Tag Archives: Harris

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.

Harris’ moves – 2 and 3


Harris (2006) suggests that there are four genre ‘moves’ in academic writing:

  • coming to terms
  • forwarding
  • countering
  • taking an approach

In the previous blog post, I discussed Move 1: coming to terms.  In this blog, I’ll show you Moves 2 and 3:  Forwarding and Countering.


Once academic writers are familiar with the substance of the topic at hand, they then move into a process of forwarding. Harris (2006) argues that asymmetrical conversations happen in academic writing. Academics do not write to the people they are writing about, they write to fellow readers. Forwarding is the process of recirculating, repurposing or recontextualising meaning from texts. The mechanisms for this are:

  • Illustrating – using other texts as examples to explain your point (anecdotes, data, scenarios).
  • Authorising – when you use an author to support your thinking, this is the “quick appeal to another writer as a voice of authority” (Harris, 2006, p. 44).
  • Borrowing – drawing on terms or ideas from other writers to explain your point. Here you use other texts by borrowing a term or idea to relate to your own argument.
  • Extending – when you put your own meaning on an idea drawn from another text to advance your own argument. Extending a text can be difficult. You feel you may not feel confident about extending on an authority’s ideas but this is what makes the writing your own.


The next move is countering or arguing against a text or author. This is a critical part of academic writing. It’s not enough to understand the topic and to extend on others’ ideas, academic writing always includes counter arguments. Counter arguments, however, are often not the opposite side of the debate, as Harris, 2006, p. 56) suggests: “countering looks at other views and texts not as wrong but as partial – in the sense of being both interested and incomplete” (emphasis in original). In other words, you will not need to refute an author’s argument but rather add to the conversation or perhaps take it in a new direction. The mechanisms for this are:

  • Arguing the other side – since all academic writing is centered on argument, this would mean taking another side to the one the writer is putting forward. It may even be a counter argument in this author’s own writing. This would require a justification of why the other side of the argument is worthy.
  • Uncovering or explicitly surfacing values – all writers write from a point of view or perspective which is value-laden. Some writers explicitly state their framework or theoretical stance but others do not. What is “unmarked or unquestioned” (Harris, 2006, p. 63) in the text? This is not easy to do and sometimes can only be done by comparing one reading to another.
  • Dissenting with concepts, authors, texts or issues. Harris (2006, p. 64) explains that dissenting often involves working out where there is agreement first: “There is a kind of template for many academic essays in which a writer says something like this: Until now, writers on this subject have disagreed on points a, b, and c. However, underlying this disagreement, there is a consensus of views on point d. In this essay, I will show why point d is wrong” (emphasis in original). In Education and other professional contexts, dissension can also come from experience in practice and it is especially powerful if you can provide published evidence to back up your experience. A further way of exploring dissension is to use two authors from different perspectives to show the differences between them and either align your own argument with one author or take the conversation in a different direction (Harris, 2006). Although Harris (2006) does not add this to his list, you can also pose questions as a way of dissenting.

In the next blog post, I’ll talk about Harris’ last move: Taking an approach.


Harris, J. (2006). Rewriting: How to do things with texts. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

Harris’ moves – 1


Harris (2006) suggests that there are four genre ‘moves’ in academic writing:

  • coming to terms
  • forwarding
  • countering
  • taking an approach.

Coming to terms

The first  move coming to terms refers to the process of reading, getting to know content, concepts and issues. When you come to terms in writing, you restate the work of another writer. The mechanisms for achieving this are: summarising, paraphrasing, quoting and writing descriptions. In making notes about a reading, you would be looking for the writer’s purpose (what they intended to do in the text), the writer’s main argument, the evidence provided for the claim and how this relates to your own argument. One misunderstanding about academic readings is that we all read and receive the same message when we can really all interpret the same article quite differently. Academic writing is often about explaining how you read a paper and what you interpret from it. Your notes need to explain what you understand from the source text, what your interpretation is and how it relates to your argument in your own writing (Harris, 2006).

Harris (2006, p. 24) argues:

“academics seldom write in an all-or-nothing mode, trying to convince readers to take one side or the other of an argument. Instead their work assumes that any perspective on an issue (and there are often more than two) will have moments of insight and blindness. A frame offers a view but also brackets something out. A point of view highlights certain aspects and obscures others. And so, in dealing with other writers, your aim should be less to prove them right or wrong, correct or mistaken, than to assess both the uses and limits of their work. That is to say, academic writing rarely involves a simple taking of sides, an attack on or a defense of set positions, but rather centers on a weighing of options, a sorting through of possibilities.”

Practical Activity

One strategy to use is to summarise a text in a paragraph, then to write another paragraph on why you think it is important and relevant to your research. Then do the same for another text on the same topic. After that, compare the two texts: what similarities are there, what differences? What sense can you make of the topic from comparing these two texts? Then add another reading into the mix and follow the same process. In this way, you begin sorting and grouping ideas and arguments.


  • Block quotes – are long quotes longer than 40 words to make a point
  • In text quotes – are part of your sentence and you incorporate the words of another author to emphasize a point.
  • Scare quotes – are quotation marks around a single word and usually indicate sarcasm or problematizing the term. For example, if I use ‘problem’, I’m indicating that I’m questioning the use of the word as it was used.

The next move is forwarding – see the next blog post.

Learning the dance steps in academic/research writing


The people who conduct research on academic writing refer to consistent patterns in writing as ‘genre moves’.  These are really like steps in a dance.  Everyone does them in a particular order and that forms the pattern.  Joseph Harris (2006) wrote a book called ‘Rewriting: How to do things with texts’ where he outlines four common moves/steps in academic writing. To me, just knowing that there are patterns or moves helps me to see what I’m doing in my writing.  It gives me an element of control.  The four moves are

  • forwarding
  • countering
  • coming to terms
  • taking an approach

Over the next four blog posts, I’ll take you through his four moves, step by step.  While these moves are not always the same in every piece of writing (unlike dance steps in a set dance), they will help you to analyse your own writing and to see if you are stuck in one move.  Harris’ moves are widely known and there is a fair amount of literature on them if you are interested in researching this further.

Harris, J. (2006). Rewriting: How to do things with texts. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.