What makes a resume a resume?
Your task in this assignment is to choose a genre of writing, identify the conventions or characteristics that define this genre, and relate those conventions/characteristics to the work that the genre does for the people who use it. The main question your analysis should address is: Why does the genre take the shape(s) that it does given what people are trying to accomplish when they use that genre? If you can get used to doing this kind of analysis when you encounter new genres, you’ll be able to create documents in those genres more quickly and successfully yourself, and become a better reader of those genres when you encounter other instances of them.
For example, in the case of resumes: the conventions/habits/characteristics that make a resume a genre occur at the level of content and design. The traditional shape of this genre is a one-page resume, formatted with headings and bullet points in order to make it easy to visually scan and discern the most important positive attributes of a job candidate. The writing includes particular kinds of headings (education, experience, skills, education, etc.), bullet points instead of paragraphs, and active sentences that lead with strong verbs focused on accomplishment and productivity. This genre comes out of the shared needs of job candidates (who want to find the best way to represent themselves as unique and qualified to a prospective employer), and prospective employers who want to be able to discern candidates’ qualifications quickly and easily. There are a range of resume approaches I could find- people get creative in all kinds of different ways with their resumes. But if they stray too far- for example, by writing an essay or short story or poem instead of a resume- then they are no longer fulfilling the expectations of the genre, and probably won’t have much luck with their job search. If I wanted to analyze the genre of resumes for this assignment, I would gather multiple examples so that I could explain what elements are most important in defining this genre, and how these elements (visual design, organization, style, form, etc.) reflect the needs of the genre users (employers and job seekers). These elements would help me discover or discern something interesting or meaningful about the genre of resumes (and perhaps how its evolving, particularly in our digital world) that I hadn’t thought about before.
Provide an introduction that identifies what genre is being studied, and previews both the most interesting findings of your analysis and the path your analysis will take. Remember that your goal isn’t to simply summarize the characteristics of a genre, but also to discover something interesting or meaningful about it through your analysis.
Clearly explain who uses the genre and for what purposes
Analyze thoroughly and accurately the elements or characteristics that make up this genre by comparing several examples of it
Utilize a clear organizational structure for the analysis, including a logical progression through whatever elements of the genre the analysis highlights
Provide a conclusion that addresses your main findings
Suggestions for Getting Started
First, you’ll need to find and select your genre. I recommend choosing a genre that uses relatively short documents, no more than a few pages each. Literary genres don’t work well for an assignment like this (for example, sci-fi would be way too long and broad for this kind of close analysis). Music or songs would also be difficult for this assignment as the focus should be on written documents (though the genre you choose may include images or other visual elements as well). Using a very short genre whose documents are a single page or only part of a page is fine. Covid-19 reopening plans are a particularly fascinating and relevant genre right now, but they tend to be on the long side. Signs about mask-wearing and other covid-related protections are another emerging genre, and it’s particularly interesting to see how businesses (and college campuses) negotiate local and state ordinances, public health recommendations, and consumer expectations (for example, whether masks are recommended or required and how that is communicated). Some ideas that came up in Chapter 2 include wedding invitations, resumes, thank-you notes, and eulogies, course syllabi, but there are hundreds to choose from. Some tips:
Choose a genre you can collect five to ten different instances of. (Beware: Some genres might be interesting but hard to collect samples of. For example, if you don’t have a lot of wedding invitations at your fingertips, might need to pick something else.)
Don’t choose a genre that is too “broad.” “Web page ads,” for example, is much too broad, as there are many genres of advertisements that show up on the web. “Social media” is also too broad to be a genre; more useful would be Twitter posts or Facebook posts with a shared topic or rhetorical purpose).
Choose a genre where different instances of your genre demonstrate differences. No two resumes or cover letters look quite alike, which is good for an analysis like this.
Analyze your examples
Once you’ve assembled your sample of five to ten instances of your genre, you’ll study them for what they have in common. Apply the categories and questions of analysis that Sonja Foss offers from Chapter 2 to help you conduct your analysis:
Exigency: What needs (or rhetorical conditions) call for the genre?
What prompts this sort of document to be written?
What is the exigence — the need or reason for a given action or communication? And who usually creates this genre — people doing what?
Content: What sort of content (substance) is typically contained in this genre?
What do these texts tend to talk about or say? Is there information that’s typically present (or not present) in these texts? (For example, resumes generally include employment history as opposed to travel or dating history:)
Form: What form does this sort of genre take and what does it look like (length, page layout, color, font)?
How are its parts organized? What language/language practices does it use?
Are there specialized terms? What tone does it take (formal, informal, friendly, stiff, casual, light)? What are its stylistic characteristics?
Dominant characteristics: What elements make this genre what it is?
What are the common denominators of the genre?
What makes a resume a resume, for example, or a covid sign distinct from other health signs (such as hand-washing signs that typically focused on employees of a business)?
Of each characteristic that you identify in the first three questions above, you might ask, “If I took out this characteristic, would it still be recognizable as this genre?”
Format: Write to be read
Although you are starting your essay with an introduction that identifies your purpose, how you organized this essay is up to you and shouldn’t (and really can’t) follow a traditional 5-paragraph format. Your analysis should tell the story of this genre through new (rhetorical) eyes, emphasizing the overall question of how what it needs to accomplish leads to the form shape it typically takes. How will you describe the scene in which this genre most often gets used? How will you differentiate between features your analysis suggests the genre must have in order to be recognizable and usable as that genre, and features that some of your samples have but others don’t, making them optional in the genre? What will be the best order in which to work through the document’s features? Consider using headings and other tools for organizing your analysis.
Length: Essay needs to be long enough to do the job. I can’t imagine being able to successfully accomplish this task in fewer than 5 pages, but I could be wrong. 5-7 seems like a good aim, but you should determine the length of your essay based on the task you need to accomplish.
The most important thing I want you to understand about this assignment is that you need to think small and focused- literary genres (like poetry or fiction) don’t work for this assignment because they are much too broad (as you know, there’s lots of ways to write poetry and fiction). You are looking for a specific genre (resumes, food labels, Amazon reviews, Tinder profiles, pandemic lock-down commercials, etc.), preferably short, that will allow you to look closely at lots of examples- credit card offer letters, vaccination ads, wedding invitations, etc.