Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Know Your Genre

We, at the Writing Center, would like to thank everyone for a great semester, and we hope to see you this summer or next year. Have a great summer!

When you’re in school, the writing you do usually follows a specific, academic format. The way you write for your classes is most likely not how you text your friends, craft posts on social media, or write thank you letters or resumes. And why would it be? Your audiences for each of these situations are very different from one another. The genre you write in dictates should dictate how you write. In order to write successfully in these genres, you must analyze and understand them.

I had never spent as much time obsessing over word choice as I did when I designed my wedding invitations this semester. Invitations are a genre I had never worked with before. What is the standard format for RSVPs? What does etiquette state is the traditional way to word the couple’s names? How do you word the guests’ names on the outside envelope? Do you include children’s names or just put “and family?” (We just put “and family,” by the way.) I never realized the intricacy of the wording within wedding invitations.

Now, I know that I did not have to follow etiquette rules. This is the 21st century after all; wedding invitations have grown much more casual. But I believe that one should adapt their writing and voice to fit the situation. I wanted my invitations to match the formality of my wedding, and since my wedding is in a nice Catholic church, etiquette dictated that I use more formal wording in my invitations.

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You should always try to think about your audience when you write. In college, your audience may just be your professor. It may also be your peers or other academics in your field. In the future, your audience may be a client, your coworkers, a boss, or possibly even the public. Your word choice, style, and formality should reflect that awareness.


Writing an academic paper will also require a different level of formality than something like a blog post. If you’ve followed any of my posts here on EIU Writes, you might have noticed that I tend to favor an informal and fun style, making jokes and referencing The Magic School Bus whenever possible. I know, however, that I have to be more careful with my word choice and even sentence structure when I’m writing a paper for a class or, especially, my thesis.

It has taken me a long time to hone my ability to sound formal and knowledgeable in my academic writing. I don’t speak with that level of stiffness, and it was a struggle learning the conventions associated with the genre of academia. Over the years, however, I’ve learned how to avoid sacrificing my voice for the sake of formality. I can still write like me, even in class essays.

Don’t be afraid to put a part of yourself in your writing, regardless of the genre you are writing in. It will make the piece stronger and much more interesting for your audience, even if your audience is just your professor. Your audience will welcome your individual style, as long as it falls within the conventions of whatever the genre (essay, lab report, speech, etc.) requires.

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