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Genre, lexicogrammar and students as informants. Jim Donohue, Open University, UK, with Emily Purser, Wollongong University, Australia. Motivations. 1. Critical genre theory

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Genre lexicogrammar and students as informants

Genre, lexicogrammar and students as informants

Jim Donohue, Open University, UK, with Emily Purser, Wollongong University, Australia


1. Critical genre theory

“Indeterminacy, heterogeneity and struggle mean that any text is constructed out of discourse conventions which have diverse origins…. This critical genre theory of variety …is therefore at odds with both Halliday’s idea of predictable register, and with more normative versions of genre theory such as Swales (1990) and Martin (1989)”

Ivanic, R., 1998, Writing and Identity, p.45


2. Academic literacies methodology

The principal empirical methodology inherent in an ideological model of literacy is that of ethnography, involving …participants’ perspectives on the texts and practices. … including challenging the ‘taken for granted’ conventions that they are expected to write within”

Lillis, T., & Scott M., 2008 ‘Defining academic literacies research’ p. 10


3. Request from Faculty

“Our students write unclear, mixed up sentences. Our tutors can support students’ writing development at text organisation level. What they can’t do is support them at a sentence level”

Health and Social Care faculty, 2008, explanation for wanting to set up a Writing Development Pathway Project


  • How well do SFL genre accounts of text align with students own accounts of their texts?

  • How does SFL genre analysis accommodate heterogeneity – and should it?

  • How does the lexicogrammatical level relate to the genre level?


  • Recruit 10 students

  • Select assignments

  • Study course material

  • Predict genre from assignment titles

  • Predict genres from assignment guidance notes

  • Analyse students texts before tutor marks them, using SFL categories (e.g. Humphrey, S., et al. ‘3X3’)

  • Interview students for 1-2 hours before marks received

  • Relate student accounts to predictions and do further analyses, using SFL

  • Reflect on implications

Predict genre from assignment title
Predict genre from assignment title

Do outreach approaches and advocacy always improve the delivery of care services for people who are socially excluded?


  • Issue, Sides, Resolution

    (Martin &Rose WWD, 2008)

  • (Background), Issue, Arguments for/against (or Perspectives), Position

    (Coffin, WiR, 1996)

Predict genre from assignment title1
Predict genre from assignment title

Do outreach approaches and advocacy always improve the delivery of care services for people who are socially excluded?


  • Thesis, Argument, Reiteration

    (Martin & Rose WWD)

  • (Background), Thesis, Arguments for, (Concession), Reinforcement of thesis

    (Coffin, WiR, 1996)

Text analysis
Text analysis

  • Using linguistic analysis, how would you evaluate this text?

  • Why do you evaluate it this way – what is your evidence?

  • Why do you think the student wrote it the way they did?

  • What additional information, if any, do you need to explain why the student wrote it the way they did?

Sfl and ethnography
SFL and Ethnography


  • Born and brought up in Nigeria

  • Yoruba as first language

  • Studied in English medium up to polytechnic/commercial college level

  • Came to UK about 8 years ago

  • Works as agency care worker

  • This is first OU course

Purpose of the assignment
Purpose of the assignment


  • The purpose is to explain that outreach approaches always improve the delivery of care

  • This is an explain essay about why some people have been excluded.

  • Oh, it’s not why but about improvements


    I think it is a comparing essay – first explain the services how they work and then criticize and express your own opinion.

Purposes of paragraphs
Purposes of paragraphs


  • This is my introduction

  • Let’s the reader understand people are not members of the social network

  • Reads out ‘deprivation’ as ‘diversion’

  • By virtue of sickness they might not be deprived of social inclusion

Concept management
Concept management

Paragraph B, final sentence

Third, there is exclusion in its social sense, which identifies exclusion partly with alienation from social networks, and partly with the circumstances in Thornhill community for example, advocacy for socially excluded people is also poor in this community.

With that I think the reader will be able to understand what advocacy is

It is a bad situation because of lack of advocacy

Purposes of paragraphs1
Purposes of paragraphs


C. Thornhill community was qualified for government funding because it was among the area with a high level of deprived neighbourhoods in England. Compared with other other parts of Southampton and southeast England, people in Thornhill experience lower level of health and wellbeing needs.

It shows why there is advocacy and outreach in Thornhill: it’s because of poverty and government response.

JD Have you explained Outreach and Advocacy?

Z Yes, (pointing to final sentence of previous paragraph)

This is introducing what is happening in England

Purposes of paragraphs2
Purposes of paragraphs


JD: Did you relate this paragraph to the question.

Zuna: No, I am always looking at the assessment guidelines and follow them. I don’t want to go outside what is in the Assessment Guidance

Causes in zuna s writing
Causes in Zuna’s writing

Causes are very important in essay writing. They make you know more about what the question is. When you know the causes you know what you will have to do to improve it. Causes are a very important part of the course. It gives you insight into the work I do and the impact. Although I do this work I don’t know what surrounds it. I can learn what is supposed to be.

Zuna gives illustration of colleague who has a disempowering way of feeding an elderly person in care. Zuna told her this is not the way it is supposed to be.

Purposes of paragraphs3
Purposes of paragraphs


This is clearly showing the reader the benefits of outreach and advocacy

L The Thornhill plus you program began by consulting local residents. It produces a range of free publications including a bi-monthly newsletter, News, a series of regularly updated factsheets and posters in shop windows continually urge resident to join committees. There are also regular training courses, monthly outreach information sessions and outings for old people. Sandra Jordan, who lived in the estate became a member of the of the community health Group. Sandra knew, from her experience in the estate all that was missing and need to be in place. Thornhill plus You project set up community Access which provide a combined advocacy and outreach services for isolated and excluded people living in Thornhill.


Whether/ how to

  • establish an egalitarian tenor to the interview

  • adopt a researcher role versus a teacher role

  • use and analyse the interview in relation to the text

  • represent students’ emic accounts and balance them against researcher etic ones