Writing Genre Which Genre?

Academic Writing

Genres 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 genre families or genres.

Your first decision when faced with a new piece of academic writing is to decide which genre family you are expected to write.

  1. Essays – Writing Essays
  2. Reports – Writing Reports
  3. Case Studies – Writing Case-Studies
  4. Research proposals – Writing Proposals
  5. Book reviews – Writing Reviews
  6. Brief research reports – Writing Brief Reports
  7. Literature reviews – Writing  Literature Reviews
  8. Reflective writing – Writing  Reflections
  9. Introductions – Writing Introductions
  10. Research methods – Writing  Research Methods
  11. Research results – Writing  Research Results
  12. Research discussions – Writing Research Discussions
  13. Writing conclusions – Writing Conclusions
  14. Research abstracts – Writing Abstract
  15. Research dissertations & theses – Writing Dissertations & Theses

Which of the above genre families is expected?

A useful start is your brief or assignment title or question. See: Preparing: Understanding the Task

In research conducted between 2004 and 2007, Hilary Nesi and Sheena Gardner (Nesi & Gardner, 2012) at the University of Coventry proposed five purposes for student writing in higher education.

Students might write to show that:

  1. they are aware of and understand the latest knowledge in their subject area;
  2. they can argue a particular point of view making use of different kinds of evidence;
  3. they can plan and carry out research
  4. they are ready for employment in a particular profession;
  5. they can reflect on how they and other people feel and think.

Nesi & Gardner call these primary purposes:

  1. Demonstrating Knowledge & Understanding (DKU)
  2. Developing Powers of Independent Reasoning (DPIR)
  3. Building Research Skills (BRS)
  4. Preparing for Professional Practice (PPP)
  5. Writing for Oneself and Others (WOO)

Try this exercise: Exercise 1 – Primary Purpose

Decide which of these purposes is yours for a specific piece of work. Go back to your brief or question if necessary.

Once you have chosen the primary purpose of your writing, you can narrow that down to the genre family required.

Nesi & Gardner divide the primary purposes up in the following way:

Primary Purpose Genre Family
Demonstrating Knowledge & Understanding Explanations
Developing Powers of Independent Reasoning


Building Research Skills Literature Surveys
Methodology Recounts
Research Reports
Preparing for Professional Practice

Case Studies
Design Specifications
Problem Questions

Writing for Oneself and Others Event Recounts
Public Engagement


  • When you write an explanation, you are demonstrating or developing an understanding of the object of study, and the ability to describe and / or account for its significance.
  • The purpose of an exercise is to give you practice in key skills (e.g. the ability to interrogate a database, perform complex calculations or explain technical terms or procedures), and to consolidate knowledge of key concepts.
  • In an essay, you will demonstrate or develop your ability to construct a coherent argument and make use of critical thinking.
  • The purpose of a critique is to show or develop an understanding of the object of study and the ability to evaluate and/or assess its significance.
  • In a literature survey, you demonstrate and/or develop your familiarity with the literature relevant to your area of study.
  • Methodology recounts demonstrate your familiarity with particular disciplinary procedures, methods and conventions for recording experimental findings.
  • When you write a research report, you will demonstrate or develop your ability to undertake a complete piece of research, including research design, and an understanding of its significance in the field.
  • The purpose of a case study is to demonstrate or develop an understanding of professional practice through the analysis of a single case.
  • In a design specification, you will demonstrate or develop your ability to design a product or procedure that could be manufactured or implemented.
  • Problem questions provide practice in applying specific methods in response to professional problems.
  • The purpose of a proposal is to demonstrate or develop your ability to make a case for future action.
  • When you write an event recount, you will be expected to demonstrate or develop your awareness of the motives and/or behaviour of individuals, including yourself.
  • Public engagement writing demonstrates or develops an understanding & appreciation of the relevance of academic ideas by translating them into non-academic register, so you can communicate to a non-specialist readership.


Try this exercise: Exercise 2 – Genre Family

Go back to your brief or question and you should now be able to decide which genre family is relevant in your context.

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