If you don’t learn anything else about writing for your business, then learn about genre.
You may have heard that you can produce a piece of long form content and then use it to recycle on all your media channels. This is absolutely true.
But without an understanding of genre, you might be left wondering why you don’t get engagement on your Instagram posts or why the emails you sent out about your blog don’t convert to reads.
Understanding genre – the foundation of all communication – will enable you to craft the right message for your audience in the places they are looking.
So what is genre?
You may have heard about genre in terms of literature or films.
What type of films do you prefer? Be it romantic comedies or horror films, these are genres that we recognise through the story structure, the visuals, and the language used.
Going back to the ancient Greeks and set out in Aristotle’s poetics, genre is a key way of helping us to make sense of the world around us.
Humans categorise by nature and we understand best through patterns.
That’s why genre is important. If you’re someone who writes Instagram posts or text messages as if you’re writing a scientific journal article, then you haven’t nailed some of the crucial aspects of genre, and your message will likely fall flat with your audience.
Understand the three simple elements that make up genre and you’ll be able to recycle your content in a way that creates real impact.
If you’d like a bit of the geeky background, keep reading, but if you want to scroll down to the action at the bottom and you can implement this in your writing today.
Genre in the real world (or why applied linguistics is awesome)
There are dozens of approaches to genre, but one I find makes real practical sense when working with writers is from the field of applied linguistics.
Australian linguist Michael Halliday describes genre as made up of the categories of field (your subject), tenor (your relationship with the audience), and mode (the medium you’re using to convey the message – text message/ podcast/ book etc.).
These three factors combined will influence the structure of the communication and the language – specifically how the meaning is played out through text (in linguistics, text can mean spoken or written communication).
Crucially, these patterns in text that we recognise as ‘a genre’ are created through recurring patterns of meaning.
Overlook any of the three elements of field, tenor or mode when crafting your message and it’s unlikely to resonate with anyone.
Questions you can ask yourself about your writing
What is the purpose of what you are writing?
Is the text to inform, to sell or to entertain? Or is it a combination of these?
Who is your text for and what’s your relationship with them?
Are you writing as a teacher, a friend or a guide, or will you have a different voice in different parts of your writing?
What is the mode and what are the characteristics of this mode?
For example, if you’re writing a blog post, are you really using all the features of the web that you can (internal, external links, images), or are you simply using the web as a place to park your print article?
If you’re writing a self-published ebook from your blog posts, have you paid attention to signposting in the book between sections and chapters? Have you formatted your text as a book by using indented paragraphs rather than the white spaces you might have used online?
A few characteristics of different genres.
Of cours, the information above is a description of different genres – a description of what people tend to do. But genre patterns persist because people have discovered that they work.
An understanding of genre does not mean learning a set of rules to be followed. Rather it involves being aware of your context and your reader and what works and why.
So be genre aware.
And once you are, then you can start to play with genre. And that’s a story for another day.
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