A Simple Explanation of Genre

In “Genre as a Social Action”, Carolyn Miller explains the importance of genre in a rhetorical piece as a form of persuasion. She states that “a rhetorical sound definition of genre must be centered not on the substance or the form of discourse but on the action it is used to accomplish”. Rhetoric, as she describes, leans towards provoking the audience into action or discourse. This is because the strong emotion that rhetoric creates is more impactful for a reader than the formal qualities that it carries. Rather than categorizing rhetoric as through its structure, the principle it tries to promote is more apt.

According to Miller, the reactions that emerge after a piece is delivered can be predicted. Her argument for this is that “’the existence of the recurrent provides insight into the human condition’ … Recurrence is implied by our understanding of situations as somehow ‘comparable’, ‘similar’, or ‘analogous’ to other situations”. By this she is stating that people in general are inclined towards a side based off previous experiences. When a specific topic is presented in the news or if a topic is presented in a colored manner, people have been seen to react predictably because of their predisposition. This is “because human action is based on and guided by meaning, not by material causes, at the center of action is a process of interpretation”. Miller’s point is that people are most invoked by the message that an author imbues on the audience. The “material causes” or composition qualities are insufficient in defining a piece as they aren’t the focal point.

A writer can pen a strong and manipulative piece aimed at the right audience by studying the disposition of the public. This can be seen by looking at past reactions as well as gauging the current public mood after receiving news. It is important for a writer to effectively tailor the formal quantities of their piece to strongly display the message they want to impart.

Miller, I need many Millers after this!!

To be honest, I struggled some with Miller, but I am going to try and suggest what I think she was driving at in regards to the concept that genre is based in social action. She states something quite appropriate: “…for genres change, evolve, and decay; the number of genres current in any society is indeterminate and depends on the complexity and diversity of society” (p. 163). This makes sense, if, in fact, I am getting her point. The more advanced or privileged a society is the more genres they will have. If North Koreans are banned from the internet, then they lack the ability to use a blog as a genre of writing. Writing blogs happen on the internet, and if you do not use the internet, you cannot write in that genre. The inability to use the World Wide Web prevents some from taking social action in a certain genre. Blogs may be very foreign to the North Koreans, assuming they have no or quite limited internet access. If I do not know how to use Instagram, I cannot use that genre to express myself. The ability to act with certain media may promote the use of certain genres and inhibit use of other genres.

Furthermore, I could post my thesis of George Whitefield on Facebook, but it is likely no one will read it. Instead, I could post a quick note saying, “Just finished my thesis on Whitefield. So happy!!!” That may get 30 “likes”. The medium of Facebook dictates what genre I will use. The medium I choose affects my actions which in turn affects my genre of choice. Some genres are better left far from certain media, just as I highlighted with my thesis and Facebook. Miller writes further, “Genre refers to a conventional category of discourse based in large-scale typification of rhetorical action, [genre] acquires meaning from the social context in which that situation arose” (p.163).  I think this is quite accurate. We are limited by some media as to what we can do. One would not post rather emotional love poem to his wife on Facebook. It would take away so much of what should only be said in private. I suppose I would argue that the medium used (which is intrinsically tied to social action) dictates genre. If I can send email, I may be more casual, than if I am writing something to be delivered via a sail boat to England.

To close, when we are writing we must always be aware of the medium we use. Some media require and demand more academic precision. Some demand less. I would argue that when we write public, the medium controls our social action which controls our genre. There are obvious way different styles between different media choices. A speech in congress is going to be inherently different than a goofy YouTube one shares with friends. The medium affects the action which affects the genre.

Defining Genre by Social Actions

Carolyn Miller believes that the classification of genres is not as cut and dry as we might think. In her essay, she makes the claim that it is much more complex than just labeling a piece as a novel, an article or an essay, etc.  She says, “In sum, what I am proposing so fat is that in rhetoric the term “genre” be limited to a particular type of discourse classification, a classification based in rhetorical practice and consequently open rather than closed and organized around situated actions…”  In other words, genres are subjective and heavily context driven.  In that same sense, an audience is context driven and they can interpret what is said in a countless number of ways. This ties back to the concept of knowing the audience you are writing to. To most effectively write to the public, you have to be sure to convey your message in a way to your target audience is paramount.  When you are writing publicly, you must take this into consideration. First you must consider all the possible audiences that your writing could reach and realize that each of these audiences may react in a different way. Once you consider the possible audiences, you must frame your argument so that it pleases all of them as best as possible.  For example, the United Nations Children’s’ Rights document we read in class.  One of the possible audiences that the UN was trying to reach in this document were children. They had to make sure that a child was able to read and understand the rights outlined in that document. If they did not do that effectively, they would be missing their largest demographic.

