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A genre responds to an audience

A genre has a conventional structure

A genre has an agreed-upon tone

A genre demands that you take on a conventional persona

Adapt the genre to the forum

Go gonzo once in a while

Writing within a genre

The larger your site grows, the more pressure you get from your content management software, your visitors, and your self to write generically--to write to fit a pattern.

When thousands of pages are being posted every month, the content management software demands that each object of a certain type have the same internal structure, containing the same components in the same order. Why? Because that generic approach to organization will

  • Allow the software to assemble components on the fly, as needed
  • Guarantee consistency since each object of a particular type has the same structure
  • Speed up searches for content, as the software climbs down the predetermined hierarchy, ignoring branches that do not contain the target objects
  • Allow the site team to offer customized content to niche audiences (a manager gets these three pieces, but a worker gets only one of them).
  • Allow individuals to make personal selections of the content they really want.

But to make all this assembling, searching, reusing, customizing, and personalizing go smoothly, you, as the writer, must work within the confines of a genre.


Writing in a genre (Full chapter from Hot Text, in PDF, 770K, or about 13 minutes at 56K)



Genres, then, matter because they demand that you follow a certain structure, write in a certain style, adopt a particular persona. To succeed in writing within a genre, you have to recognize, follow, and test its conventions.

At the core, a genre is a familiar pattern, a way of organizing information that has become so common that readers will probably recognize each new instance as belonging to the genre, such as a catalog, a romance novel, or a FAQ.

In fact, visitors generally prefer that you write in recognizable forms, because as soon as they spot the genre, they can anticipate the information you'll be providing, the basic structure, and the point of view you will probably adopt.

All that advance preparation helps them absorb your material, move around in it successfully, and remember what they read because they can associate the new info with a pattern they already know.

Think of how many people go to horror movies knowing what will happen when the innocent girl goes into the dark room. Audiences enjoy knowing roughly what they will get, and getting it. Basically, a genre makes a promise to the user, and as you write, you have to fulfill that contract.

Of course, writing in a genre seems constricting at first, because it imposes a set organization on your material. Once you internalize the model, though, you begin to work faster.

  • When you uncover a new fact, you know right away where to put it.
  • When you edit, you know the purpose of each component, and can quickly spot information that is off target, and shift it to the right spot.

You become ruthlessly efficient as you tweak individual phrases, because you are clear, at the start, about your stance. Knowing what you are doing tends to make the writing flow.

If you are about to write in an established genre, ask yourself:

  • What's the point? Each genre has a widely acknowledged purpose, addressing some particular need, question, or wish, in your target audiences.
  • How's it organized? A genre tends to have a standard structure, with predefined components appearing in a certain order.
  • What's the right style? With a few variations, a genre tends to dictate a style, by convention.
  • Who am I in this context? A genre comes with an expected persona--that is, a character you are supposed to adopt as the writer, indicating your stance toward your readers.

To succeed in writing within a genre, then, you have to recognize, follow, and test these conventions. And the best way to grapple with the genre is to look back at why, and how it was originally invented.

See: Bruffee (1986), Burke (1969), Fish (1980), Foucault (1972), Locke (2001), Park (1986), Phelps (1990), Porter (1992),


What genre does your audience want from you?


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