How can I learn how to write in a new genre (for example, personal statement, resume, or literature review)?

All writers find themselves facing new genres of writing from time to time. Finding oneself in new compositional territory unfamiliar conventions and rules can be an understandably intimidating experience. We all have to learn how write in new genres, however, and as with most new activities, it can be done with enough research, help, and practice. All genres have distinctive conventions and customs that help the reader anticipate and understand the writing.

Researching a new genre

If you want to understand a new genre, start by looking at some successful examples of that genre. For example, if you’ve never written a personal statement, try to find some examples you can study. Gathering these examples can be as simple as running a Google search, or asking instructors or offices where you mind find them. Read the examples carefully to locate and learn the major, common parameters of the genre. What kind of information do you find in the introduction? What kinds of examples or data are included? How long are these examples? Is the tone of the writing formal or informal? These and other questions will help you understand what your audience will expect when you write in this genre.

Getting help from others

Next, it is a good idea to discuss and ask questions about what you have come across in your research. Go to your instructors, or a classmate, or someone else who has experience writing in the genre to discuss what you think is important to include, or avoid, in your writing. Of course, a friendly consultant at the Writing Center can also help you at this point. Keep in mind that the guidelines you are learning are in place for a reason and will make your writing easier for your audience to understand. At the same time, remember that genres are often somewhat flexible and you find out where that flexibility is by talking to others.

Practicing writing in a new genre

Finally, after you have gathered information, discussed it, and have potentially picked up some helpful insights, all that’s left do is practice. Adapting your existing writing strategies to a new genre can take a few tries before you’ve mastered the unfamiliar set of conventions. Don’t panic. Your writing in the genre will improve with practice. Try to set aside enough time before your deadline for a rough draft or two. This is a handy technique for producing effective writing in all genres, but it is a crucial technique for working with new genres.

What can the Writing Center do to help?

The consultants here at the Writing Center are trained in discussing and responding to a wide variety of genres across disciplinary fields. We are more than willing to help you research different fields of writing, address your questions of convention, discuss formats and guidelines, and share knowledge regarding any genre you’re interested in learning more about. It may also be helpful to come in and talk to a consultant before you’ve started writing so you can understand how best to approach the new genre.