Types of discourse
LAST WEEK, we examined the purposes of language. This week, we will review the types of discourse.
There are four rhetorical modes of discourse which writers may use individually, or in combination, depending on the purpose they want to achieve. They are description, narration, exposition and argument. Let us look at each:
Descriptive pieces of writing essentially DESCRIBE. The description can be of a person, place, an aspect of nature, an event or just about of anything. What is most important in descriptive writing is the vividness of the description. The reader should be able to experience whatever it is you, the writer, are describing. The most effective descriptive writers freeze time in order to describe. So, for example, a story centred on O’Neil, the athlete you met at ‘Champs’, must at some point stop the action of the story to describe the fellow.
Descriptions should be done in an orderly way in order for the reader to fully understand what is being described. There are several patterns that writers use while describing.
Chronological order describes events as they occur. If you are writing about how you met O’Neil at Champs, you could start describing the events from the moment you arrived at the stadium to the end of the event. This is also called sequential order.
If you used spatial order to describe him, you could describe him from head to toe. You could also describe his physical features (outward appearance) and then his personality (inward appearance).
It may be that you have to gush out whatever you think are the important details first, followed by the other not-so-important ones you have discovered about him. This is called order of importance.
Regardless of which order you choose to apply, the ideas must flow clearly and logically and should appeal to the readers’ senses (of sight, hearing, feeling, smelling. as appropriate) in order to make your description vivid.
Narratives relate events in time. This category of writing includes short stories, giving instructions on how to do something, et cetera. Time is an important feature of narratives. Two common techniques associated with narratives are chronological order and flashback technique. Writing which makes use of chronological order has the events presented as they occur in time. For some narratives, it would be unwise to do otherwise, for example, giving O’Neil directions to your party.
Some writers, however, begin their pieces at the most exciting part or event, and then take the readers back in time to the events which lead up to that dramatic point. So, you may begin your WhatsApp message about how you met O’Neil with, ‘Girl, I met the most amazing guy at Champs !!!!!! *screams with delight* Then you continue by sharing how you ended up at Champs, since you had not planned on going, filling in the details leading up to your fortuitous encounter. This is called the flashback technique.
Expository writing is mainly concerned with making an idea clear, analysing a situation, defining a term, giving instructions, et cetera. Its primary function is to inform and explain.
Argumentative pieces of writing attempt to convince or persuade the reader that a claim is true by means of appeals to reason (logos), to authority (ethos) or to emotion (pathos). Appeals to reason cite evidence or valid reasons to try to justify the claims that are made. This kind of argument is also called a logical argument. Appeals to emotions (psychological argument or persuasion) attempt to persuade the reader that a claim is true based on emotional factors rather than solid evidence. Ethos is an appeal to ethics, which is trying to convince the audience that something is true based on the character or credibility of the writer.
These four types may be used separately or in combination; however, one is usually more dominant than the others.
There are some strategies that are often used by writers that help to make the type of discourse more effective.
Being able to identify the type of discourse being employed by the writer, through an examination of the strategies used in the writing, is the key in determining the purpose of the writer and assessing the effectiveness of the use of these strategies to achieve this purpose. Something to think about. For further reading, you may consult Section Three of Writing In English (Simmonds-McDonald, et al 1997), and Chapter 2 of CAPE Communication Studies (Sonia Lee et al 2012). Next week, we will discuss language registers, tone and language techniques. Thanks for the feedback! Let’s keep talking!