Linguistics Applied

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Research Article Abstracts as a Genre

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In our daily life, we hear the term ‘genre’ used in different contexts. We come across film genres, music genres, and literary genres, etc. There are general definitions of genre which account for its uses in any kind of registers. One of these definitions is found in the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. Genre is defined here as “a particular type of art, writing, music etc, which has certain features that all examples of this type share”. More specialised definitions also exist in different types of discourse. In this blog post, I will discuss the term ‘genre’ in academic discourse, focusing on research article abstracts in particular.

Genre analysts have identified many types of academic discourse as genre such as book reviews, reports, notes to the editor, proposals, case studies, theses, etc. Research articles are also recognised as genre as they constitute a complete unit with their own conventions. However, abstracts which are seen as a part of research articles have been a problematic case in genre analysis. Smaller parts within a genre have been generally seen as sub-genre or part-genre. However, there are still arguments if abstracts can be accepted as genre in their own right or whether they are sub-genre of the research article. In the following part, I will discuss the terms part genre and genre from the perspective of research article abstracts. 

Part genre is a term used by Swales and Feak (2009).  Swales and Feak (2009) make a distinction between genre and part-genre and they define genre as the “name for a type of text or discourse designed to achieve a set of communicative purposes” (p. 2). Based on this definition, they see the research article as a genre and the various sections of it as part-genres. Therefore, they use the term part-genre for research article abstracts. However, referring to sections of a research article as part genre is problematic because each section of the research article carries a different communicative purpose and its own unique discourse structure and therefore each can be accepted as genre. This view of genre is also adopted by Biber and Conrad (2009). They also describe sections of research articles as genre, only embedded in the larger genre of research article (p.33). In the case of research article abstracts, it seems reasonable to treat abstracts differently from the other sections of research articles. Unlike other sections, abstracts can stand separate from the research articles themselves. It is even questionable whether it is a part of the research article at all because research articles do not have an abstract in some disciplines such as music, literature, or philosophy. Therefore, research article abstracts can be safely accepted as ‘genre’ because of holding an independent status and carrying their own communicative purposes.

Nurcan İleri

PhD student in Applied Linguistics


Biber, D. & Conrad, S. (2009). Register, genre, and style. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Swales, J. M. & Feak, C. B. (2009). Abstracts and the writing of abstracts. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.


Written by Nur

02/05/2011 at 11:49

Posted in article

15 Responses

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  1. Thanks for posting this, Nurcan! Agree that research article abstract can be seen as a separate genre. I would like to learn more about the differences between RA abstracts and conference abstracts.


    02/05/2011 at 12:05

    • Thanks for your comment Lanfen! The difference between RA abstracts and conference abstracts is something that I am also curious about, but I still need to learn a lot about abstracts to be able to say the similarities and differences between the two. It looks like an interesting research topic by the way.


      02/05/2011 at 12:31

      • I learnt from Susan that writing a conference abstract differs from a RA abstract. I’ve been fortunate to have her review my conference abstracts before submission. Also, Suganthi recommended a chapter in writing a conference abstract in Swales, J. M. and C. B. Feak. 2000. English in Today’s Research World: A Writing Guide. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. For your information!


        02/05/2011 at 12:39

      • I guess conference abstracts are longer than the RA abstracts, but this is the only thing I know about conference abstracts. I will check the chapter in Swales and Feak’s book. I may need to write one in the following years. Thanks!


        02/05/2011 at 12:48

  2. Thanks for your post Nurcan and for bringing up this interesting topic.

    I don’t know much about the issue but my impression is that RA abstracts can be treated both as
    a part of RA and as autonomous micro-texts. This double position is also reflected at the level of lexico-grammar. I guess that RA abstracts from different academic disciplines share a special type of sublanguage (frequent usage of pronouns “we” and “I” or the constructions of the type “in this report/article/study we demonstrate/describe”, “we show here that”, “this report/study is concerned with”). On the other hand, if we focus on technical and specialist vocabulary there will be probably more similarities between abstracts and research articles from the same field than between RA abstracts from different fields. Maybe the question of genre in this context depends on how we approach the issue. From the perspective of textual meaning (to use Halliday’s terminology) it seems reasonable to treat the RA abstracts as a separate genre and from the perspective of ideational meaning as part-genre.

    I agree with Lanfen that it would be interesting to compare differences/similarities between the RA and conference abstracts.


    02/05/2011 at 21:15

    • Thank you for bringing the two different views to my attention. I think both of these two concepts, I mean textual and ideational meaning, belong to Systemic-Functional Linguistics. To be honest, I am not fully aware of how they define genre, but the focus is on textual features and functions. According to this view, it is possible that the textual features as well as the functions of each section of research articles might differ. For example, you can find a sentence that has a function of ‘outlining purposes’ in abstracts, but not in results or discussion. The functional preferences in each section also affects the language preferences. Therefore, each section might be accepted as a genre if the differences are high from this perspective.

