In this article, “Mapping Rhetorical Knowledge in Advanced Academic Writers: The Affordances of a Transactional Framework to Disciplinary Communication” accessible in Across the Disciplines, I report on analyzing genre performances through conceptual metaphors. Analyzing the performances of Ph.D. candidates writing research articles, I report and analyze how advanced academic writers frame the genres as textual transactions. To point to an illustrative example, Gunter, an Entomologist by training, and one of the writers studies, says:
“It’s all about how you pitch it. If there’s anything I learned in this department, it’s that regardless of whatever research you’re doing you can pretty much submit it anywhere. You just have to know how to pitch it.”
It is noteworthy to recognize how Gunter sees research and writing about his research in terms of the marketing metaphor of a “sales pitch” (which fittingly enough originally comes from sports). In other words, writers see research articles as textual transactions. This way of seeing research communication , I think, because it opens up the work of genres into a space of play, a way to think and work out ideas of messaging, even in the quotidian tasks of submitting and publishing research in the applied science.
My research shows that these writers and communicators disambiguate rhetorical knowledge in genres in terms of textual purpose, audience expectations, writer’s tasks and discursive forms. These discrete understandings are integrated in their performances through this conceptualization of writing genres as textual transactions. Approaching communication in such terms shows how writing tasks can be framed to help writers negotiate readers’ interests, constraints, and values in generative ways in genres.
What it Means for Teaching Writing?
There are two lessons to takeaway from thinking about “Genres as Textual Transactions.”
1. Rhetorical knowledge matters even when writers are writing formalized genres because they represent foundational communicative skills. One’s message changes in key ways even in highly formalized genres such as scientific research articles or annotated bibliographies for research projects. Writers must communicate a legitimate contribution or a frame a need for the work they do. And what counts as contribution, as I point out above, depends on who the exact reader or audience is.
A generalizable knowledge of discourse helps to make such moves. This skill, therefore, can be taught early in the educational process because it can be used it as, what scholars call, a “threshold concept” to grasp communicative tasks in the future. Rhetoric, in other words, let’s writers see writing as “an activity” and “enacting and creating identities and ideologies” (Adler Kassner & Wardle, 2015). It becomes a tool with which they can build their subsequent skills and competencies in given situations
2. Words matter when we talk about writing and communication in genres because the shape how we understand them as tasks.
How we live, to paraphrase the axiom of Cognitive Linguistics, “in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature” (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, p. 6) The language we use for understanding writing and communication tasks, and the frame within which we use them (some might call it semantic grammar), crucially shapes our performances.
If we teach communication in terms of exchanging value, we will get one type of performance from students. If we teach communication in terms of creating value, we will get another type of performance. They will intuit and activate certain conceptual frameworks over others when we “pitch” tasks to them in one way or another. This is a powerful insight, which when they learn to make use of, can support how they might compose writing. The way a writer would engage and perform the work of developing an argument would be dramatically different if they understood the mode in terms of the conceptual metaphor of “arguments are war” versus “arguments are ways of seeing.”
Adler-Kassner, Linda, & Wardle, Elizabeth. (Eds.). (2015). Naming what we know: Threshold concepts of writing studies. Utah State University Press.
Lakoff, George, & Johnson, Marc (2003). Metaphors we live by. University of Chicago Press
Rabbi, Shakil. (2020). Mapping rhetorical knowledge in advanced academic writers: The affordances of a transactional framework to disciplinary communication. Across the Disciplines, 17(3/4), 69-91.