Types of dis­course

Jamaica Gleaner - - YL - TRUDI MOR­RI­SON Con­trib­u­tor

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!

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