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Social Research Glossary

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© Lee Harvey 2012–2017

Page updated 13 January, 2017

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2017, 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
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 Critical discourse analysis
6.9 Summary and conclusion

6.3 Genre analysis

6.3.3 Methods of genre analysis

Genre analysis is greatly influenced by a methodic approach identified by John Swales (1990) in his analysis of the nature of research articles. Swales regarded research articles in journals as a genre. He focused on the introduction to articles, which act as a legitimation for the work and the rationale for the article. Academic writers typically specify a topic, outline the key features of previous research in the area, identify a gap, problem or the need for further extension of existing work, thus justifying their own contribution. Swales referred to this as the ‘Creating a Research Space’ (CARS) model.

Swales constructed this activity as a series of ‘moves’, each with a set of ‘steps’. The CARS model has three main moves.

Move 1: Establishing a territory:
Step 1: Claiming centrality and/or
Step 2: Making topic generalisations and/or
Step 3: Reviewing items of previous research
Move 2: Establishing a niche
Step 1A: Counter-claiming or
Step 1B: Indicating a gap or
Step 1C: Question raising or
Step 1D: Continuing a tradition
Move 3: Occupying the niche
Step 1A: Outlining purposes or
Step 1B: Announcing present research
Step 2: Announcing principal findings
Step 3: Indicating research article structure

The same ‘moves’ approach has also subsequently been applied to other parts of the research article including the methods section (Wood, 1982), the results section (Brett, 1994, Williams, 1999) the discussion section (Dudley-Evans, 1994) and the abstract (Salager-Meyer, 1990).

Swales work assumes that there is a uniformity of genre of research paper across disciplines. However, subsequent research has shown disciplinary differences, as (Dudley-Evans, 2000, p. 6) indicated:

An example of this was Crookes' finding (Crookes, 1986) that the longer introductions found in Social Science articles were the result of the writers' using cycles of Moves so that the introduction might contain more than one Move 2 and Move 3 and that each new Move 2 would be followed by another Move 3. Another more detailed presentation of a key variation comes in Anthony's work on introductions in software engineering (Anthony, 1999). He found that writers seemed to feel a need to justify their research and that he therefore needed to add one Step Evaluation of Research to Move 3 to capture what was happening in the articles introductions he examined. Although this may seem a relatively small addition, it is clearly more than just an exception to the rule used by certain writers; it is a distinctive systemic feature of writing in the field of software engineering. The need to use the Step seems to arise from the fact that software engineering is a relatively new field and its journals may be read by many engineers from other branches who are not necessarily up to date in a rapidly developing field.

Finn Frandsen et al. (1997) maintained that, in general, each move in a text has a communicative purpose that is always subordinate to the overall communicative purpose of the genre. This means that each move supports and clarifies the communicative purpose of the genre. However, within a specified genre, certain text moves are required for a text to be defined as belonging to a certain genre while other moves complement or elaborate the genre but their absence or presence does not change the genre.

According to Tony Dudley-Evans (2000) genre analysis has also developed into the detailed analysis of language features used in particular genres, such as reporting verbs (Thompson and Ye, 1991; Thomas and Hawes, 1994) or verbs with inanimate subjects (Master, 1991) or hedging (Fahnestock, 1986; Hyland, 1998; Myers, 1990).

On hedging, Jeanne Fahnestock (1986) and Gregory Myers (1990) have shown that writers in academic journals make more guarded claims about their findings than they do in more popular journals, where they tend to be confident and assertive ‘tending to present claims as established facts’ (Dudley-Evans, 2000, p. 7 ). The same phenomenon occurs in articles and textbooks, authors of the latter tend to present theories and experimental findings as established knowledge (Myers, 1992). Furthermore, Ken Bloor and Meriel Bloor (1993) analysed the content of The Economic Journal and showed that, within economics, claims that were related to issues within the discipline itself (substantive claims) tended to be hedged while claims that were related to the real world (field central claims) were not. Ken Hyland (1999), focusing on citations, showed how citation practices in academic articles vary across disciplines and suggested that this is a consequence of differences in epistemological and social conventions within the disciplines.

Vijay Bhatia (1993) offered a different version of the analytic process model to that of Swales. Martin Nielsen (1997, pp. 213), in reviewing it, described the process as ‘very operational, practical, and plausible. It provides the analyst with a tool that enables him to define and investigate any genre’, although suggesting it could be sharpened and made less complex, with less overlap between the sections. His review outlines the process, and adds comments (Nielsen, 1997, pp. 211–13) see CASE STUDY Nielsen review of Bhatia’s analytic method.

