07.08.2017

Text Types


This section includes some basic advice on text types that you may be asked to write during your studies. This is not intended to be used as rules/criteria for assignments (criteria should always be discussed with individual course instructors), but rather as possible models that you can draw on while writing. It is also not an exhaustive list and you will often have to adapt these structures and conventions to suit the specific assignment you are asked to write. Click on the links above to get more detailed information on different text types.

Remember also that although this section will help you to understand the structure and content expectations of particular texts, actually writing those texts is a process. Starting from a blank page or screen with a long list of criteria to satisfy can be intimidating; breaking the task down into stages will not only improve the final result but make writing easier and more enjoyable. These stages typically involve thinking and reading about the topic, gathering ideas, organising the ideas into an outline, writing a first draft and then improving the text.

More detailed advice on academic writing will be given on our courses.

Basic essay structure

The simplest, most conventional essay structure in English includes introduction > body > conclusion. Many academic papers involve this structure, although it is often adapted in some way to suit different topics and purposes.

This structure is popular because it ensures that the main points of the essay are very clear and well supported. The introduction gives the writer's overall point and purpose in the essay. The body gives support for this overall point. The conclusion restates the overall point.

In more detail, a prototype essay of this structure includes:

INTRODUCTION

The purpose of the introduction is to capture the reader's attention, lead the reader into your topic and give the reader your overall point or purpose.

A conventional structure for introductions is general to specific. These introductions begin with some general statements on a topic (e.g. a development or trend, an interesting fact, a situation, a common belief or argument), before moving onto the particular issue or problem that the essay will deal with. They end with the overall point and/or purpose of the essay - which is called the thesis statement. This thesis statement must then be supported by the rest of the essay.

Example:

Everyone knows that vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin, and that vitamin D is essential for good health. Researchers have shown that vitamin D prevents illnesses such as rickets, improves the condition of the skin, regulates the immune system and increases the rate of metabolism (Nordwist 2000). Despite this general knowledge, however, many people today still suffer from vitamin D deficiencies around the world. This essay overviews the causes of this continuing health problem.

(Adapted from Reed 1988: The Process of Composition)

Note: If your essay is written in answer to a particular question, make sure that your thesis statement is clearly relevant to the question!

BODY

The body of the essay is divided into paragraphs. The aim in these paragraphs is to clearly support your essay's thesis statement.

Clear paragraphs usually contain just one main point which is then supported. The overall point in the paragraph is called the topic sentence. This typically occurs at the beginning of the paragraph.

Example:

An important cause of vitamin D deficiency is limited sun exposure. Human skin produces vitamin D when it is exposed to the sun. Many people who live far from the equator in the northern and southern hemispheres have inadequate exposure to the sun because the sun’s rays are not strong enough during winter months. Having an indoor occupation and using sunscreen also limit the amount of sun exposure a person receives.

(Adapted from "Better Medicine, Healthgrades" 2012)

The main point of this example paragraph is expressed in the topic sentence, "An important cause of vitamin D deficiency is limited sun exposure". This point is then explained by the rest of the paragraph.

Make sure that you support your topic sentence well before moving onto a new point and new paragraph. If you find yourself with many short paragraphs, you probably need to think more about your argument and read more about your topic to develop your ideas. Otherwise, the reader will find your argument hasty and superficial.

Make sure also that your paragraphs are sequenced logically so that the reader can easily follow your line of thought throughout the essay. This often involves starting paragraphs with logical connectors:

The most important cause...
Another important reason for...

The final issue which can lead to...

This reminds your reader of the overall point/purpose of the essay and ties the essay together.

 

CONCLUSION

The purpose of the conclusion is to briefly remind the reader of your overall point, possibly suggest wider implications, and give the essay a satisfying sense of closure.

To conclude, vitamin D deficiency is both more wide-spread than most people realize. In developing countries, the cause is often poverty and resulting malnutrition. In Western countries, however, the problem is typically an overly processed or imbalanced diet. More effort therefore needs to be made to increasing public awareness of good vitamin D sources.

The conclusion is another good opportunity to tie the essay together and make it clear that you have supported your point well.

Note that in a very short paper, you should avoid giving too much of a summary. The reader will remember all the points, so it will feel unnecessary. Instead, summarize only very briefly and then move onto wider implications and final comments.

