Orientation Observation In-depth interviews Document analysis and semiology Conversation and discourse analysis Secondary Data Surveys Experiments Ethics Research outcomes



Social Research Glossary

About Researching the Real World



© Lee Harvey 2012–2020

Page updated 29 April, 2020

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2020, Researching the Real World, available at
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A Guide to Methodology

6. Conversation and discourse analysis

6.1 Introduction to discourse analysis
6.2 Conversation analysis
6.3 Genre analysis

6.3.1 Introduction Genre

6.3.2 Aims of genre analysis
6.3.3 Methods of genre analysis

6.4 Pragmatics
6.5 Discursive psychology
6.6 Interactional sociolinguistics
6.7 Ethnography of communication/speaking
6.8 Narrative analysis
6.9 Critical discourse analysis
6.10 Summary and conclusion

6.3.1 Introduction

Genre analysis is concerned with the nature of linguistic conventions and how they operate within different types of 'texts' (such as, political speeches, journal articles, business letters) that are referred to as 'genre'.

Genre analysis explores both the structure and communicative purpose of genre and the way these texts function in the groups of people who use them, including how use confers membership of a genre community.

Genre analysis, thus, take a particular notion of genre as the basis for analysis, which is explored in more detail in Section Genre

Genre, in everyday speech, refers to the categorisation of literature, music or other forms of art or entertainment whether written, spoken, visual or audial. Genre are designations based on stylistic criteria and are formed by conventions that change over time as new genres are invented and the use of old ones are discontinued or reborn. Works often fit into more than one genre as categorisations change or overlap. Genre, in this sense, differs from the notion of 'oeuvre' which is used in art criticism to refer to the corpus of work produced by an artist.

In genre analysis, genre becomes disengaged from art and refers to any type of communicative output. Swales (1990, p. 58), for example, defined genre as follows:

A genre comprises a class of communicative events, the members of which share some set of communicative purpose. These purposes are recognized by the expert members of the parent discourse community, and thereby constitute the rationale for the genre. This rationale shapes the schematic structure of the discourse and influences and constrains choice of content and style.

Bhatia (1993), referring to Swales, further adds that:

Most often it [genre] is highly structured and conventionalized with constraints on allowable contributions in terms of their intent, positioning, form and functional value. These constraints, however, are often exploited by the expert members of the discourse community to achieve private intentions within the framework of socially recognized purposes. (Bhatia, 1993, p.13)

Nielsen (undated, p. 3), referring to written communication, defined genre as follows:

Genre conventions are graphic representations of instances of language use that are set ways of writing accepted or believed to be accepted in practice by expert members of a discourse community in texts belonging to a specific genre or sub-genre.

More recently, Montgomery, (2007, p. 26), stated:

A genre is a specific and recognisable configuration of discourse elements realising a particular communicative purpose and usually known amongst a language community by a widely shared label, such as 'advert', 'sermon', 'gossip', 'joke', 'lecture'. 'News' is one such genre. The label is widely understood; and instances of broadcast news are instantly identifiable as such to audiences. However, even within this genre there are generic variations between radio news and TV news.... A major source of difficulty in defining and applying the term genre is that some genres, at least, are unstable, in flux, with the boundaries dividing one from another tending to be be indeterminate.... So, genre describes more than a patterned, recurrent may also be considered a process beyond the discourse itself involving a promise, by producers, and and recognition, by audiences, of the type of discursive activity being performed.

It is suggested, then, that a genre must be a recognisable communicative event that has specific purposes, which are understood by members of the genre community.

Bhatia (1993, pp. 14–15) argued that communicative purposes are reflected in the internal structure of a genre. Substantive changes in purpose result in a new genre, while minor changes create sub-genres. Furthermore, writing within a genre requires following certain practices to respect the boundaries of the genre. However, as practitioners become experts within the genre, they are more at liberty to experiment and push the boundaries of the genre.

Thus, in summary, the broader concept of genre is similar to the notion of a highly constrained 'style' or 'type' and can be applied to any communicative event or product, including, for example, political speeches (Fang, 2012), doctoral theses (Hopkins and Dudley-Evans, 1988; Deng, 2009) translations of legal documents (Nielsen, undated) and sales promotion letters and job applications (Bhatia, 1993)

The curious element in these discussions is the reference to the designation of a genre being specified by insiders in a community. This seems not to match the more general notion of artistic genre where, often, the invocation of genre is independent of those who are supposedly representatives of the genre.


Next 6.3.2 Aims of genre analysis