Copyright - © 2002 David O'Regan - All rights reserved.
Rhetorical functions in academic writing
Students are asked to write many different kinds of texts. Depending on your subject, these could be essays, laboratory reports, case-studies, book reviews, reflective diaries, posters, research proposals, and so on and are normally referred to as genres (See: genres in academic writing). These different genres, though, can be constructed from a small range of different text types.
If, for example, you are asked to write an essay to answer the following question:
Discuss possible solutions to the problem of international credit control.
You could answer it in the following way:
- Define credit control, say what it is and give an example;
- Explain why international credit control is a problem in business today, support your explanation by evidence from your reading;
- Describe some possible solutions to the problem of credit control in an international context, again support your suggestions with evidence from your reading;
- Describe the advantages and disadvantages of each of the possible solutions;
- Decide which solution you would prefer and give reasons.
So in order to answer the question you need to be able to write texts to do the following:
- Give an example
- Explain why
- Support your explanation with evidence
- Describe a solution
- Describe advantages and disadvantages
- Explain why
Bruce (2008) calls these various texts cognitive genres, but I have called them Rhetorical Functions.
Examples of texts and language.
A good source of language is Leech & Svartvik (1975). Typical rhetorical functions used in academic writing, based on: Werlich (1976) and Lackstrom, Selinker & Trimble (1973), are:
- Describing objects, location, structure and direction
- Reporting and narrating
- Writing instructions
- Describing function
- Describing processes, developments and operations
- Classifying / categorising
- Giving examples
- Including tables and charts
- Writing critically
- Arguing and discussing
- Evaluating other points of view
- Comparing and contrasting: similarities and differences
- Expressing degrees of certainty
- Expressing reasons and explanations / cause and effect
- Expressing feelings
- Planning action
- Providing support
- Indicating a gap
- Working with different voices and finding your own
- Taking a stance
- Presenting findings from statistical analyses
- Presenting findings from interviews
- Discussing limitations
- Using theory
- Using previous research
- Drawing conclusions
- Writing reflectively