 

Argumentative vs. expository text

The expository and argumentative essays are two variations on the typical basic essay structure described above. Some assignments (e.g. reviews, research reports) can involve sections of expository and argumentative text, so you will need to adapt these conventions to suit your purposes.

Expository Essay

Exposition is a type of discourse used to explain, describe or inform. In an expository essay, the purpose is to give the reader a balanced account of a subject, with a neutral, objective tone. The structure typically includes:

Introduction:

Lead the reader into the topic and state the overall point/purpose of your essay

Main body:

Divide the main topic of your essay down into sub-points. These points can involve describing, explaining, comparing, or classifying, depending on the purpose of your paper.

Conclusion

As with any essay conclusion, the aim is to briefly remind the reader of your overall point, possibly suggest wider implications, and give the essay a satifying sense of closure

Argumentative Essay

The purpose of an argumentative essay is to convince the reader of the validity of your point of view. Although your essay should still appeal to the reader's logic rather than emotion, you should clearly state an opinion rather than appearing neutral. The structure typically includes:

Introduction:

Lead the reader into the topic, the controversy or debate surrounding that topic, and clearly state your position.

Body:

Begin by making points that support your overall position.

Then present and refute opposing arguments. Try to distance your own voice in the text from the opposing argument (e.g. It has been claimed that..., Several writers have argued that..., However,...).

Note that you can also refute possible opposing arguments after each supporting argument. Use whichever structure seems clearest.

Conclusion:

This is your final chance to convince the reader. Do not introduce new arguments here, but rather restate your overall position clearly and briefly explain how you have demonstrated its validity.

 

Book or article review

The purpose of a review is to introduce the reader to the main points of the source text (whether a book or article) and to give your response. The response will usually include a reflection on the points the text raises, as well as an evaluation of the text.

One clear way to structure a review is introduction > summary paragraphs > response paragraphs > conclusion.

In a longer review, however, it may be clearer to integrate your response into the summary, e.g. introduction > summary point > own response > summary point > own response etc. If you use this structure, it is important that you signal clearly when you are neutrally giving the view of the source writer and when you are giving your own view. This will involve markers such as, Smith states that... He also claims that... In my view, however,... I would argue that... etc.

In more detail, the various sections of a review include:

Introduction

Introduce the reader to the source, e.g. its main topic and aim. You may also already summarize an important general point that the reader needs to understand the source, e.g. a concept definition.

Yanghee and Jiyoung’s article, “Balancing a Genre and Process Approach” (2006), overviews two approaches to teaching academic writing which have become prominent in second language classrooms - namely the process versus the genre approach. The process approach, according to the authors, focuses on the act of writing as an individual cognitive process. It explores the stages of composition and deals mostly with self-expression in writing rather than form or structure. The genre approach, on the other hand, focuses on the genres of text that need to be produced, with an emphasis on audience and appropriateness in language and structure. The writers aim to find ways that these two approaches could be effectively combined, drawing from data gathered on an experimental academic writing course for English university students.

Summary paragraphs

Present the main points of the text coherently. You cannot include every detail from the source text or the review will become very dense and difficult to read. Instead, select the most relevant main points that you think represent the source well.

Remember that your summary should not stay on the surface of the source, i.e. only telling the reader what the source is about. Instead, you should actually explain the points that are raised in the text.

Bear in mind also that a clear paragraph usually involves just one overall point which is explained and supported. This same principle applies to a summary paragraph. For example:

Yanghee and Jiyoung point out that both process and genre approaches to teaching writing have disadvantages. Process writing can place too much emphasis on individual creativity, ignoring the social conventions that restrict text production and therefore failing to provide students with the structure and language support they need. However, the genre approach can be overly prescriptive. It can result in the writing equivalent of 'paint by numbers', leaving students with the impression that writing is purely formulaic, involving strict writing rules that cannot be criticized or adapted.

Response paragraphs

As with the summary paragraphs, your response should not stay on a surface level of the source (e.g. "it was well written"), but should also discuss the points that the source raises. This can involve, for example:

  • explaining what you particularly agreed with or disagreed with and why
  • explaining how the points might be useful
  • making connections between this source and other sources
  • making connections between the context of this source and other contexts
  • adding your own ideas to expand on those given in the text.

