P3.2 Genre Knowledge Activity


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Genre Knowledge Activity

Understanding the concept of genre is key to Project 3. Since you are developing an analysis of the writing in a discipline, considering genres of writing can be an important element of your analysis.


As all of us are writers in various ways, we encounter lots of audiences (friends, instructors, employers, parents, peers, and more) with lots of different expectations. For this reason, good writers need to be flexible – they need to be able to analyze and decide how they want to approach the many kinds of writing that they do and understand why they have made those decisions so they keep learning from every context in which they write. And as we discussed in P3 already, writing always involves conventions or expectations of a genre, or the agreed-upon principles that shape the writing.

Consider the conventions of a text message which include abbreviations: “Did u c?” instead of “Did you see?” meets the conventions of this genre since audiences might expect less formalized language. In a college application letter, an email to a potential employer, or a research essay for this class, the conventions of a text message would be inappropriate. You would not abbreviate words and spelling does matter, because the conventions of these three genres include more formal tone and word choice appropriate to audience. In other words, writers use conventions to understand and meet audience expectations; audiences expect writing to follow the conventions of a genre.


Genres are linked with audience and purpose. If you choose a genre for something you’re writing, you also have to consider your audiences’ expectations and the purpose of the writing. Genres originate from a need to communicate something – they are tools that writers and speakers create to communicate in the recurring social situations in which they find themselves. Put another way, genres are used to communicate a certain message, at a certain time, in a certain place, to a certain individual or group.

Genres are dependent on context.

For example, when someone dies, there is a funeral. Funerals are a recurring social situation for honoring the deceased, and to say something meaningful about them. At funerals, we communicate to loved ones around us about the deceased person through the eulogy genre. Graduation is another example of a recurring social situation. At graduation, the commencement address is the genre used to communicate. Each genre is appropriate to the occasion because it meets the expectations of the audience and the purpose for communicating in that occasion, and the genre is thus appropriate for the overall context.

Other genres are not as specialized or obvious. A lab report might be considered a genre in an academic setting but also in professional settings. You might expect a lab report to be factual, to report information in brief about observations or experiments, and it might contain graphs or numerical values or formulas, but the way a lab report looks to a reader can vary. You would expect to see this kind of genre in chemistry class or in a research and development lab at a pharmaceutical company, for example; you also might find a lab report in market research or early childhood education, which may not seem as “laboratory scientific” but are science nonetheless and have a similar purpose of reporting an occurrence.

Writers for these genres have to understand the context in which they are writing, the expectations of audience, and he purpose of the genre in order to begin to develop their writing approach. Writers make decisions every day about how, when, and why to participate in or choose certain genres for a writing context. Understanding how you already use different genres of writing, and why, is key to communicating with different audiences you might be targeting. Understanding which genre is appropriate to a rhetorical situation gives you, as a writer or user of language, the ability to be effective in that situation or achieve your purpose. The more you understand it the more effective you will be in writing for that situation. The more you know about genre, the more you know about related concepts like audience and purpose, and the more effective at writing you will be.

Understanding Genre

This is an exercise in understanding genre, used across many First-Year Writing programs, to help students think about the various genres for writing in one situation. Consider this situation:

You’ve been involved in a car accident, but you’re okay and no one else is hurt. But your car is damaged and has to be towed. And you were on your way to your Biology mid-term and now you’re going to be so late you might miss the exam. You also feel bad because the car was a gift last year from your grandparents, and they saved their money to be able to give it to you. You don’t know what to do or where to start. Believe it or not, there’s some writing that might be required in this situation.

One example of writing in this situation might be the accident report that a responding police officer has to write. An insurance agent has to write a follow up report using that police report and an interview with you and the other drivers’ insurance companies. There is also the email you’ll have to write to your Bio professor explaining why you missed the mid-term and pleading for a make-up exam, despite their policy of no make-ups. You might text a friend for moral support or a ride, as your car has to be towed away. You want to explain to your grandparents in an email that the accident wasn’t your fault but you feel bad anyway because you really appreciated that they picked out this car for you to attend college.


For this scenario, strategize how each genre would be written if you were the writer – the accident report, the insurance report, the email to your professor, the text to your friend, and the email to your grandparents. Explain each scenario and how you would approach it, in a response of about 400 words in total:

  • Think of the audiences, some of which are very obvious and direct and some that are complex and not so obvious — which audience(s) can you identify for each scenario and where do audiences overlap?
  • Consider the purpose for each genre in the scenario – what purpose can you assign to each genre in each situation?
  • How would you approach the writing for each scenario? Not knowing how to create a police report or insurance report since you’ve probably never done one of those, just think about what you imagine would be the content of such a report. What is important to include and what would be expected?
  • Consider what is appropriate for each genre — the language you would use, whether the tone was formal or not, how much you would write, and what points you would make — and outline your approach to each situation.
  • After considering these fictional scenarios, think about the genres of writing you have discovered in your major or discipline. To conclude yourresponse, discuss the connection between the car accident scenario and the writing you are doing for P3 — what do you need to know about audience, purpose, and context in writing for/about your discipline or field?
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