Hyland, K. (2001) 'Bringing in the Reader. Addressee Features in Academic Articles', in Written Communication, 18 (4): 549 - 74.
[This article looks at writing which acknowledges active readers and the devices that attempts to engage active readers in a dialogue. This is in contrast with studies of a number of techniques that look at how writers position themselves, claim credibility and so on. In other words it is persuasive writing that persuades by trying to involve readers. A large number of research articles from different disciplines were investigated, and some common features discovered].
There is now a recognition that readers can interrogate and refute the claims made by writers, which has led to new attempts to respond. These take the form of 'interpersonal negotiations' between writers wishing to advance claims, and anticipation of how readers might respond (550). This is more than just managing the authorial self. What is involved is some identification and response to perceived reader reactions, either in the form of specific or imagined audiences. There is also a wider intertextual context which has to be addressed by writers wishing to claim membership of academic communities.
Some devices take a written form of normal (face-to-face) 'interaction management' (551) such as 'politeness, mitigation, referential knowledge, persona, status and [rhetoric]' (551). There are also overt references to readers and explicit forms of address designed to gain support and deal with possible objections.
The study consisted of an analysis of 240 published articles in eight disciplines, nominated as representative by experts. Specific features were used to analyze the text, some based on previous research. This research suggested the importance of:
'(1) questions, both real and rhetorical; (2) inclusive first person, indefinite, and second person pronouns and items referring to readers; (3) directives, including imperatives, obligation modals referring to actions of the reader (must, ought, should, have too, need to)... and adjectival predicates... directing readers to a particular action; (4) references to shared knowledge; and (5) asides addressed to the reader, marked off from the ongoing flow of text' (553) [actual examples follow 553-4]. A table on page 554 shows the frequency of use of these devices. Disciplinary practitioners were also interviewed in order to see what 'writers have tried to achieve with specific choices' (554).
This research indicates that academic writing is not really impersonal! The most common device is the inclusive first person pronoun 'we'. In some articles, such pronouns occurred at the rate of 'almost two on every page' (555), although there were some variations between disciplines, with philosophy using far more such devices than biologists. Interestingly, physicists seem to employ these devices more than other scientists. [A table on page 556 gives the data].
The main purposes of using these devices seems to be to try to include readers as the participants in an argument, members of an academic group. There is also an increasing recognition that the reader can be a critic and 'potential negater of claims' (557).
Reader solidarity is addressed primarily by the use of pronouns such as 'we'. Only philosophy makes a great deal of use of 'you and your' (557). Perhaps it is that using 'you' suggests a gap between writer and reader. This is sometimes addressed by using 'you' in an indefinite sense [much as the royal family refers to 'one']. Sometimes writers address 'the reader', suggesting that such a person wishes to join the dialogue. The device is often still persuasive however [as in 'any normal reader'?]. There is a confident expectation that the readers will share the writer's views. The use of 'we' also strengthens the writer's claim to belong fully to a disciplinary community or network [and also disguises authorship and personal views? Strangely, 'we' avoids personal responsibility?].
There are also personal asides which break the discussion and offer 'metacomment' (561). This is particularly found 'in the soft fields... social sciences and humanities' (561). Here, it is more important to organize a looser scholarly field than is found in science. The intention is also to strengthen argument [compare with the claims of autoethnography to be writing 'authentically', or the claims of televangelists to be offering 'prime knowledge']. Sometimes, the intention is to demonstrate shared endeavours to understand, or to draw upon common understandings, sometimes 'only to discount them briefly without need for extended explanation, and move on' (562 ) [classic academic realism and prime knowledge].
There also directives which instruct the reader to do things -- consider, examine, understand and so on. For Hyland, these represent 'an explicit rejection of the positivist conventions of objectivity' (563) [or is it a persuasive technique anticipating reader reservations about positivism, only to discount them briefly...?]. There may be specific instructions, but also 'a modal of obligation' [the examples given feature phrases such as 'we must identify... we need to examine' (563)]. There is also the use of 'a predicative adjective... controlling a complementary to - clause' (563) [the examples include statements that 'it is important to understand... it is necessary to understand']. The most common imperative is the word 'see', but there is also a frequent use of 'note, concede, or consider' (564). Often, these imperatives follow a particular argument, such as setting up premisses first.
These devices are fairly common in science and engineering. Imperatives do risk spoiling the conventional fiction of democratic relationships with readers, however, and in the soft fields they sometimes take a 'citational' form rather than a direct instruction [that is, urging someone to read something?], and are sometimes set out aside from the main text 'in brackets or footnotes' (565). In the harder fields, directives allow a more economical and terse form of expression designed to communicate information effectively -- directing readers to 'the meat -- the findings' (565). There are also express conventions of 'accurate understanding... linear and problem oriented approach... highly standardized code' (556).
Appeals to shared knowledge can complement directives, although it can be problematic to judge what can be considered to be shared. It is common to find 'jargon, acronyms, preferred metaphors, familiar argument structures, citational practices' (566), and sometimes an invitation to the reader to consider a particular proposition or claim. Such devices are found commonly in soft fields: science writers simply expect readers to have subject based knowledge. An invitation to share knowledge is often signalled by the phrase 'of course': this both strengthens the writer's argument and helps 'shape the role of the reader' (567), or 'recruit the reader... by pointing to some expected knowledge' (568). It is also common to anticipate objections or mistakes [and perhaps forgive them, as in 'of course many people would think that'?]. In this sense, 'of course' sets out a position with which the writer goes on to question.
Questions are also used, although not that frequently in academic writing, compared to ordinary conversation. Questions clearly can act to bring readers into dialogue, create interest, raised curiosity, and and offer a challenge. In academic writing, there are often used to maintain interest at the end of an article. Rhetorical questions are also more frequent, '... so the reader appears to be the judge, but actually... no response [is expected]' (570). This technique is 'largely confined to the soft disciplines' (570). [In television terms, this is 'populist ventriloquism', apparently speaking for and on behalf of 'the ordinary viewer'].
Taken together, these devices indicate how writers construct readers. The audience has become far more important, as has the need to engage with it [really the result of the rise of mass publishing and mass education?]. Use of the devices does vary according to 'the broad inquiry patterns and knowledge structures of different disciplines' (571). There are also individual variations within these broad general patterns. More research is needed, perhaps on unsuccessful strategies [interviewing actual readers as well as writers might be useful?]. The most general point is that even academic writing is 'socially situated' (572).
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