Remember again to keep your paragraphing coherent; stick to one overall point per paragraph.

Example response paragraph:

I found Yanghee and Jiyoung's suggestion that teachers give their feedback on writing as audio recordings intriguing. This method could indeed be faster and more efficient for teachers than writing out their feedback. It may also be more effective. Some research (e.g. Bitchener, Young & Cameron 2005) suggests in fact that written feedback alone is relatively ineffective, as students are more likely to misunderstand or ignore impersonal written comments. Recorded oral feedback may overcome this problem due to its clarity and immediacy. From a practical perspective, however, there are clear constraints on how the suggestion could be applied. Few teacher have easy access to the equipment necessary to record and send digital audio files.

The response is also usually evaluative in some way. The idea is to give the reader a sense of whether you agree with the source's contents and whether you think the source is worthwhile. This may involve criticially examining e.g. the writer's logic, research methods involved, whether the text meets its aims etc.

Example critical paragraph:

Although the article summarizes and analyzes the process and genre approaches very clearly, its argument that the two approaches should be balanced seems rather obvious. It is surprising in fact that with such clear advantages and disadvantages, either approach would ever be applied exclusively. The article implied that practical suggestions would be given on how teachers might balance the two approaches, but instead the writers concentrate on supporting the argument that they should indeed be balanced. As a result, the reader is left with very little concrete advice.

Remember that criticism/evaluation is not necessarily negative. Negative criticism should be well supported.

Conclusion

In reviews, the conclusion is usually a brief summary of your overall opinion of the source.

In conclusion, Yanghee and Jiyoung give a clear and enlightening description of the process and genre methods in writing courses and arrive at the perhaps obvious viewpoint that balancing the two would be useful. They give few practical hints, however, on how this balance could be best achieved. My own view is that a social perspective on writing, e.g. encouraging students to analyze the purpose of their texts and the expectations of their reader, could easily be integrated into each stage of students' text development on a process writing course.

 

Research plan

There can be many reasons for writing a research plan (e.g. to organize your research, to apply for a study place or project, to apply for funding) and many kinds of readers (e.g. a supervisor, an evaluator, a funding committee). As a result, research plans can vary a lot in style.

The general goal of a research plan, however, is to convince the reader that the research is important, logical and focused.

The content of a research plan is usually:

    • the need for the study (e.g. a research gap it fills, a problem it solves)
    • the theoretical framework
    • the overall aim and research questions
    • the data and methods
    • the schedule for completing the study (and possibly an estimate of costs involved)
    • possible implications and applications once the study is complete
    • a bibliography of sources you've used

There can be different ways of structuring this content. The following is just one suggestion, mainly suited to research plans written as part of thesis seminars (you will find another one, particularly for postgraduate applications, here).

Some vocabulary and phrases for writing the various sections of a research report (which are similar to those of a plan) can be found here.

Working Title

A 'working title' is the temporary title for your research project while it is under development. This title may change during the process.

Tentative Table of Contents

For seminar research plans, you may be asked to compile a possible table of contents for your thesis. This will help you to plan out and structure the actual contents of your final thesis.

Introduction

In a research plan, the introduction is very important. You need to get across to the reader quickly what the aim of your study is, what it involves (briefly) and why it is important.

There are different ways of structuring this information. A traditional way is to use a general to specific structure (start from the general topic area > identify a problem or research gap > state the aim and nature of your study). In contexts where you really need to grab the reader's attention, for example in competing for funding, a direct approach can be more effective (begin directly with the aim and nature of your study > explain why the study is necessary).

Background

Again the aim is to show that your study is important, logical and focused. Here, this means explaining relevant theory and previous research, and showing how your study will contribute to its field.

In a thesis a background section often involves giving a general overview of a field. Research plans, however, tend to be quite short and need to convince the reader quickly that the study is worthwhile. You should therefore only include points that are relevant and that clearly support what you are doing.

The structure can be quite flexible, as long as the line of thought in the text is logical and convincing. Again, it could follow a general to specific structure (identify important theoretical points on the topic > describe relevant previous research > state your study's contribution) or it could take a more direct approach (explain your study's theoretical approach > explain how your study will build on previous research findings).

