Essay-writing module for second-year students of history

  • Adelia Carstens


Increasing evidence from corpus, discourse and genre analysis has indicated that there is significant variation between disciplines in the way that they structure their discourses, in particular their written genres. Therefore, discipline-specific approaches in language teaching have gained much support in recent years. However, few studies have thus far given a systematic account of relationships between disciplinary purposes and writing conventions, or have used such information as input for course design. This article analyses the purposes of historical writing, and relates these to the salient concepts, genres and modes found in historical discourse. In particular, the discursive and lexicogrammatical choices that are available to the historian for the construal of time, cause and effect, and judgement or evaluation are explored. One particular aspect of evaluation, viz. engagement, is teased out in more detail to demonstrate the pedagogical value of corpus-based genre analysis. The findings underscore the assumption that disciplinary purposes shape texts in a discipline, and show that there is a clear relationship between the main purposes of a subject-field and its writing conventions – at least as far as History is concerned. A genre-based syllabus for a writing course aimed at second-year students of history is subsequently proposed, and a preview is given of the follow-up research that is envisaged to evaluate the effect of the intervention as well as to compare it with the effect of a generic intervention.


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Author Biography

Adelia Carstens
Adelia Carstens is a professor attached to the Unit for Academic Literacy at the University of Pretoria. She has published research in a variety of literacy-related areas, including health issues such as HIV/Aids and applications of Systemic Functional Linguistics.Email: