What are Genres?


Welcome to the genre chapter!

You may be asking yourself, “What exactly is a genre?” Or you might be thinking, “I have an idea of what genre means, but I’m not sure what genres do and why that’s important to writing.” Regardless of how confident you feel or don’t feel about your knowledge of genre, you’re probably more familiar with it than you think.

First off, a genre is a way to classify media, texts, documents, films, and many other written or artistic forms of expression. Think about a movie that you really enjoy watching and why. Is it because of the plot or story? The characters? The organization, structure, or dynamic visual effects? Is it because you can relate to it fairly easily? Or because it brings you comfort or feelings of nostalgia? There are numerous reasons why we might enjoy a certain type of movie, and many of us develop a predilection for films that share similar characteristics. In other words, we tend to prefer certain genres of movies.  As Aristotle would proclaim, we humans are creatures of classification: Genres help us organize, enjoy, and compose texts or other forms of media more effectively and efficiently.

Now, think back to that movie you really enjoy watching. What classification, or genre, would you assign it to? Rom-com, horror, action? None of the above? Let’s say you chose 50 First Dates as the movie you enjoy watching. What would we classify this movie as? Probably a rom-com, right? Why, though? What makes it a rom-com? For one, there’s a romantic plot about love. The writers also sprinkled in some humor and a few barriers the lovers have to overcome before they can actually win each others’ affection. There are also the romance elements: wooing, tokens of appreciation, playing hard to get, some smooching, and more. Based on this list, we can see that rom-coms tend to have certain elements in common. These elements, or sets of conventions, are what earn movies, stories, music, and other forms of art a specific classification.

What happens, though, when we come across a genre that doesn’t quite fit the bill? How do we feel when the genre excludes or bends standard expectations or characteristics? Are we disappointed, upset, or intrigued? Why? Well, audiences have certain expectations for particular genres. When these expectations are not met, the audience reacts to or reads a text differently, which impacts the success of the work either positively or negatively. Thus genre classifications require conventions or defining characteristics that meet and/or surpass an audience’s standard expectations. By understanding these conventions in terms of audience and other aspects of the rhetorical situation, we can more easily navigate, analyze, and use genres, especially when we want to use them to compose our own work.

genre is a particular kind of text created for a particular audience and purpose, often with certain identifying features. However, genres are more than categories. According to the Writing Commons, “Genres reflect shared textual expectations between readers and writers. Genre reflects the histories, activities, and values of communities of practitioners” (“Genre and Medium”). As we see from the movie example above, genres can reflect community values as much as they create and sustain communities. Genres “provide a roadmap to rhetors for how to engage with community members in socially acceptable ways” (“Genre and Medium”).

Genres of writing include, for example, a research article; a short story; a movie review; an email; a business report; a press release; and a diary entry. You’ll be asked to produce writing in different genres for different purposes (public, academic, and professional) throughout your educational and professional career. Rather than try to predict which genres you’ll encounter, this chapter will provide you with tools to identify the key features and characteristics of writing genres. After reading through this chapter, you will be able to recognize different writing genres, understand the concept of corollary genres, and determine the expectations for writing genres you’ll encounter in your life.


Adapted from Jackie Hoermann-Elliott’s and Kathy Quesenbury’s “What are Genres?” of Writing in College  used according to  CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Access for free at https://pressbooks.pub/firstyearcomposition/


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