17 An Article About Articles

G.W. Currier and Kennedy Essmiller

Consider this: bringing a threshing machine into a Humanities classroom doesn’t mean the machine itself is without purpose or value. It’s just that the machine isn’t being used as it was intended. Even in its proper setting—a grain field—a thresher used to shred papers is still not being used as it was intended. Articles and blogs work the same way, and it is the purpose of an article or a blog that lets us see its value.

When we ask “what makes a piece of writing ‘valuable’?’” we are asking a question about purpose. Let’s consider some keywords and phrases that might help us define the purpose of our writing: understanding, identification, questioning, countering, collaborating, advancement, enjoyment. Surely, there are as many purposes as there are authors and assignments. But a piece of writing will only ever be as valuable as you, the author, sees it.

One way to help us more clearly notice a text’s value, both as we read and as we write, is to understand its genre. Defining genre is a bit like wrestling a jellyfish: as soon as you feel you have a firm grip on it, the shape shifts and you’re exposed to stinging. As someone who has been tide-tossed into a smack of jellyfish, I can tell you the pain of being stung by a jellyfish is worse than the pain of being surprised by a genre, but the frustration and perhaps a feeling of immobility is similar. Carolyn Miller (1984) notes that genre stems from humans’ “urge to classify.” She continues to argue that “human action is based on and guided by meaning,” and that this meaning is “at the center of action is a process of interpretation” (Miller 1984). This is why defining genre is difficult. We must become familiar with both human actions and the situations in which those actions are chosen. Then, “the new is made familiar through the recognition of relevant similarities; those similarities become constituted as a type” (Miller 1984). If this type “proves continually useful for mastering states of affairs, it enters the stock of knowledge and its application becomes routine” (Miller 1984). This is why we have classic superhero films like Superman (1978) and the unexpected superhero film Unbreakable (2000), or genre-blended films like Shaun of the Dead (2004) or Anna and the Apocalypse (2018). Genre, then, when understood, is one of the first and surest tools you’ll have in understanding an author’s work and in developing your own authorial voice and stance. Without genre, words float on a page like a lonely jellyfish.

Genres have rules. Some of them are hard and fast rules; others are bendable. Learning how to use these rules for a specific purpose can often develop new genres, but the two we will concentrate on within this section are “the blog” and “the article.” What you’ll see in the preceding and the proceeding sections are two styles of writing intended to imitate the archetypal “article” and the archetypal “blog.”

Expectations are likely to ruin anything—a movie, a relationship, an album drop—especially when those expectations are not articulated. Actually physically writing down our expectations of certain assignments is a helpful way of preparing ourselves for academic tasks, be they tasks we are to read or tasks we are to write.

It’s difficult to move away from the stigma of the “academic” article. They have a tendency to stultify the less-than-interested reader. Which, it seems to us, obviates their purpose of expanding the knowledge of the field. If a scholar writes in the forest, and no one’s there to read her, does it matter?

The academic article as a genre has various characteristics. There is a tendency to have: 1) more scholarly and academic language; 2) field-specific jargon; 3) a limitation or focus on prose and alphabetic/numeric language; 4) an expectation of specific, scholarly sources; 5) validation from peers in the field. Of course, these look different for a First Year Composition class when writing articles, but hold true when reading them.

Consider for a moment your own reading experiences. Write down some times when reading frustrated you due to any of the reasons 1-5 above. We’ve all had these thoughts. I don’t get what this author is saying, or there’s lots of technical words here, or perhaps worse, writing in order to sound intelligent, as a mask for our own feelings of inferiority. We try to adopt a voice that isn’t ours, and we’re unprepared to write with purpose because we’re too busy writing what we think others want. But what they really want is only what you can offer. Your own articulate insights.


Miller, C. R. (1984). Genre as social action. Quarterly Journal of Speech.


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