The Importance of Genre for Reading

A genre refers to a kind of writing, and in academic writing usually refers to the arrangement of a text to accomplish the goals of that text, e.g. how a cooking manual is arranged in steps rather than in paragraphs. Despite the way many writing courses are taught, almost no texts conform to a single genre or the expectations of any one genre. That said, genres can serve as a useful model for how different texts are organized, and like any model, it is not universally or equally applicable to all situations, but it helps readers using the model to better interpret the situation they find themselves in.

The Impact of Genre on the Structure of Text

It is not necessary to define what all genres of text could be–these genres are rarely strictly followed anyway. The important thing is that if one is reading an argument, description of a process, etc., there is likely to be a statement near the beginning which summarizes the authors’ main point, that is, the thesis being argued, the process being explained, etc. If it is an argument, then it is likely that each paragraph or section will relate to a premise for that argument. If it is a process being described, then each paragraph or section will likely relate to some phase of that process. If a comparison is being made, it is possible that each paragraph or section may be describing one or the other thing being compared in alternation. Whatever the case, a critical reader should anticipate the structure of the text accordingly, and you should be observant in order to understand how texts are commonly structured in your field.

For modern texts, Shore (2016) advocated a bold strategy of starting with the conclusion, locating the thesis, then using the foreshadowing of points in the introduction and the table of contents or section headers to locate important sections, and finally simply reading the important sections (pp. 8-39). That is an example of an aggressive strategy for understanding a text, and Shore (2016) focused especially on reading books rather than short articles, but it is a powerful example of how starting at the beginning and reading to the end is certainly not the only way and usually not the best way to read an academic text.

Narratives may be unique, in that they are structured chronologically rather than according to the author’s point. As a result, they may be the most difficult to locate relevant information within, as the location of that information may be unpredictable. Caution must be applied. Narratives may be less common in an academic setting than non-narratives; this is not because narratives are categorically not useful, and they do appear in academic settings when they are useful. If they are uncommon, it may be because they have a greater potential for diverse interpretations than some non-narratives, and so may seem less suited to a clarity-oriented academic setting. When using narratives in academic settings, an author should be careful to explain why the narrative is relevant and make clear any distinctive interpretations of its meaning.

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