      However, from the tradition of English for Specific Purposes, genre is viewed to have communicative purposes. It is clear that abstracts have a different communicative purpose from other sections. They inform the reader about the research and, as Ken Hyland says, marketise the paper. It seems that the change in communicative purpose tells us it is a different genre in this view.


      04/05/2011 at 22:43

  3. This Friday Prof Marina Bondi from the University of Modena and Reggio Emili will give a talk also about abstracts as a genre. It’s a shame you’re not in Bham, but we will briefly report you about the presentation.


    04/05/2011 at 12:30

    • I wish I could be there. I will be excited to hear from you.


      04/05/2011 at 22:52

      • Prof Bondi kindly offered the following references regarding conference abstracts:

        Kaplan, R.B. et al. 1994. “On Abstract Writing”. Text. 14(3). 401-426.

        John M. Swales and Christine B. Feak, Abstracts and the Writing of Abstracts, University of Michigan press 2009 (teaching materials, with something specific on conference abstracts)

        Raisanen, C. (1999). The Conference Forum as a System of Genres: A sociocultural study of academic conference practices in automotive crash-safety engineering. Goteborg, Sweden: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis.
        Talebzadeh, H. (2007). A Genre Analysis of Applied Linguistics Conference Abstracts: Structures and features. Tehran: Unpublished MA thesis, Tarbiat Modarres University.

        I’ve also got a reference list of abstract as a genre. Prof Bondi is pleased that I share with other PhD students. If you’re interested in it, just email me. I’ll forward it.


        08/05/2011 at 09:27

      • Thanks Lanfen for this list of references and the list you sent via email. They are quite useful.


        12/05/2011 at 15:04

      • I can’t find the option of uploading the pp presentation for Marina’s talk here but you can find in the category Admin.

        The talk on Friday was very interesting. Marina first introduced previous studies of RA abstracts and then showed how abstracts have changed in the field of applied linguistics in the last 20 years. She distinguishes between two types of abstracts:
        A) Argumentative = the focus is on making a claim and defining an issue in the disciplinary context,
        B) Empirical = the focus is on reporting on the research carried out.
        According to her research the articles and abstracts from the field of applied linguistics are today more empirical oriented. It seems that applied linguistics tends to become more a science-like discipline.

        From her research also follows that RA abstracts have definitely developed into an autonomous genre.


        08/05/2011 at 12:17

      • Thanks a lot for this brief summary of Marina’s presentation and uploading it on the blog. It is indeed very interesting to learn about how the RA authors’ structural and linguistic preferences for abstracts have changed over time in the field of applied linguistics.


        12/05/2011 at 15:01

  4. Can anyone suggest me books on genre analysis particularly on RAs?


    01/12/2012 at 07:09

  5. Do you have infos on RAs Introduction?


    01/12/2012 at 07:12

    • Hello Mel

      I am pasting down references of some well-known books and articles. There might be of course some others on genre analysis and RA introductions, but I’ve only included the publications of frequently cited authors in the list below. Hope that helps.



      Hyland, K. (2000). Disciplinary discourses: Social interactions in academic writing. London: Longman.
      Swales, J. (1990). Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
      Swales, J. M. & Feak, C. B. (2009). Abstracts and the writing of abstracts. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.
      Swales, J. M. & Feak, C. B. (2011). Creating contexts: Writing introductions across genres. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.
      Swales, J. M. (2004). Research genres: Exploration and applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
      Swales, J.M. (2011). Aspects of article introductions. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

      Research Articles

      Cross, C. and Oppenheim, C. (2006) ‘A genre analysis of scientific abstracts.’ Journal of Documentation, 62: 428-46.
      Hirano, E. (2009). “Research article introductions in English for specific purposes: a comparison between Brazilian Portuguese and English.” English for Specific Purposes 28(4): 240-250.
      Lorés, R. (2004). On RA abstracts: from rhetorical structure to thematic organisation. English for Specific Purposes, 23, 280-302.
      Martin, P. M. (2003) ‘A genre analysis of English and Spanish research paper abstracts in experimental social sciences.’ English for Specific Purposes, 22: 25–43.
      Ozturk, I. (2007). “The textual organisation of research article introductions in applied linguistics: variability within a single discipline.” English for Specific Purposes 26(1): 25-38.
      Pho, P. D. (2008) ‘Research article abstracts in applied linguistics and educational technology: a study of linguistic realizations of rhetorical structure and authorial stance.’ Discourse Studies, 10: 231-50.
      Ruiying, Y. and D. Allison (2003). “Research articles in applied linguistics: moving from results to conclusions.” English for Specific Purposes 22(4): 365-385.
      Ruiying, Y., & Allison, D. (2004). Research articles in applied linguistics: structures from a functional perspective. English for Specific Purposes, 23, 264-279.
      Samraj, B. (2005). An exploration of genre set: research article abstracts and introductions in two disciplines. English for Specific Purposes, 24, 141–56.
      Santos, M. B. D. (1996). The textual organization of research paper abstracts in applied linguistics. Text, 16, 481-500.
      Samraj, B. (2002). Introductions in research articles: variations across disciplines. English for Specific Purposes, 21, 1–17.


      02/12/2012 at 13:21

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