8 Considering Genre in Writing

Core Curriculum and Melissa Elston

Learning Objectives:

  • Appraise the expectations an audience may have for a writing project or essay
  • Distinguish between different types of writing and how genre will influence style


What is a Genre?

Writing comes in different forms that we call genres. We recognize the existence of a genre when we notice that different examples of writing all seem to follow the same set of conventions. The different examples of writing will share certain elements of content and may be similar in format, tone, and style. A cover letter is an example of a genre. It follows a recognizable format, is written in a formal style and tone, and includes content intended to demonstrate a good match between an applicant and a job. An application letter that did not conform to these genre expectations probably would not make it very far through the hiring process.

Other examples of genres include grant proposals, research reports, travel brochures, and business prospectuses. In fact, everything from a birth notice to an obituary may be considered an example of a genre if it is written according to a set of conventions.

What is true of writing is true of speaking as well. From the graduation speech to the wedding toast to the eulogy—audiences will have expectations about content, format, tone, and style of oral communication similar to their expectations for written communication.

How Does Genre Affect Style?

Readers’ expectations may be based in part on genre, and a writer working within a genre needs to demonstrate an awareness of expectations or risk alienating an audience. Since one element of genre can be style, the writer needs to make appropriate style choices.

An example of a writer making style choices to meet genre expectations would be a student using email to communicate with an instructor. Faculty use university email accounts to perform their professional duties. In terms of genre, faculty may expect email messages to be closer to business letters than, for example, text messages. Business letters usually include polite greetings and closings and are written more formally than text messages. Abbreviations, slang, and emoticons that are common in text messages are uncommon in business letters; and spelling and punctuation that might be left uncorrected in a text message would be corrected in a business letter. The student-as-writer who is aware of genre expectations like these may communicate more effectively to the instructor-as-audience.

Finally, while academic papers generally constitute a particular genre of writing, there are numerous subgenres of academic and professional writing. For example, scientific lab reports and literary criticism essays are both forms of advanced academic writing, but these subgenres have different purposes and audiences. Therefore, they follow different rules.

The following chapters provide descriptions of typical writing genres you may encounter in college, as well as later on in various workplace contexts.

Adapted from Radford University Core Handbook, by Core Curriculum, Public Domain 


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From College to Career: A Handbook for Student Writers Copyright © by Core Curriculum and Melissa Elston is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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