I have to write in a new genre (for example, a personal statement, resume, or literature review) and don’t know where to start.

Writing in a new genre can be intimidating because often the expectations and features of a genre are more implicit than explicit. Luckily, one reason a certain format of writing becomes a “genre” is because certain purposes, aspects, and audiences have become standardized over time. These standardized aspects should be seen as guidelines to help you start creating your version of the genre, and not necessarily as strict, unbreakable rules.

There are a few places to start to learn about the common features of a genre:

  • Search online or in writing manuals to see if there are already some tips for writing the genre you’re working on. Our website offers some advice on literature reviews, for example. The Purdue OWL is also a helpful site for many common genres.

  • Collect a few samples (3-5) of the genre you’re writing. As you read through these samples, try to identify common sections, any similar content, and similar writing styles. Also, ask yourself, “what seems to be the main goal or message of the piece of writing?” For example, personal statements generally share the purpose of informing a committee of the writer’s passion and preparation for the position that he or she is applying for. This can help you in deciding what information to include and how to include it.

  • Finally, talk to other people who have experience writing and/or reading the genre you are writing. They can give you insight into the conventions and parts of a genre, and they may be able to talk about the purpose of each aspect.

How can the Writing Center help?

Our consultants are familiar with a wide range of genres and are able to talk with you about common conventions and, importantly, how to use those conventions in your unique situation and purpose. We can also help you look at and analyze samples so that you can better understand the typical aspects of the genre you’re writing. Depending on your genre, we may have handouts or other resources that you can view on our website or work with during and after your appointment. If you’ve already started drafting, we can give you feedback on and help you develop your writing to fit the genre expectations.