LINGUIST List 24.67

Tue Jan 08 2013

Review: Applied Linguistics: Bruce (2010)

Editor for this issue: Anja Wanner <>

Date: 04-Jan-2013
From: Ursula McGowan <>
Subject: Academic Writing and Genre
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Book announced at

Author: Ian BruceTitle: Academic Writing and GenreSubtitle: A Systematic AnalysisPublisher: Bloomsbury Linguistics (formerly Continuum Linguistics)Year: 2010

Reviewer: Ursula McGowan, University of Adelaide

AUTHOR: Ian BruceTITLE: Academic Writing and GenreSUB-TITLE: A Systematic AnalysisPUBLISHER: ContinuumYEAR: 2010 (Reprint of 2008 edition.)

Ursula McGowan, School of Education, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide,South Australia


This monograph is a paperback reprint of the original 2008 edition. A reviewthat appeared in LINGUIST during that year (Santini 2008) provides a detaileddescription and critical review of each of the chapters in turn( The content of the reprintappears to be substantially unchanged and is therefore introduced andsummarised here just briefly while an overall evaluative comment is providedin the final section of this review, with a personal perspective on the likelyeffectiveness of the overall purpose and aims of this book.

In “Academic Writing and Genre,” the author, Ian Bruce, presents a review ofexisting approaches to teaching academic writing genres, with a focus on twomain strands of genre pedagogy: Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) andEnglish for Academic Purposes (EAP). After establishing that there is“considerable diversity of views of how genre should be defined” (p. 7), anddeclaring that this disagreement is more than a matter of terminology, but of“fundamental disagreement about the very nature of the object of enquiry”, heconstructs his own two-fold categorisation of genres as a means ofclarification and “as benchmarks” for his book. The labels given thesecategories are “cognitive” and “social” genre. Under cognitive genres aregrouped those which have a single rhetorical purpose, such as recount,argument, explanation; while applications of these for specific socialpurposes (letters, novels or academic articles, for example) are categorisedas “social genres.” This distinction is explained and justified in thefollowing terms:

“The term cognitive genre is used here to refer to the overall cognitiveorientation of a piece of writing in terms of its realization of a particularrhetorical purpose, something that is reflected in the way in whichinformation is internally organised and related. Different types of rhetoricalpurpose (such as: to recount sequenced events, to explain the process, toargue a point of view) instantiate different cognitive genres” (p. 8). Incontrast, the category of “social genre” is characterised by the fact thatthese “may draw upon a range of different cognitive genres in relation to thedifferent rhetorical purposes that may characterize different sections of theoverall message, for example presenting an argument or providing anexplanation” (pp. 8-9).

The purpose for the author’s focus on genre is clear at the outset: anincreasing need for effective methods of teaching of English as an AdditionalLanguage (EAL) to higher education students studying at English mediumuniversities, at a time of increasing use of English as an internationallanguage.

The description and sampling of a postgraduate level writing course taught bythe writer, to illustrate the interrelationship “between social and cognitivegenre constructs in the context of one unit”, is located in chapter 7. Thischapter is preceded by six chapters providing a wide-ranging discussion ofconcepts and terminologies of genre pedagogy and related aspects of academicliteracy development. While this is a potentially over-ambitious and possiblyconfusing field, the author provides ample projection of the structure of theentire volume to guide the reader, at the outset and progressively within eachchapter.

Chapter 1: ''The teaching of academic writing'' establishes the need forcourses, materials and continuing research, to further the effective learningof English as an Additional Language (EAL) in response to a currently''increasing phenomenon of English as an international language'' (p. 1). Theauthor gives a brief overview of the concept of discourse competence as ''akey element in of an individual's overall academic writing'' and of ''genrebased'' approaches as a means for learners to achieve such competence. In thischapter two fundamental questions are posed that “need to be addressed bysyllabus and course designers, materials writers and teachers” (p. 9). Thesequestions are: ''What are the genres that occur in academic discourse thatneed to be taught?'' addressed in chapters 2, 3, 4 and 6); and ''How do weteach them?'' (addressed in chapters 5 and 7). Chapter 1 concludes by raisingthe much debated question of whether genre based pedagogy for EAL studentsshould be ''critical'' or ''accommodationist''. The author takes the view that''effective writing pedagogy'' should be both: ''accommodationist'', in thesense of the learner being able to understand and apply the structures andlanguage choices that are prototypical for various established genres inacademic writing; and ''critical'', but only in the sense of the learner beingable to present a personal perspective, that is, ''exercise an authorialvoice'' (p. 10).