Genre and Water

Carolyn Miller, a well-known student of rhetoric, attacks one of the most pressing subjects of rhetoric, genre. Genre is founded on the study on convention of how rhetors and audience comprehend each other. She sums it up to is that genre is not limited to a certain type of discourse classification. However, I do not know what a discourse classification is and cannot seem to decipher it within this reading. Apparently, in order for the audience to understand the discourse, it must reflect the rhetorical experience. These experiences can come from the audience’s personal experiences or situations that they are placed in. These situations are “social constructs that are the result, not of ‘perception,’ but of ‘definition.’” This poses the probability of a common definition amount the audience which allows for a genre to be set by the author.

Miller poses the approaches to genre of several other rhetors in the hope to support their positions that genre study is valuable because it emphasizes social and historical aspects of rhetoric. It is interesting how she said that she will argue that a rhetorically sound definition of genre must be centered not on the substance or the form of discourse but on the action it is used to accomplish. This is important when looking into my topic of the water crisis. The action that I am trying to accomplish is important to the environment and for the future of the globe. Therefore, it is crucial to focus on the action I am trying to portray upon my audience.

When an idea is thought-provoking, the audience’s reaction is also important. When my audience comprehends the idea I am trying to get to them, the nature of my topic is one that needs a positive reaction to be successful. As humans, we are susceptible to repetition. Therefore studying the reactions to situations of other rhetors, we are able to predict how audiences may react. This is important when choosing the exact audience and how to approach them to receive the best possible response. Again, this is super important when addressing the water crisis and I must be able to choose the proper approach.

Blog#3 Genre as social action

Genre, can be seen anywhere in our daily lives. It’s a method that people can show their opinions or thoughts to others. Therefore, it’s not restricted to a specific form. It can be communication between people through different ways, including writing or writing. It can even be a drama, a portrait, a poetry, etc. In the following paragraphs, I’m going to focus on the genre of writing specifically.

According to the reading, Miller studied a lot on different people’s opinions on genres. Campbell and Jamieson considered inductivity to be one of the characteristics, which is more open class and less restricted by certain frames. On the other hand, Harrell and Linkugel more focused on theory rather than social actions.

After reading this article, I do have some thoughts that can be applied to public writing. In public writing, after we figure out who our target audiences are, we do have to think about how we can reach to our target audience. By this way, studying the characteristics of target audience and how they are going to respond will be very important to make the public writing successful. Therefore, classifying genre by social actions is very helpful in public writing. In addition, in order to make sure to deliver the messages to target audience, it will be a recurring activity. Therefore, studying how past audiences react and respond to our writing will be very helpful for us to think about how we may improve our writing to make it more acceptable to audiences. However, even social responses are really important in public writing, I’m not saying that we don’t need to consider theory or or any restrictions that may affect. Sometimes regarding various topics, there might have specific rules that will affect the style of the writing, which can lead it to work better in a closed set.

In summary, I do agree with Miller’s opinion that current social situation and people’s social actions have a lot impacts on genre of writing. Therefore, when we work on public writing, we do have to figure out what factors in current society can influence our writing and how it will be delivered to target audience.

