Tag Archives: approach

Harris’s moves – 4


Taking an approach

The final genre move, according to Harris (2006), is when the writer takes an approach, which is fundamental to intellectual writing. This can be done through adopting the approach of another author or developing your own thinking in relation to another author. Taking an approach means taking a stand on your argument. What Harris means here is that you do not focus on ideas from an author but rather on the author’s whole intellectual contribution. Harris (2006) identifies the mechanisms as:

  • Acknowledging influences – this is showing how an influential author(s) has affected your own thinking and has led to your different approach.
  • Turning an approach in on itself – using the questions an author asks to question him/her yourself. This is an appreciative/skeptical way of viewing a source text/author.
  • Reflexivity – is the critical self-awareness of one’s own assumptions and an understanding in relation to an author. Where the new approach you have taken is different but where you have looked at all sides, weighed up options and evidence and well as one’s own biases and then moved to a new approach or idea.

The binding

Harris (2006) also mentions the glue that holds all these moves together which is known as metatext. You might have also seen this mentioned as signposts or transitions. These are the sentences that show your reader what moves you are using and when in the paper. Phrases like: In the first section of the paper, I will discuss…; The purpose of this section is to…; While the literature is broad and complex, I would like to focus on three key authors/issues that are relevant to this discussion/my argument…”

“I’ve argued throughout this book that the goal of academic writing is to form your own position on a subject in response to what others have said about it” (Harris, 2006, p. 95).

Look closely at the academic articles you read to see the pattern.

  • How does the article begin?
  • How is it organized? Does it have specific headings or sections?
  • Can you see Harris’ moves?
  • How are citations used – to put forward a claim, to refute it?
  • How does the article conclude


In the following extract – an introduction to a journal article (Huckin, 2002, p. 347) – you can see all these moves being made in one paragraph.

“‘The greatest triumphs of propaganda have been accomplished, not by doing something, but by refraining from doing. Great is truth, but greater still, from a practical standpoint, is silence about truth. By simply not mentioning certain subjects, . . . propagandists have influenced opinion much more effectively than they could have done by the most eloquent denunciations, the most compelling of logical rebuttals.’ These comments by Aldous Huxley in his 1946 foreword to Brave New World underscore the power of silence to affect communication. Traditionally, discourse analysts have tended to ignore such silences, preferring instead to focus on the words, phrases, clauses and other linguistic elements that constitute the surface of text and talk. Brown and Yule’s (1983) definition of discourse analysis is illustrative: ‘We examine how humans use language to communicate and, in particular, how addressers construct linguistic messages for addressees and how addressees work on linguistic messages in order to interpret them’ (1983: ix, emphasis added). Yet any practicing discourse analyst will readily acknowledge that communication involves more than just the linguistic markers used to encode it – that often what is not said or written can be as important, if not more so, than what is. As Stuart Hall (1985) has noted, ‘Positively marked terms “signify” because of their position in relation to what is absent, unmarked, the unspoken, the unsayable. Meaning is relational within an ideological system of presences and absences’. If we define textual silence as ‘the omission of some piece of information that is pertinent to the topic at hand,’ it can be divided into five broad categories as follows: speech–act silences are those that have illocutionary force by virtue of being so interpretable by a reader/listener using Gricean, Leechian or other pragmatic principles; presuppositional silences are those that serve communicative efficiency by not stating what the speaker/writer apparently assumes to be common knowledge; discreet silences are those that avoid stating sensitive information; genre based silences are those that are governed by genre conventions; and manipulative silences are those that deliberately conceal relevant information from the reader/listener. The first two of these types occur mainly on the sentence or utterance level, whereas the last three are broader in their scope of application, ranging up to entire texts.

After briefly surveying these five types, this article will focus on manipulative silence, in particular the kinds of manipulative silence that are commonplace in the print media. This topic to date has received little attention from discourse analysts and linguists – a neglect that, in my view, can be attributed to the fact that manipulative silence is the least linguistically constrained and therefore most difficult type of silence to identify and analyze. This article presents a systematic method for addressing the problem, and includes a case study on the discourse of homelessness by way of illustration.