Chapter 2: ''From social genre towards pedagogy'' relates genre to languagelearning and presents the author's summary view of Systemic FunctionalLinguistics and English for Specific Purposes, as the two major streamsinfluencing his coinage of ''social genre''. For further evaluative commentson this chapter see below.

Chapter 3: ''Constraints on a cognitive genre construct'' begins by reviewinga wide range of concepts and theories, from key concepts of ''prototype'' and''hierarchy'' as fundamental to cognitive approaches to categorisation; to arange of other schematic constructs: ''scripts,'' plans,'' ''goals,''''frames,'' and ''scenarios;'' and a range of theories on ''proceduralknowledge''. The author concludes that ''in the variety of possible approachesto discourse categorization that have implications for creating discourse, theorganization of language output is not a homogeneous activity to which asingle type of categorization can be applied'' (p. 77). The ''intermeshingsystems of categorization'' involved are summarised as 1. conceptual content;2. type of language (spoken or written); 3 procedural knowledge; and 4. thelanguage itself.

Chapter 4: ''Operationalizing cognitive genres in academic writing'' presentsa sample of empirical evidence to support the author's decision of focussingon cognitive genres in the academic literacy course sampled in chapter 7. Twostudies on the use of cognitive genres in texts are presented. The first is acorpus investigation of the use of each of four cognitive genres (Report,Explanation, Discussion and Recount) identified in published academic texts;and the second, an investigation of the the extent to which the featuresidentified were also used by three groups of writers: teachers; students whoare native speakers of English; and students who are non-native speakers ofEnglish. The author's tentative finding is, unsurprisingly, that''experienced writers'' (teachers in this study) produced writings that moreclosely resembled the usage identified as ''prototypical'' in his corpusinvestigation than those texts produced by inexperienced writers (students);and that in a comparison of native and non-native English-speaking backgroundstudents, the ''inexperienced native speaker writers produced moreprototypical responses than inexperienced non-native speaker writers'' (p.107).

Chapter 5: ''Relating cognitive genres to the teaching and learning ofwriting'' is in large part a reprint of a 2005 article by the author, asacknowledged in a footnote (p. 109). In it the author discusses principles ofcurriculum design for EAP (English for Academic Purposes) courses. He makes acase for ''procedural knowledge'' being taught in a way that can bere-applied to constructing discourses for a variety of social purposes, anddevelops a ''common core'' curriculum design based on the learning ofcognitive genres. The four-part structure of the chapter covers learningtheory, curriculum design and the place of cognitive genres in syllabusdesign, and outlines a ''general EAP syllabus unit based on the reportcognitive genre''. Table 5.1: ''Proposal for a general EAP writing course''provides for 10 units that deal with the cognitive genres of Recount, Report,Explanation and Discussion. Table 5.2: ''Sample general EAP syllabus unit''provides the aims and detailed learning outcomes against five categories:''Overall'', ''Schematic'', ''Discoursal'', ''Interpropositional Relations''and ''Lexical''. It needs to be said in passing, that while the authorreferences this table to his earlier article as ''Bruce 2005'', this item doesnot appear in the book's reference list and can only be found in the p.107footnote.