Research Aim and Questions

Explain the aim of your research again and then break it down into the specific question(s) that your study will answer. The aim can be more general, but the questions should be focused and concrete, i.e. something that you can actually answer through analysing your data. You may also need to add some explanation and rationale for the question(s) to make it clear that they are logical based on your theory and research aim.

Methods

  • What is your data? Why?
  • How will you gather it? Why?
  • How will you analyze it? Why?

Again in this section you should be specific, while making it clear that your data and methods are logical considering your theory and research aim.

Schedule

When will you complete the various stages of your study?

Implications and Applications

Explain why the results of the study will be important.

E.g. What does it contribute to the field? Whom does it benefit? Will it solve any problem(s)?

Bibliography

See House guidelines (APA style).

 

Empirical research report

This advice is mainly for thesis writing based on empirical research. As with the other text types in this section, research reports can vary greatly in structure and content, depending for example on the research field. The aim here is simply to give one typical structure used at the Language Department and its typical contents, which you can then adapt if necessary.

Besides the information here, you may find the following sources useful:

It is also possible to write a professionally orientated thesis (e.g. a teaching material package) or a literature review thesis. You can read more about these possibilities here.

More general advice on completing a thesis can be found (in Finnish) here.

When writing your thesis, you should also pay attention to formatting conventions (e.g. titles, subtitles, page numbers, appendices) and source referencing style. For the English section, these conventions can be found here.

Some example vocabulary and phrases for the various sections of a research report can be found here.

It should also be useful to familiarize yourself with the structure and content of previous theses. Bachelor's theses can be found here and Master's theses here.

Finally, more advice on writing up quantitative vs. various types of qualitative research (e.g. case-studies, conversation analysis) can be found in the following article: Chapelle, C. A. and Duff, P. A. (2003). Some guidelines for conducting quantitative and qualitative research in TESOL. TESOL Quarterly, 37(1):157-178. You can find the article through NELLI.

Basic Structure of the Report

  • Title Page
  • Abstract
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Background (give this a title that reflects the contents)
  • Research Aim and Questions
  • Data and Methods
 
  • Analysis (give this a title that reflects the contents)
  • Conclusion
OR
 
  • Results (give this a title that reflects the contents)
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
 
  • Bibliography
  • Appendices

Introduction

The goal in the introduction is to create a clear line of thought taking the reader into your topic and arriving at the aim of your study. In a general to specific introduction, the steps often involve:

  • introduce the reader to the topic area (e.g. with a general trend or fact)
  • identify the specific issue that your study will address
  • identify a gap in research or knowledge on the issue
  • give the overall aim of your research

Remember when moving from one step to another to use clear logical connectors so that the text flows smoothly.

Background (give this a title that reflects the contents)

The background section of a thesis is expository text, similar to that described here.

Its contents include the theoretical framework for your study (i.e. the theoretical approach and key concepts or issues that your study will involve) and a synthesis of relevant previous research findings. The point is to set up your study, showing that it is logical and contributes to previous knowledge on the topic.

As with the introduction, your aim is to create a coherent line of thought through the text; it should not read like a disconnected list of concept definitions or individual summaries of previous studies. Again, a general to specific structure is common: beginning with your general theoretical approach or general topic area, and then moving on to your specific issue, along with relevant research findings. How generally you begin your background depends on the length of the report and the intended reader. In shorter papers, it's important that you get to the point quite quickly and concentrate on the specific issue of your research.

For example:

Critical Discourse Analysis > Masculinity Studies > The Construction of Masculinity in Advertising Discourse

Or: Task-Based Language Teaching > A Focus on Form in Task-Based Language Teaching > Designing Form-Focused Language Tasks

Or: Humour in Interaction > Humour and Politeness Theory > Use of Humour in the Classroom

Note that you should not have subsections which are only one paragraph long. If you have such a subsection, integrate it into the larger section and use logical connectors to keep the text coherent (e.g. "One aspect that Masculinity studies is concerned with is..."). Otherwise, the text will start to feel like a glossary.

Research Aim and Questions

Explain the aim of your research again here and then break it down into the specific question(s) that your analysis will answer. The aim can be somewhat more general, but the question(s) should be focused and concrete, i.e. something that you can clearly answer through analyzing your data. You may also need to add some explanation and rationale for your question(s) to make it clear that they are logical considering your theory and research aim.

