Academic Research

Genre and Move Analysis in English Language Teaching  

Vikki Adam 


Writing is a formidable task for language learners (Hyland, 2008). It requires knowledge of the topic, the audience and of language conventions (Applebee, 1982). Moreover, to write successfully, students need awareness of the formal patterns that shape texts. However, while students receive instruction in grammatical, lexical and syntactic features of writing, the organisational aspects are often neglected. Consequently, students are unaware of the structural conventions that varying discourse types require and are unable to produce them. Enabling students to acquire an understanding of discourse structure is a vital element of the teacher’s role. One method for achieving this is through genre. 

Genre has become an increasingly influential concept in discourse analysis (Tardy & Swales, 2014). Defined as “how things get done, when language is used to accomplish them” (Martin, 1985, p.20), genres signify how language is used in recurring situations (Hyland, 2008). For example, when an action is repeatedly required, users develop measures to implement that action. These measures eventually become a recognizable and accepted form. Thus, genres are typified, recurrent rhetorical actions (Miller, 1984), that have specific purposes, which determine their content, structure and language.

Texts are most likely to fulfil their purpose and be successful when they adhere to conventions (Hyland, 2008). Genre analysis examines how language is used in specific contexts. It accounts for how texts are constructed, used, interpreted and exploited (Bhatia, 2004). Genre analysis is a valuable method for teaching language (Charles & Pecocorai, 2016). It provides a methodological environment, which encourages students to consider how language operates in particular contexts and how it can be used to meet goals. According to Santos (1996), genre analysis is “a powerful tool that reveals the rationale that shapes the design of standardized communicative events” (p.497). One important type of genre analysis is move analysis.

Move analysis

Move analysis is a top-down approach for genre analysis. Developed by Swales to describe the organisational patterns of research articles, move analysis has stimulated substantial research on the rhetorical structures of academic and professional texts (Biber et al, 2007). Its goal is to identify structural and linguistic regularities characterizing genres by analysing a selection of texts representing a particular genre (Tardy & Swales, 2014).

Move analysis describes the communicative purposes of a text, by classifying units of discourse into rhetorical moves (Biber et al, 2007). A move refers to a section of text that performs a specific communicative function. Moves have individual functions, however they also contribute to the overall purpose of the genre (Biber et al, 2007). This purpose constitutes the genre’s rationale, which “shapes the schematic structure of the discourse and influences and constrains choice of content and style” (Swales, 1990, p.58). Some move types occur more frequently than others. If a move appears in over 60% of texts, it is deemed obligatory. If it appears less, it is considered optional (Can et al, 2016). Moves can contain multiple elements, which work collaboratively to execute a move. These elements are referred to as steps (Swale, 1981) or strategies (Bhatia, 1994).

Some genres have simple move structures, whereas others comprise of complex move structures. Although related genres share common move types, each has their own characteristics, reflecting the genre’s specific functions (Biber et al, 2007). For example, research article abstracts and conference abstracts have similar but not identical move structures.

Move analysis is also useful for exploring the linguistic characteristics of genres. Lexical elements, such as fixed phrases and collocations, feature prominently in certain genres. For example, phrases frequently used to introduce research include: “This study reveals/investigates/compares”, whereas phrases used for discussing the results of research are: “The results of this study indicate/show/prove”. Collocations are also commonly used to good effect. Other lexical elements to note are the use of discourse markers, which can signpost moves, such as “however” and “in conclusion”. Hedging is another significant feature. This may be achieved through the use of modal verbs (“may” and “might”) and cautious language (“suggesting that” and “results imply”). When dealing with academic genres, the register will be formal and texts are likely to contain citations and considerable jargon.


Pedagogical implications 

Genres are in a constant state of development (Berkenkotter & Huckin, 1995). Insights gained from genre analysis can inform teaching methodology and resource development. According to Yakhontova (2002), “Genre-oriented approaches, which highlight the cognitive organisation of a text are promising from a pedagogical perspective because of the comprehensive view they provide” (p.216).

Firstly, move analysis clearly demonstrates how a successful abstract should be structured and written, what it must include (obligatory moves) and what it could include (optional moves). Secondly, gaining knowledge and understanding of the rhetorical structure and writing norms of different genres not only helps students produce discourse, it also makes them more discerning when it comes to comprehending and critically evaluating texts. Thirdly, raising awareness of – and explicitly teaching – the linguistic features of abstracts can help ESL writers overcome language difficulties (Nguyen, 2014). Moreover, move analysis enhances teachers’ understanding of genre, which may also lead to the creation of more appropriate and effective teaching resources. Finally, as observed by Hyland (2008), “writing is a practice based on expectations” (p.544). Thus, move analysis promotes an understanding of the patterns underpinning communication, which is integral for all practitioners.



According to Hyland (1992), “Effective communication is as much a matter of organisation as content” (p.12). Thus, move analysis is a valuable tool for language teaching and learning. It examines the rhetorical organisation and language use of discourse in authentic contexts and provides powerful insights into the rationale of genres (Tardy & Swales, 2014).

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