Chapter 6: ''The scope of social genre knowledge'' is constructed in twoparts, firstly to examine ''the kinds of knowledge used in the construction ofsocial genres'', and secondly to consider the relationship between social andcognitive genres ''particularly in terms of the application in the learningand teaching of academic writing''. In introducing this chapter the authordraws on his summaries of ''theories and research relating to a number ofaspects of discoursal knowledge'', as detailed in chapters 2 and 3, andconcludes that the knowledge required for ''a grounded understanding of thenature and operation of a social genre'' includes the following fivedimensions: ''context'', ''epistemology'', ''stance'', ''content schemata''and ''cognitive genres''. In this chapter, as in chapter 2, the authorexhibits a mystifying omission, or misreading, of the approaches in systemicfunctional linguistics (SFL) where he states, ''the lexico-grammaticalcharacteristics tend to be regarded as genre-defining'' (p. 130). By this hefails to acknowledge the centrality of ''context''or the concepts of''field'', ''tenor'' and ''mode'' (Halliday & Hasan 1985, Halliday 1994,Eggins 1994) that are basic to SFL, and which would map easily across all fivedimensions of knowledge distilled in this chapter. In introducing the secondpart of the chapter, the question is posed on the level of consciousness atwhich genre knowledge is acquired in relation to each of the two genrecategories. The author makes the point that cognitive genre (procedural)knowledge is acquired by native speakers through long-time interaction withexamples of the genre, so that they will employ it ''almost in an automaticway'' in their own production, but that social genre knowledge tends to bemore consciously developed as part of a writer's induction into the genresand conventions of a specific professional, occupational or academic field''(p.143). This point underscores the need for specific induction for EALlearners into genre analysis to accelerate their literacy development (seealso McGowan 2005 p.54). The chapter concludes with the staging of an EAPsyllabus unit, based on the 1992 approach by Hammond, Burns, Joyce Bosnan andGerot for a learning cycle that begins with ''a small sample of authentictexts as a basis for examining the social and cognitive elements of thegenre''; and an analytical marking guide (Table 6.3) that provides fortransparent criteria and feedback for the learner.

Chapter 7: ''Teaching genre knowledge in an advance writing course''demonstrates the author's application of the development of genre knowledge inan advanced level tertiary writing course for non-native speakers of English..This details one unit, the Results section of the course which follows theIMRD (Introduction, Method, Results, Discussion) structure, as an example of aresearch reporting genre, in order to provide a general prototype or baselineagainst which the disciplinary differences and references in researchreporting can be identified and analysed'' (p 151). By choosing the Resultsunit the author was able to draw on the Report cognitive genre demonstrated inchapter 5, to illustrate his construct of the ''integration of cognitive andsocial genre knowledge'' (p. 152). His method of examining examples of bothsocial genre and cognitive genre constitute a ''dual focus'' which the authorbases on the principle (referring to Johns 1997) ''that genre knowledge,rather than being prescriptive by offering formulaic patterns or ready madeknowledge to novice writers, should involve providing tools to investigate thegenres of their particular field.'' This leads to a statement of the centralaim of the approach, that is ''to encourage novice writers to become discourseanalysts as they uncover the attitudes, expectations, conventions and textualpatterns that relate to writing within their particular discipline'' (p. 152).The chapter, as indeed the book, ends on a high note: that while ''teachersthemselves cannot … deliver the necessary knowledge and skills that comprise adiscursive competence as pre-digested, readily absorbed modules that arespecific to each discipline […] what the teachers can do is to assist theirstudents to develop their own capacity'' (pp. 168-9), that is to develop theability ''to deconstruct, understand and reconstruct discourses in ways thatare linguistically correct and socially appropriate, but also in whichwriters as individuals are able to achieve their own communicative purposesthrough their own authorial voices'' and concludes: ''Thus it is the aim ofthe teacher of academic writing to assist novice writers to achieve thisultimate measure of success, which is the exercise of their own authorialvoice within the disciplinary community to which they are bidding for entry''(p. 169).


The overall purpose of the book is clearly directed at the teaching of Englishas an Additional Language at advanced level. The specific aims are stated andextended in retrospect in the conclusion: ''the aims of this book have beentwofold: first to present a critical review of genre theory as it is currentlyapplied to pedagogy, and secondly to present and exemplify a framework forsystematising approaches to genre and their application to the teaching ofwriting'' (p.167).

