Writing Functions Introduction

Academic Writing

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: Writing Genres: Introduction). 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:

  1. Define credit control, say what it is and give an example;
  2. Explain why international credit control is a problem in business today, support your explanation by evidence from your reading;
  3. Describe some possible solutions to the problem of credit control in an international context, again support your suggestions with evidence from your reading;
  4. Describe the advantages and disadvantages of each of the possible solutions;
  5. 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:

  • Define
  • Give an example
  • Explain why
  • Support your explanation with evidence
  • Describe a solution
  • Describe advantages and disadvantages
  • Choose
  • 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:


  1. Describing objects, location, structure and direction
  2. Reporting and narrating
  3. Defining
  4. Writing instructions
  5. Describing function
  6. Describing processes, developments and operations
  7. Classifying / categorising
  8. Giving examples
  9. Including tables and charts


  1. Writing critically
  2. Arguing and discussing
  3. Evaluating other points of view
  4. Comparing and contrasting: similarities and differences
  5. Generalising
  6. Expressing degrees of certainty
  7. Expressing reasons and explanations / cause and effect
  8. Expressing feelings
  1. Analysing
  2. Planning action
  3. Providing support
  4. Application
  5. Working with different voices and finding your own
  6. Taking a stance
  7. Using theory
  1. Introducing
  2. Previous research
  3. Indicating a gap
  4. Presenting findings from statistical analyses
  5. Presenting findings from interviews
  6. Presenting findings from mixed methods
  7. Discussing limitations
  8. Drawing conclusions
  9. Recommendations
  10. Practical implications


  1. Writing reflectively
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