Parker’s post on genres is great. It nicely captures the fact that, when aspects of rhetorical context like speech act (or purpose) are repeated often, they give rise to genres. One common workplace genre is the directive. You may notice that these speech acts fall within the four purposes identified in my tutorial: representatives = informing, directives = directing, questions = consulting, and commissives + expressives = valuing. Declaratives, however, are something “special.”


Parker's Pen

A helpful way to think about written genres is to view them as speech acts. There are essentially six “acts” you can perform with words:

1. You can describe some state of affairs (e.g. John has blue eyes). Such  acts are called representatives.

2. You can try to get someone to do something. (e.g. Shut the door). Such acts are called directives.

3. You can request information (e.g. When does the parade start?). Such acts are called questions.

4. You can commit yourself to do something (e.g. I’ll be home by midnight.) Such acts are called commissives.

5. You can express an emotional state (e.g. I’m sorry for stepping on your toe). Such acts are called expressives. 

6. You can change the status of some entity (e.g. You’re fired). Such acts are called declarations.

If you think about it, many types…

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2 thoughts on “

  1. And then there’s one of my favorite genres, the proposal. Going by the speech acts outlined, it’s is a hybrid of representative (identifying a state of affairs–a problem or opportunity), directive (trying to persuade a reader/gatekeeper to accept/believe in your solution), and commissive (outlining commitments in regard to time and $$$).

    • I think this is it exactly! I would argue that the primary or ULTIMATE purpose in a proposal is directive (directing the reader to accept what’s proposed) and that the representative (informing) and commissive (valuing) purposes are subordinate. To me, the whole document fails if the reader doesn’t accept it.

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