It is difficult to judge whether both these aims have been achieved, andindeed precisely who the intended audience for this book would be. Theeducational practitioner will be interested in applying genre pedagogy indesigning an appropriate induction for EAL students into the culture ofacademic writing, and in developing their skills for deconstructing andreconstructing specific genres, but may not be interested in, or in fact havethe time to engage with, the lengthy critical review of genre theoriespresented here. On the other hand the researcher, whether linguist oreducator, may find that the range of academic writing theories in chapter 2,and the varieties of cognitive approaches to categorisation which are examinedin chapter 3, are indeed somewhat over-ambitious. Nevertheless, readers ofboth motivations will find of gems of insights to stimulate their thinking andapplication to research and practice. So for example, the following insightshave the power to stimulate creative applications both in the design ofgenre-based courses, and in pursuing further research:

“Taken in its widest sense, a genre-based approach to language teaching refersto pedagogy that involves examining and deconstructing examples of genres…using a sample text (an example of a particular genre), learners engage withtasks that focus on the organisation and constituent features of the text inorder to acquire the types of knowledge necessary for creating their ownexamples of the same genre” (p. 6); or:

“If epistemology is considered to be a major influence on the creation ofdiscourse within specific academic disciplines, the task, therefore, for thenovice writer is to gain a clear understanding of the epistemologicalviewpoints that underpin and influence the writing of the field… [This] has tobe done over time during the beginner writers engagement with their particulardiscipline, since this type of information is not always overtly taught”(p.135); or in the final chapter (as quoted above): ''[the aim is for] novicewriters to become discourse analysts as they uncover the attitudes,expectations, conventions and textual patterns that relate to writing withintheir particular discipline'' (p. 152).

A critical review of “two main pedagogic approaches” to academic literacy,informed by the Systemic Functional Linguistics and the English for AcademicPurposes movements respectively, is in itself a vast field. The breadth anddepth of the practices, research and scholarly publications that have emanatedfrom the SFL movement are not well captured. In dismissing the SFL basedapproach for “narrowness of the types of knowledge integrated within existingpedagogy genre constructs” (p. 167), the author ignores its basis in acomprehensive theory of meaning making that is explicitly located in the“context of situation” and the “context of culture”, and that describeslanguage from a social-semiotic perspective (Halliday & Hasan 1985, Martin2009). The author's judgment also ignores the large output of implementationsof genre pedagogy, at all levels from primary to tertiary and in the workplaceby educators whose pedagogic approaches are grounded in SFL (Martin & Rothery1986, Cope & Kalantzis 1993, Halliday & Martin 1993, Christie & Martin 2005and many more). In contrast, see a recent comparative analysis of SFL and theAcademic Literacies movement by Coffin & Donohue (2012).

In relation to the terminology of “cognitive” and “social” genres, while it isfair to provide a benchmark terminology for this book, it is ironical that theintroduction of a new pair of terms has meant adding further to the variety ofterminology that has been critiqued by author as confusing. While the terms“cognitive” and “social” genre have been well-defined at the outset, there maybe a need (for some readers at least) to return to these definitions, as theuse of “social” versus “cognitive” is not intuitively obvious, particularly asthere appears to be a generally inclusive understanding in the recentliterature of all genres as “social processes” (see Hyland 2002, Coffin &Donohue 2012). In fact, the need to re-name the two categories is not entirelyconvincing, since the author equates his new terms with a pair of categoriesalready in use (Pilegaard & Frandsen's “text type” and “text genre” ). Otherterms already coined are “macro genre” (Martin, 1995) or “genre agnation”(Martin, 2005), or what Hyland (Hyland 2002:123) refers to as concepts of“genre sets” or “systems” (citing work by David and Bazerman ). Hylandsuggests that “genre sets may be an important way of conceptualising socialcontexts and understanding the ways texts cluster to constitute particularsocial and cultural practices” or, citing Swales 2000, that they “may moreloosely cohere as a repertoire of options in a particular context” (Hyland2002:123f.). Citing Martin, Hyland refers to ''systemicists'' who “talk hereof 'genre agnation' and seek a model of systems of genres through atopological perspective which locates texts on a cline of fundamentalsimilarity and difference. These systems can then be used to identify learnerpathways for teaching about texts and provide students with a means of makingsense of non-prototypical cases” (Hyland 2002, p.124).

The book culminates in a description and sampling of a design for a course inwhich EAL postgraduate students are intended to learn to understand and masterthe complexity of academic writing across a variety of genres. It is expectedthat an intensive focus on one part (the Report section) required for thesiswriting, would establish the students' capacity to engage in the ''dualanalysis'' of procedural and discipline-specific aspects encapsulated in theauthor's construct of cognitive and social genres, and to be empowered totransfer the insights and strategies from this approach to the remainder oftheir thesis writing requirements. However, this chapter leaves theimplementation of such a course unexplored. Any reader who is interested inemulating the author's approach will expect some discussion of whether, or towhat extent, the practical implementation of the framework ''forsystematizing approaches to genre and their application to the teaching ofwriting'' (p. 167) achieved desired learning outcomes.