Lots of long words in a 33 year-old doctoral dissertation


I’ll preface this by saying I really struggled with this reading. It was writing for the public, but a public of which I am not a member. I think Miller’s idea of seeing genre in the context of social action as opposed to formal qualities is about the importance she places on content as opposed to classification for classification’s sake. Social action permits an observer to develop a more intimate understanding of whatever writing/media is being classified. It is limiting to let a simple label to inform our understanding of a “…genre as typified rhetorical actions based in recurrent situations”. Rather, it has to be an amalgam of form and substance. I really liked how Miller described form here. She says, “A work has form in so far as one part of it leads a reader to anticipate another part, to be gratified by the sequence. Form shapes the response of the reader or listener to substance by providing instruction, so to speak, about how to perceive and interpret…” It made me think about the NPR piece we listened to this past week. As a regular listener, I expect those interviews to follow similar procedures, especially when it comes to breaking up the monotony of the correspondent with music, sounds from the location (like the scrubbing of the headstones or the crunch of leaves while walking through the cemetery). It is somewhat gratifying to expect something and for that expectation to be validated. Some of this concept goes back to what we were discussing earlier in the course about how an audience rarely wants to be preached to or commanded. You can lead them in a direction and make limited suggestions that allows them to “decide” for themselves. By providing the structure of a form that is navigable as well, it might make a thesis or campaign goal resonate more strongly and be that much more effective in persuading an audience.

Society and Genre

I think that when we choose a genre to write, we are first thinking about our topic.  After considering the topic we are writing about, we have to think about the best way to convey this information to our target audience.  Once the target audience and topic are defined, it is then time to choose a genre of writing.  In the reading, when discussing society’s impact on genre, Miller says, “… a society establishes a way of ‘acting together’. It does not lend itself to taxonomy, for genres change, evolve, and decay; the number of genres current in any society is indeterminate and depends upon the complexity and diversity of the society”.  I think this quote does a good job of explaining Miller’s ideas regarding society and genre.  She talks about how every society is different and every group of people will react to different genres in different ways.  I think that there is not one genre of writing that will fit the needs of every demographic.  This is why it is so important to know the audience you are trying to reach.  The same genre of writing can be used to write for different audiences, but they may be used in different ways.  This is because there are other elements to take in to consideration when writing.  For example, things like word choice and the audience’s reading level are extremely important when writing for a specific group of people.  Later in the reading, Miller says, “genres serve as keys to understanding how to participate in the actions of a community”. In this quote, I think she is talking about the importance of audience when choosing a genre to write about.  I think that this article will benefit my own writing for this class.  I need to be able to pinpoint the best way to reach my target audience.  I hope that through further consideration, I will be able to find the best way to communicate my message.

What is Genre?

This far in class, we have attempted to describe many seemingly undefinable words such as rhetoric and public. These terms prove to be tough to label because a single phrase, sentence, or small group of sentences cannot accurately depict them. They are complex. The term, genre, appears to be no different. Carolyn Miller argues that genre is more focused on social action rather than just a set of rules that say how to write or in what style. Miller writes, “Since ‘rhetorical forms that establish genres are stylistic and substantive responses to perceived situational demands,’ a genre becomes a complex of formal and substantive features that create a particular effect in a given situation. Genre, in this way, becomes more than a formal entity; it becomes pragmatic, fully rhetorical, a point of connection between intention and effect, an aspect of social action.” In this excerpt, Miller describes how genre is not a physical means. It is not about the organization of the words on a page or about the size/font of the text.

Genre is about the reaction a rhetorical piece instills on its audience. Genres are to provoke action based on a given situation. Miller quotes Lloyd F. Bitzer stating, “From day to day, year to year, comparable situations occur, prompting comparable responses.” It seems as if genre is a tool that rhetoricians can use to get their message across. By analyzing situations that frequently repeat themselves, rhetoricians have the ability to predict responses. This allows them to contact their public and convey their message in the most effective way possible.

To provoke certain responses, rhetoricians can use the same formal qualities such as formats, layouts, and lengths. Miller argues that these formal qualities are often mistaken for genre when it is actually the social action that the formal qualities provoke that is genre.

Having knowledge of genre can definitely be beneficial when writing for a public. The writer needs to be aware of and perhaps try to manipulate his/her public’s reaction to the piece. If the writer can control or predict the reaction, the writer can choose formal qualities that allow the piece to reach its maximum effectiveness.

Structuring Conversations Around Education Using Kairos, Public-Sphere

The topic I will be discussing over the next few weeks, educator training in America, has an incredibly broad audience. As such, the “public” I am trying to address with my campaign is very complex. To participate in and engage with such a diverse public sphere it is important to understand how timing and approach play into the reception and reaction of the audience. This rhetorical concept of ‘timing’ is best understood when considering the overarching concept of kairos. Kairos is more than simply the temporal judgement of your discourse, Sheridan et al. point to Sheard for a concise definition:

Kairos is the ancient term for the sum total of “contexts,” both spatial (e.g., formal) and temporal (e.g., epistemic), that influence the translation of thought into language and meaning in any rhetorical situation.