Nielsen goes on to explain that although the steps are numbered that does not imply that the analysis should be carried out in exactly that order, nor that every step should necessarily be actually carried out in an analysis. Also, there is some overlap in the steps.

Sandro Nielsen (undated) used genre analysis in a study of the way that legal texts are translated. Nielsen agrees with the Swales model that one of the stages in the translation process is the analysis of source texts.

Knowledge of genres is useful for translators so that they can classify their source texts into the various sub-genres of the overall legal genre. This knowledge allows them to recognise and identify specific textual conventions that are relevant for the practical translation tasks and without this knowledge translators would not be able to understand the message of the source text properly.

Furthermore, both senders and receivers of legal translations are legal experts and they classify legal texts within different genres in law partly because they use and recognise schematic structures and style.

Translators are then involved because they facilitate communicative events in the legal discourse community and knowledge of genres and conventions in the source-language and the target-language becomes imperative.

Nielsen concludes that legal translators have some creative latitude when it comes to the translation of genre conventions, subject to two important caveats: first, English has several variants and the analysis applies to one version (UK English); second , substantive legal content of source texts must not be sacrificed to give way to elegant but factually wrong prose. Importantly, Nielsen explained that correct terms are inadequate in translation if the translator is unaware of the context of the genre.

In addition to the communicative situation, three factors are essential to the successful completion of any translation of legal texts: terminology, textual conventions and linguistic structures. These factors are important for experienced as well as inexperienced translators. Legal translation should not exclusively focus on terms, but translators should learn to identify some of the elements surrounding the terms and to deal with them appropriately. An acceptable legal translation is not one in which all the terms have been translated correctly but the rest of the text is grammatically, idiomatically and stylistically wrong. An acceptable legal translation is one that contains correctly translated terms, utterances that have been translated correctly according to their pragmatic function, and textual conventions that are familiar to the intended readers of target texts and conform with target-language genre conventions.

A further example of move analysis can be found in Fang Liu's (2012) genre analysis of American presidential inaugural speeches. Fang regarded the American Presidential Inaugural Addresses (APIA) as a genre and analysed all 35 available speeches from the first by Washington to the latest (at the time of writing) by Obama. The speeches vary in tone, theme and form but Fang analysed the internal structure. The 'move' analysis Fang described in her article is reproduced in slightly abbreviated form in CASE STUDY Fang on APIA, which he sets out after suggesting that the topic identification depends inter alia on the nature of the topic or field, the background knowledge of the intended readership and reader-writer relationship.

Fang concluded that she has revealed the schematic structure of the genre of American presidential inaugural addresses, revealing the the linguistic characteristics that usually signal the moves. ‘To sum up, through the attempt, we can see that genre analysis is a practical means of studying spoken and written discourse for applied ends’ (Fang, 2012, p. 2411).

Carol Berkenkotter (2009) advocated a mixed-method approach to conducting genre analysis that combined the techniques of discourse analysis with textual exegesis and rhetorical analysis. She undertook a study of case history narratives in psychiatry from the late eighteenth to the beginning of the twenty-first century. Using this approach, she argued, captures ‘the complex interactions among sociohistorical, technological, demographic, and epistemological factors in professions that traverse the boundaries between the natural and human sciences’ (Berkenkotter, 2009, p. 9).

Berkenkotter’s research goes beyond a systematic analysis of the changes in the linguistic and rhetorical features of case histories from 1744, and focuses on the uses to which narrative case histories of mental illness have been put during this genre’s ‘long history in the asylum, the mental hospital, the clinic and, as well, the published article in medical and psychiatric journals’. Berkenkotter (2009, p. p. 11) explored ‘the ways in which case histories were instrumental in psychiatry’s “professionalization” as a knowledge-producing medical art. That it took so long for the “mad doctors” of the eighteenth and nineteenth century to be accepted as bone [sic] fide professionals, subject to the same standards of accountability as physiologists and neurologists is part of the story of psychiatry’s lengthy development into a branch of medicine.’

She states that she combined a close reading and analysis of written texts was essential with a ‘more systematic approach that involved analyzing narrative elements such as “reported speech”’. This she claimed enabled her ‘to adjust my research focus from macro- (whole text/genre) to micro- (lexical, grammatical, syntactical) levels.’ (Berkenkotter, 2009, p. 13). This was augmented by ‘techniques that ranged from discourse analysis to textual exegesis of primary texts such as nineteenth century patient case histories and asylum superintendents’ letters and diaries.’


Next 6.4.1 Pragmatics