While the course design aims to induct students into “a systematic analysis”of academic writing genres, I have a reservation about the effectiveness ofthe course for the individual learner. There may be a danger in overloadingstudents with information about genres and activities that may not appear tothe students relevant at the time. The question arises whether the verycomprehensive nature of the course may work against its effectiveness,particularly for time-strapped EAL students, if they fail to connect therelevance of the range of required activities (Table 7.2) to the thesiswriting task before them. Educational literature has indicated the power of“authentic” tasks, whose usefulness is readily identifiable to the student. Ananswer to this reservation might therefore be to tailor this approach to theindividual students by linking assignment tasks specifically to the writtengenres required of them in the content courses students are studyingconcurrently with such a course. While conceding that this was indeed the casefor part of the course, it is only mentioned incidentally (p. 152), whereas itcould more profitably be reported as a major feature of such a course.

Finally, it would have been interesting to see some follow-up research, suchas a) the percentage of classes undertaking this course that continued throughto the end b) the extent to which students applied the principles ofsystematic genre analysis in the subsequent writing of their thesis drafts,and c) the level of success in improving their own general writing. Thesewould be useful areas of future research.


Christie, Frances & J.R. Martin. 2005. Genre and institutions: Socialprocesses in the workplace and school. London: Cassel.

Coffin, Caroline & James P. Donohue. 2012. Academic literacies and systemicfunctional linguistics: How do they relate? Journal of English for AcademicPurposes. 11(1). 64-75.

Cope, Bill & Mary Kalantzis. 1993. The powers of literacy: A genre approach toteaching writing. London: The Falmer Press.

Eggins, Suzanne. 1994. An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics.London. Pinter Publishers.

Halliday, M.A.K. 1994. An introduction to functional grammar. Second edition.London, Melbourne, Auckland. Edward Arnold. A member of the Hodder HeadlineGroup.

Halliday, M.A.K. & Ruqaia Hasan. 1985. Language, context and text: Aspects oflanguage in a social-semiotic perspective. Mebourne: Deakin University Press.

Halliday, M.A.K. & J.R. Martin. 1993. Writing Science. Literacy and discursivepower. London: The Falmer Press.

Hyland, Ken. 2002. Genre: language, context, and literacy. Annual review ofapplied linguistics. 22. 113-135.

McGowan, U. (2005c). Academic Integrity: an awareness and development Issuefor students and staff. Journal for University Teaching and Learning Practice2(3) 48-57.

Martin, J.R. 1995. Text and clause: Fractal resonance. Text. 15(1) 5-42.

Martin, J.R. 2005. Analysing genre: functional parameters. In Christie &Martin (eds.) Genre and institutions: social processes in the workplace andschool.

Martin, J.R. 2009. “Genre and language learning: A social semioticperspective”, Linguistics and Education, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 10-21.

Martin, J.R. & Rothery, J. 1986. Working papers in linguistics: Writingproject report, Linguistics Department, University of Sydney, LinguisticsDepartment, University of Sydney.

Pilegaard, M. & Franzen, F. 1996. ''Text type.'' In J. Verschueren, J.-O.Oestman, J. Blommaert & C. Bulcaen (eds.) Handbook of Pragmatics.Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 1-13.

Santini, M. 2008. Review: Applied Linguistics: Bruce (2008) Academic Writingand genre. A systematic analysis. LINGUIST List 19.3079.


Ursula McGowan is a Senior Lecturer, Higher Education, in the School ofEducation at the University of Adelaide. Her prior background includesuniversity appointments as Lecturer in German Language and Literature, and asAdviser for students with English as an additional language. More recently shehas been active as academic staff developer, inducting new staff and providingongoing support, with a particular focus on academic literacy development andpromoting a research-based approach to academic integrity. Her currentresearch is in the area of embedding genre-based academic literacy developmentwithin academic disciplines.

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