Preferred genres and rhetorical modes in the humanities and social sciences

Adelia Carstens
2008 Language Matters  
The article reports on a research project aimed at identifying salient written genres and text types/rhetorical modes in the Faculty of Humanities at a large university in Gauteng, South Africa. The main purpose of the research was to establish an empirical base for the design of intermediate-level undergraduate language courses. A survey was done by means of text analysis: study guides were requested from a representative sample of departments, after which writing prompts were identified and
more » ... re identified and analysed using Wordsmith Tools. In terms of genre it has been established that the humanities prefer essays and critical analyses, while the social sciences prefer project reports and essays. The rhetorical modes required most frequently at undergraduate level are discussion, analysis, argumentation, explanation and description. Discussion, explanation and argumentation are favoured by academic essays, while description and evaluation are favoured by reports, and analysis, argumentation and discussion are favoured by critical analyses. Although most essays presuppose argumentation, it is often not explicated in writing prompts. Other complicating factors are the ambiguity and hidden assumptions associated with certain rhetorical verbs. The outcomes of the research suggest two possible approaches to designing writing courses for undergraduate students in the humantities and social sciences: semi-generic approach, of which the latter may be more feasible within the framework of a macrouniversity. Genre and rhetorical mode Genres are the ways in which discourse communities, such as academic disciplines, achieve their purposes or goals (Examples of genres are laboratory reports, case studies, essays, research reports, critical analyses, book reviews and project proposals. To teach academic writing effectively, course designers need to know which genres are preferred by the academic disciplines in question, and how these genres are structured in each disciplinary area. Rhetorical modes or text types are groupings of texts that are similar in their internal linguistic form, irrespective of genre (Biber 1988, 170; Johns 2002, 6). The five modes mentioned across a broad spectrum of literature are narrative, exposition, explanation, argumentation and description. Some rhetorical studies, such as Tribble (1996) , identify more than five rhetorical modes (also including exposition, exemplification, process, definition, cause and effect, comparison and contrast, division and classification, and persuasion), and others assume an intermediate position by maintaining the general modes, and subsuming a number of secondary modes under exposition, viz. process, classification/enmeration, exemplification (illustration), comparison and contrast, cause and effect, problem and solution, definition and analysis (Hale, Taylor, Bridgeman, Carson, Kroll & Kantor 1996, 12-13). Course designers need to know which rhetorical modes are typically employed to support the purposes of particular disciplines and genre types.
doi:10.1080/10228190802321020 fatcat:votlt75x7ngznbqkvgicjbscym