Genres of Writing – How To Distinguish Between Them

A Short Guide to the Genres of Writing

There are as many types of genres in writing as there are books, movies, and other publications. For example, in the literary world, writing might either be fiction or non-fiction and it is likely to fall into one of the major literary genres, such as:

  • Comedy
  • Drama
  • Horror
  • Realism
  • Romance
  • Satire
  • Tragedy
  • Thriller
  • Fantasy

Of course, as you begin to develop your literary work, it is possible that these genres might begin to branch out into ‘sub-genres’ such crime, fairy-tale, and folklore. Or, they might cross over into another genre all together, creating a mix of genres like ‘dramady’ or ‘romcoms’.

When the classification of writing changes, so does the list of possible different types of writing genres. Take professional writing, for example. You aren’t likely to encounter romance or fantasy in a piece of professional correspondence. However, you might see documentation such as:

  • Abstract
  • Book Review
  • Commentary
  • Critique
  • Cover Letter
  • Email
  • Memo
  • Journal
  • Profile
  • Proposal

In short, a “genre” makes use of unique features that will differentiate it from other genres or types of writing. It is up to you as the writer to ensure that you clearly understand the formal and type of writing that is expected in your particular situation.

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Genres of Writing – Where to Start?

If you have any experience with the popular movie streaming service Netflix the odds are good that you have a basic answer to the question of ‘what’s a genre.’ As eluded to in earlier paragraphs, “genre” refers to the form that your writing will take. Most often, genre is determined by not only the purpose of the writing but also by the audience who the work is being created for.

For example, if you are preparing for a stand-up comedy routine, you might write a comedy script. If you need to tell members of a club or organization that you will be hosting a fundraiser, you might decide to write a memo.  In the case of business or professional writing, you should anticipate some exceptions in formality based on the genre of writing you choose.

The more formal the purpose of the writing, the more formal the genre should be.

How to Identify Genre

The criteria of genre is largely determined by its specific need. For instance, a ‘shopping list’ is a genre created out of the need to remember the items on your grocery list while you visit the local supermarket. Typically, grocery lists are a set form of writing, concise and to the point and most often in list format.

The key takeaway here is that genre will almost always be determined by the needs and expectations of the audience. This is why it is so vital to clearly understand what information your audience will need and what you want them to be able to get out of your writing. All of this information will be used to determine which genre is best suited for your written work.

That said, there will be occasions where your genre might be set for you. For instance, you might be asked to write a paper in a pre-determined genre and then it will become necessary to figure out how the criteria of a specific genre should be applied and what information should be included and why.

Earlier we discussed literary genres and their subclassifications, other forms of writing have ‘common genres’ too. For example, as students learning how to write, you might encounter six common types of writing genres. They are ‘descriptive writing’, ‘expository writing’, ‘journals and letters’, ‘narrative writing’, ‘persuasive writing’ and ‘poetry writing.’ The chart below explains the differences.

Descriptive WritingIn this genre of writing, you might take note of things like metaphors and similes and use these sensory details to make your writing more objective.· Comparisons

· Descriptive sentences

· Poems


Expository WritingIn this genre, it is common to collect and synthesize information. This type of writing is often objective – reports are the most frequently seen medium.· Essays

· Directions

· Reports

· Summaries

Journals and LettersHere you might either write to yourself or to someone else. This type of writing is personal and less formal than any of the other genres. You may share news, ideas or take notes.· E-mail

· Blogs

· Letters

· Personal journals

Narrative WritingThe genre may involve sharing of stories, writing stories about personal events and creating new stories. These will include a beginning, a middle and an end.· Personal narratives

· Story sharing

· Story scripts

Persuasive WritingPersuasion refers to the ability to convince someone to see things from your specific vantagepoint.· Book and movie reviews.

· Letters to the editor

· Letters

· Essays

· Advertisements

Poetry WritingThis genre focuses on creating imagery with words, using rhymes and other stylistic devices to create poems.· Poems

· Haiku



If you are looking for a more in-depth explanation of any of the above-mentioned genres, take a look at this article.

Genres of Professional Writing

Genre isn’t restricted only to creative writing, it is also commonplace in professional and business correspondence. These include, but are not limited to, memos, business letter, meeting minutes and, more recently, social media.

Memos: Memos are well on their way to becoming a thing of the past as they continue to be replaced by emails. All things considered, understanding the guidelines for a standard memo are still exceedingly important, regardless of the medium used to circulate a memo. Memos must be direct and to the point, they should provide a clear summary, and also place the most important information closest to the start.

Memos need to have a tone that is not only positive, but is also appropriate for the audience it is intended for.

Business Letters: Business letters will always be one of the most important genres of business writing. These formal pieces of correspondence deliver news or request information and they rely on a specific set of guidelines in order to assist the reader in obtaining relevant information quickly. Business letters can be sent via email or directly through the post. Regardless of the medium of delivery chosen, the formalized structure of these types of professional correspondences are extremely important.

Meeting Minutes: Meeting minutes serve the purpose of providing a recording of the most important parts of a professional meeting. If you were assigned the task of recording meeting minutes, you would need to follow several basic steps.

  • Firstly, begin with the date and time information for the meeting, as well as the location where the meeting occurred. If necessary, list the attendees. This information will help both yourself and the reader stay organized and it will also make it easer for readers to recall specific memories from the meeting itself.
  • Only note the most important information and details. Similar to other forms of professional writing genres, you should stick with only the information that the audience needs to know the most. It is unnecessary and time consuming to include long descriptions of event or unimportant details – padding your paragraphs with irrelevant information will cause important details to be lost. Only include basic points and provide details where they might be useful in helping the audience develop a clear understanding of the course of events.
  • Strive to maintain uniformity. All meeting minutes should follow a similar format. For example, if you capitalize one name – you should capitalize all names. If data is given using time stamps instead of numbered points, then time stamps should always be used. You should also be following uniformity when referring to names and locations.

Social Media: Social media is the newest genre in business writing, and has become increasingly prevalent in world of business communication. If you are ever asked to assist with maintaining commercial social media accounts, it is important to understand how each platform works. For example, Twitter has a 140-character limit, so the information you share will need to be concise and external links should be carefully considered prior to adding them.

Writing for social media is typically more informal than most other types of business writing, however, it still requires that you know your audience and that you are able to communicate with them on the same level. For example, are you sharing information for coworkers?

Potential customers? Students? Consider who you are speaking to and on what level you should speak to them. You might find it helpful to browse other social media posts to develop a firmer understanding of how the most popular social sharing platforms can be used to reach target audiences.

The different types of writing genres will change depending on the nature of the written work itself. As can be expected, the genres that are suitable for things like play scripts, novels, poems and other forms of creative writing aren’t likely to be the same ones that are suitable for business or professional writing, trade journals, product manuals or even guide books.

The most important thing to factor in when deciding what genre to deploy in your writing (unless a genre has been assigned to you) is the audience that you are writing for and the purpose of your writing. There are occasions where it might be beneficial to add elements of comedy or realism to your writing, but there are also times and situations where it is likely more in your best interest to adopt a more formal and professional approach.