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Cristina Pennarola » 10.Samples of writing

Samples of writing


  • Text types and text conventions
  • The dictionary entry
  • The news article
  • The e-mail
  • The forum

Text types and text conventions

A text type is a strongly specified class of text characterised by various features such as content, style and function. For example, instructions and recipes systematically use the imperative mood (whisk the eggs; plug your appliance into the adaptor) and a specific technical or gastronomic vocabulary, while poems are more focused on the way the message is encoded (alliteration, metaphors, rhyme etc.). Roughly speaking, the notions of genre and text type overlap.

Each text-type complies with structural and stylistic constraints which represent its distinctiveness. We can immediately identify a newspaper clipping, an advert, or a letter even when they are removed from their natural contexts (newspaper, magazine or envelope) because of their typical, conventional features.

Proficient readers can not only understand a text but can also interpret it and see the nuances of meaning and the varieties of style in it. When we analyse a text, rather than read it in order to retrieve information, we exercise our critical reading skills.

The dictionary entry

A dictionary provides three main kinds of information:

  • Semantic: the various meanings attached to a word
  • Phonemic: the pronunciation of a word
  • Grammatical: the word class and grammatical structure of a word

Moreover, a dictionary includes examples clarifying word meanings and usage.

The dictionary entry

In this example, taken from Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary, the meanings for facility are listed according to their frequency, from the most to the least common.
The examples provided highlight its typical prepositional structure, a facility for, and the most common word combinations (for example, sports facilities, private facilities, nuclear waste facility).
Moreover, the letters between brackets [pl., C, U] signal whether the word is in the plural, countable or uncountable, and help us decide on the right determiner (a, the, some or no article).

Dictionary entry

Dictionary entry

The news article

News articles deal with relevant facts: only items regarded as newsworthy get to be known by the public at large. For example, winning a television set at a local lottery would hardly be included in national papers, while an impressive 100.000.000€ winning in the state lottery would receive proper attention from the press and all the news media.

News is usually written in the 3rd person to convey the impression of objective factual accounts. The salient pieces of information are:

  • Who is involved
  • What has happened
  • Why it has happened
  • Where it has happened
  • When it has happened

The news article

When we read an article, we are usually just interested in the information provided. However, also the language can convey some extra connotative meanings related to the ideological positioning of the journalist or the political line of the newspaper. The same event can be presented very differently depending on one’s viewpoint and political beliefs: what is presented as a Palestinians’ terrorist attack by western media may be praised as martyrdom by Islamist commentators. Even the way in which current politicians are referred to – whether it’s Brownie or Prime Minister Gordon Brown, six-pack Barak (aka Mr. Muscle) or President Obama – conveys additional meanings and affects our own reception of the latest news.

Almost all the events included in the news article are introduced by a verb of saying (for example, say, declare) which serves to locate the exact informative source and reinforce the apparent objectivity of the news.

Go to timesonline. Read the article “Facebook fans do worse in exams” and identify the key content items. Then, underline the verbs expressing a verbal action (for example, say).

The news article


  1. Research has shown that university students using Facebook (who) are less likely to receive high marks (what) because the amount of time they spend on this social network takes time off their academic study (why). Researchers have carried out a survey (how) at Ohio State University (where) and recently presented their results at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (when).
  2. The verbal processes are introduced by verbs of saying such as confirm, say, question but also by nouns such as report and findings. The frequency of such words highlights the verbal nature of all human actions, while also specifying the identity of the actors.

The email

An email can be much more flexible than a letter, allowing for different rhetorical moves and also for a more colloquial or creative style.
From experience, we know that the classic letter opening “Dear ….” can be utterly removed, or replaced by a greeting “Hi there” or by the name of the addressee. Furthermore, the ending salutations – “Best wishes”, “yours”, “kind regards” etc – can also be absent, and even the signature may be implied, especially as the name of the addresser is made known in the mailbox menu facility.
An email will usually be rather short, with an average length of 40-50 words, but it can be even shorter, especially in frequent exchanges, “OK. See you soon”.

The email

Depending on the situational context and on the relationship between addresser and addressee, the language can either be formal or informal. An email addressing your tutor at University will be a little more distant and formal than a message you address to your friends.
As in all kinds of writing, the style and tone of the message are not fixed beforehand but are decided taking into account the specific and contingent aspects of that particular communicative act.

The email

An email sample

An email sample

The email

In this email, Margaret Russell was updating me on a Dictionary workshop we were trying to organise for Political Science students with the Collins/Heineman representative.

Read the e-mail through and take notice of:

  • the absence of an opening
  • abbreviations (rep= representative; dic = dictionary; vocab = vocabulary; esp = especially; sts = students, prob = probably)
  • informal words (coz = because)
  • phonetic writing (u = you; ur = you’re)
  • vague language (10ish = around ten)
  • affective graphology (REALLY, !!, …., xx)

The forum contribution

Forum contributions consist of e-mails posted by the participants or subscribers. However, they differ from e-mail messages, in that they are part of a continuum flow of language, that is the general-interest thread on a given topic (elections, unemployment, dating, etc), which was chosen to share opinions. By contrast, e-mail messages are self-contained and, unless they quote the message they’re answering, they are read as items in isolation.

Go to the English Language Discussion Forums at usingenglish.
Take notice of the choral aspects of contributing to a forum and of the collaborative aspects of writing in this particular medium.


I wish to thank Margaret Russell for kindly providing a very good example of email writing and, on a more general note, for sharing her insights into teaching throughout our joint classes, and not least for her valuable comments on my Federica lessons.
I also wish to thank the staff of Federica, for their expert handling of all technological matters, and for helping fit my teaching materials to the Web.

I materiali di supporto della lezione

S. Cornbleet, R. Carter, 2001, The Language of Speech and Writing, London, Routledge.

C. M. de B. Clark, 2006, Views in the News. A textbook, Milano, LED.

A. S. Hornby, 2005, Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English, 2005, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

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Progetto "Campus Virtuale" dell'Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, realizzato con il cofinanziamento dell'Unione europea. Asse V - Società dell'informazione - Obiettivo Operativo 5.1 e-Government ed e-Inclusion