Genres in traditional (print) media are easy to understand. Typically, a printed document is made up of a single genre albeit sometimes an assembly from a collection of sub-genres (e.g., bios in proposals, executive summaries in reports).
But web pages and other digital documents are often made up of a dozen or more completely different genres on a single page (e.g., menus, specification sheets, reviews, sales or marketing sections). These genres can be extremely difficult to identify.
Genres often have different purposes, different voices, even completely different writing styles, and these different purposes, voices, and different writing styles can co-exist on the same pages. For example, menus on an Amazon marketing page are concise, easy to understand, and are typically designed to permit the user to easily navigate – this is user-centric writing. In contrast, the “Product Description” is designed to permit the writer to put together a complex and persuasive argument – persuasion-centric. For a $10,000 camera, this argument may go for a dozen pages (if printed out). There is, however, yet another writing style. At the bottom of most pages will be a place for reviews. The best of these are now easily read, nor are they meant to be persuasive. The best of these provide useful information for the potential buyer – quality centric.
I have heard some suggest that a whole website can be called a genre. I suggest that is not true. A website is a collection of different genres. That authors typically don't know that explains why so many webpages are so ineffective.once did a test of 96 professional writers, where I asked them to evaluate four simple websites with serious: 100% failed. Think about that . . . 100% of the professional writers were unable to identify the problems in the pages. The reason? The writers did not know the relevant texts had genres, and without knowing the genre of the text, it is impossible to evaluate it.
Below, is a common genre found on the Internet that is also found in traditional print, but with some differences. This is what a specification sheet (spec sheet) typically begins like,
A spec sheet (specifications sheet) is usually very short (maybe a page front and back) and presents the commodity's features in a series of lists. It allows the potential buyer to quickly compare different purchase potentials to find the one that's most optimal for their needs. The writing style for a spec sheet should user-centric. It should be concise and informative. Easily navigated and easily read.The sample above is all of those things, as is the example below..
In Amazon.com the page marketing the Canon d7 is posted below. It is also a spec sheet, but it is incomplete. On a traditional spec sheet, there would be more information.
This is only the top third of a traditional spec sheet. But there is more of the spec sheet posted in a section called "Technical Details." And even more in integrated into the Product Description.
Not only is the spec sheet a unique genre on the Amazon page, it is also sliced sections, which are then distrubuted down through the page.
Below the topmost section of the spec sheet is a collection of different menus, all of which do different things for different audiences.
Below the Technical Details section is a Product Description section. This is the only place the seller can make a meaningful argument to the potential buyer. This demands a completely different writing style from any other part of the page -- what we call "persuasion-centric.". Most authors do not recognize this and fail to make that persuasive argument. They simply list the features, often simply pasting their spec sheet info into the Product Description. For example:
This Hasselblad 500 classic kit consists of a chrome 500C/M body, and 80mm f/2.8 Zeiss Planar CF T* Lens, A12 (6x6cm ) roll film magazine and waist level finder.
They are trying to sell a $6,000 Hasselblad, and this is all they have to say about it, yet this is their only opportunity to sell the product on this page.
Not everybody misunderstands the purpose of the product description, some do try to market in it. A different, and even more expensive camera gets a slightly better treatment.
Developed exclusively for digital photography without any compromises. With the size and handling of a 35 mm camera, its performance and quality set new standards for medium-format photography. The complete Leica S-System was developed together with professional photographers with the goal of offering high quality pictures and effortless operation and handling. The entire system is based on a totally new image sensor in Leica S-Format, 30 x 45 mm in size and the classic Leica aspect ration of 3 to 2. The large area and integrated design afford optimal picture quality. With 37.5 million pixels, cropping is never a problem, even for large-format prints. The camera is the perfect instrument; the photographer can now focus on taking pictures rather than on the technology. The LEICA S2 components are the very best quality and finely tuned to one another, producing the perfect picture that is naturally sharp and does not require digital correction. The S2-P differs from the S2 due to the addition of an abrasive- and scratch-resistant sapphire cover glass to protect its LCD monitor. Additionally, the SP-2 includes Leica's Platinum Service package which adds an additional 2 years of coverage against breakage or manufacturing defects beyond the included 1-year warranty. Should the camera need repair, customers have the right to a replacement unit free of charge within 24 hours and for the period of the repair. Plus, first time maintenance by Customer Service is free of charge, and this also includes the camera shutter and lens (including 1 shutter replacement). FEATURES: Larger-than-full-frame Image Sensor - The 37.5 megapixel image sensor of the Leica S2 is almost 60% larger than a 35mm full frame image sensor - putting the Leica S2 in a class by itself. It is also specially designed to take full advantage of the latest Leica S Series lenses. <
The beginning of the copy . . .
Developed exclusively for digital photography without any compromises.
. . . is meaningless gibberish. There is no such thing as a camera that makes no compromises. Then it continues with
The complete Leica S-System was developed together with professional photographers with the goal of offering high quality pictures and effortless operation and handling. . . The camera is the perfect instrument; the photographer can now focus on taking pictures rather than on the technology.
This camera is designed for a very narrow community of very professional photographers -- mostly glamour, portrait, and perhaps industrial -- who have no trouble with the technology. It's the snap shooters, and not the pros who complain about the technologies.
The section beginning with "FEATURES:" again demonstrates that this section was copy/pasted from a list. If you Google the phrase, you will have no trouble finding a long list of other places it is used..
This camera is a $25,000 camera, and the writer is trying to sell it with three segments copy/pasted from elsewhere with no sense of understanding what the copy is doing (or in this case not doing). Someone, somewhere, spent 10 minutes on the text above and didn't write a word of it. Somebody paid them to write marketing copy for a very expensive camera, and the audience mocked the ad in the reviews.
Somewhere below the Product Description is a section of reviews. Once again, we have a completely different style (styles, actually) of writing. It is meant for the same audience as the product description but serves a completely different purpose. The best of these are not meant to be persuasive, they are meant to be informative.
The reviews are rated by their readers. The ones with the highest ratings tend to be long and complicated. Of course there is always the, "this is jujk!" or "its the best you should buy it!" but the best reviews are carefully considered, well crafted, and give the reader good information.
We argue that you can never know whether a text is working if you don't understand why the text is being created, what it is supposed to be doing and for whom -- its genre. The problem arises when writers are unable to identify the different genres.
When writers write for the Internet, they seldom recognize that they may be moving from genre to genre as they move from paragraph to paragraph.
Over the next year we will be evaluating and identifying different genres and will attach discussions of them to this page. If you really want to enhance your skills and get a leg up on the competition, watch this space.