For example:
 

The aim of this study is to explore the ideologies of English academic writing on an international Master's programme in Finland. The analysis will answer the following questions:

1) What norms of English academic writing do the participants describe?

Explanation/rationale...

2) What 'authorities' do the participants orient to in explaining these norms?

Explanation/rationale...

 

Data and Methods

  • What is your data? Why?
  • How have you gathered it? Why?
  • How have you analyzed it? Why?

Again in this section you should be specific, while making it clear that your data and methods are logical considering your theory and research aim.

 

There are two typical structures for reporting findings:

 

1. The first option is mainly suited to qualitative research where it is difficult, if not impossible, to separate the findings of your study from your interpretation.  For example, in much Criticial Discourse Analysis, the interpretation of particular language choices is the analysis, so it would make no sense to present observations separately. For this option, the structure is usually:

Analysis (give this a title that reflects the contents)

In this section, you need to make sure that you convincingly answer your research question(s). In order to do this:

  • Make claims that clearly relate to your question(s)
  • For each claim, give evidence from your data. This will usually be in the form of extracts from the data, as well as some paraphrasing. Be selective with the extracts you use; don't overload the text - you cannot include every example.
  • Explicitly interpret that evidence. In other words, spell out for the reader what you see in your data, rather than expecting it to speak for itself. This interpretation should reflect your theoretical framework. For example, if you have identified your framework as Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), you should use CDA tools in interpreting your data; Or, if your topic is motivation in language learning and you have defined 'motivation' in a certain way in your background, your interpretation of the data should reflect that definition. You can also bring in source references again at this stage to support your interpretation.

Conclusion

In the conclusion, you can:

  • summarize the answers to your research questions and relate them to your research aim
  • relate your findings to the previous research/theory
  • explain the implications of your findings
  • explain the strengths of your study (this may be intertwined with the implications)
  • explain the limitations of your study
  • suggest possible future research

 

2. The second option is to present your findings neutrally in one section, with only brief commentary, and then interpret them more in the following section. This is particularly suited to quantitative research where, for example, you may have a multiple choice questionnaire and can present the answers given before explaining what you think they may mean in relation to your questions.

Results (give this a title that reflects the contents)

In the results section, you should clearly present your findings (e.g. in the form of tables or figures) and describe them, e.g. "Table 1 shows the distribution of answers to the first question in the questionnaire, asking whether participants...".

Important findings can be highlighted, but the tone should be neutral/factual and interpretation should be minimal, e.g.  "As can be seen, the majority of participants felt that...".

Discussion

In the discussion you can then:

  • make claims that directly answer your research question(s), based on and referring to your findings
  • offer possible explanations for your findings, where appropriate
  • discuss your findings in relation to previous research
  • explain the possible implications of your findings
  • explain the strengths of your study (this may be intertwined with the implications)
  • explain the limitations of your study
  • suggest possible future research

In a longer thesis, you may also add a conclusion which is a more direct, brief summary of your findings. In that case, include any practical implications and suggestions for future research in the conclusion rather than the discussion.

Abstract

An abstract is a short (150-250 word) summary of a research paper, written so that readers can quickly find the main points of a study.

Abstracts are also used at academic conferences to attract participants to attend your research presentation (usually called a 'paper session'). In this case, the abstract is an overview of your presentation.

For research papers, the abstract is written just after finishing the study. You should therefore use past tense when referring to what you have done in your study, e.g. the data for this study was gathered using questionnaires..., or In this study, I found that.... On the other hand, when introducing the reader to the topic of your thesis or describing the contents of the paper, you should use present tense, e.g. this study concerns attitudes towards English in... or In this paper, I argue that....

For the Bachelor's and Master's theses, you should write the abstract in Finnish, if your first language is Finnish. The official form for abstracts at the Language Department can be found here .


The structure of the abstract follows roughly the same structure as your thesis:

  • A line or two leading into the topic area
  • The aims of your study
  • The methods of your study
  • The main results of your study
  • A line or two in conclusion, e.g. explaining the possible implications of your findings.


Sometimes, however, abstracts begin very directly, with a general statement of the topic or aim of the study, e.g. this study investigated the norms of academic writing.... They then continue with some background, methods etc.