre (Table 5.2) and a very
useful analysis of sample text (Table 5.3) using the model is then thoroughly
discussed. In Chapter 6, the framework for analyzing social genes is outlined
(Table 6.2), and fully integrated with cognitive genres. A clear representation
of this two-layer genre model is shown in Table 7.2, where one unit of the
syllabus taught by the author (namely Unit 6: Reporting Results) is used to
exemplify how social genre and cognitive genre interact and what kinds of
activities are expected from students.
This model allows teachers and course designers to decide which genre construct
they can focus on (cognitive genres or social genres, or both), according to the
academic level of the students (undergraduate or postgraduate) and other
considerations, such as competence in the language. The chapters describing the
model contain plentiful details and examples, and methodological suggestions.
This model appears to be not only profitable for developing the discursive
competence of novice writers, but also easily applicable by novice and expert
writing teachers. Additionally, the analyses of the genres (similar to those
shown in Table 5.3 or Appendix 4) produced by students and teachers during the
courses could be collected in electronic corpora (with suitable annotation) and
used as a basis for further research in many linguistic and cognitive
disciplines, e.g. corpus linguistics, second language acquisition,
categorization, or discourse analysis.
* Future work?
My personal curiosity concerns the applicability of the proposed theoretical
framework and model to genres belonging to other domains (for example, to the
genres used in administration or within a company), and to computer-mediated
In particular, I wonder whether this model could turn out to be useful in
providing more insight into web genres. Web genres are instantiated in pdf
files, individual web pages, complete websites and large networks. All these can
be considered web documents. With these diversified units of analysis it seems
that defining social genres as referring to the ''whole text'' can be too
prescriptive. On the web many documents appear to be a combination of many
social purposes. It is not uncommon that a single web page contains an academic
article, an ad for a newly published book, navigational links, copyright
statement, input fields for log in, etc. Does such a web page belong to a single
social genre (which one?) or to many? The situation is even more complex if one
works with larger units of analysis, like websites or wikis. In brief, how can
the theoretical framework proposed by the author be adjusted to genres that are
not so predictable and stabilized as paper academic genres?
I also wonder whether the genre-based model could be applied to the teaching of
web document writing. Currently, there are manuals teaching how to organize
websites at different levels (structural, linguistic, typographic, etc.). Could
this genre model help in this respect?
Biber D. (1988). _Variation across speech and writing_. Cambridge: Cambridge
Biber D. (1989). A typology of English texts. _Linguistics_, Vol. 27, pp. 3-43.
Longacre R. (1976). _An anatomy of speech notions_. Lisse: Peter de Ridder Press.
Longacre R. (1983). _The grammar of discourse_. New York-London: Plenum Press.
Paltridge B. (1993). _A challenge to the current concept of genre: writing up
research_. Unpublished thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.
Paltridge B. (1997). _Genre, Frames, and Writing in Research Settings_.
Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Quinn J. (1993). A taxonomy of text types for use in curriculum
design. _EA Journal_, 11, 2, 33-46.
Werlich E. (1976). _A Text Grammar of English_. Heidelberg: Quelle & Meyer.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Marina Santini is a computational linguist and Honorary Research Fellow in the
Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute (HATII), University of
Glasgow (UK). She is interested in genres and other discourse categories, as
well as in web documents, corpus building, feature extraction and classification
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