These contexts may seem out of the rhetor’s control but it could be argued the rhetor has the ability to influence these contexts to develop the right time and space for the discussion. Sheridan et al. demonstrate this by examining the structure of scientific writing in which the scientist identifies and explains an existing gap in knowledge, therefore creating a need or an opening through which the author can engage with the reader. I intend to employ this strategy by beginning my campaign with an analysis of the real problems facing not just the education system, but how those challenges impact the prosperity of America and how this solution has not been seriously considered to date.

The public sphere I am faced with cannot be simply defined as a singular group of people engaged in common discourse. In fact, the public sphere I am attempting to engage with is a complex amalgamation of small specialized communities, government entities, and citizens. When I initially planned my campaign I proposed the idea of creating social media snippets to grab the attention of citizens, what I did not consider is how to use that attention to establish a conversation. As Sheridan et al. point out, simply publishing a text does not create a public. Kairos must be considered to ensure the text that is produced is circulated iteratively. This is not to say the social media snippets are not important, but I need to create intertextuality with additional resources in the public sphere.

In their critique of the liberal bourgeois public sphere, Sheridan et al. challenge the notion that the public sphere is limited to the “social space[s] where rational-critical debate leads to public opinion”. This assumption risks dismissing multimodal rhetoric altogether in a time when multimodal rhetoric constitutes a growing avenue for social discourse. Sheridan et al. redefine the function of “public-sphere practice as [the] poetic world making that shapes consciousness and identity through the captivation of attention.” This opinion makes clear the value of multimodal communication as a tool to engage and entice the audience. This confirms my decision to use a multimodal approach during my campaign, engaging the professional public with a white paper and the general public with a social media snippets and news articles.

Are Electronics Slowly Killing Us?

With my campaign, I hope to reach teenagers and young adults who use technology heavily. There is minimal talk around the possibility that radiation from electronic devices can cause harm to the body’s biological systems, but I plan on bringing this issue to light. This audience would be best targeted by creating a series of documents that can be readily shared via social media.

From The Available Means of Persuasion, I believe that it will be crucial to work with the idea of Kairos–simply put as “timing” or “the right time” (Sheridan, et al). I struggle with this concept since the ideal time to enter the conversation would be once a study is released or if the news reports a person injured due electronic radiation. It would be unethical to wait until this “opportune” time, because public health could be at risk. Thus, using a rhetorical approach to “ripen the time” would be more beneficial, since this is a public issue regardless if people know it or not. The approach to this issue is not me saying that electronics should be avoided, rather reducing the use of these devices could potentially protect you from harm. If I do not join the conversation soon, it could be too late.

I’m also struggling the idea of “public” and “public sphere” discussed by Sheridan et. al. Originally, I liked the idea that my public would “exist only by virtue of address;” however, this seems limiting to the potential audience that I could reach. I can sit here and say that because I am using social media to relay my content, only those individuals whom I share my content with would be my audience. There is no real conversation around my topic, thus I cannot simply enter a “public sphere” of people concerned with this issue. Instead of creating a bubble for people to enter and leave whenever, I hope to keep people linked with one another in a sort of web or network. Recognizing that when my target audience shares my content, they are providing me with access to many others that were not in my original “public.” This means that my public will include my target audience as well as the vast number of subgroups that reside on social media. This includes, but is not limited to: the elderly, minimal-technology users, parents, aunts and uncles, etc.

One sentence really stood out to me from The Available Means of Persuasion. The authors note that “a kairotic approach to public rhetoric means being aware of available options, aware of possibilities and constraints that operate at any given moment of action” (Sheridan, et al). Integrating the concept of Kairos to my campaign has made me aware of possible limitations I may face and broadened my idea of the public that I am writing for.



Sheridan, D. M., Ridolfo, J., & Michel, A. J. (2012). The available means of persuasion: Mapping a theory and pedagogy of multimodal public rhetoric. Anderson, SC: Parlor Press.