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Graduate Writing: Developing Genre Awareness

Developing Genre Awareness

In graduate school, you may be expected to produce new types of texts, though this will vary considerably based on your course of study. Common texts in graduate school include:

  • annotated bibliographies
  • case analyses
  • critical reviews
  • exams
  • lab reports
  • literature reviews
  • proposals
  • research posters
  • scholarly essays
  • summaries and responses
  • theses or dissertations

If you are required to write a text that you are not familiar with, it is important to determine the genre conventions so that you can approach the task with confidence.

Begin by asking the following questions:

  • Who is the intended reader?
  • What is the purpose of the text?
  • What does a sample text look like?

In answering these questions, you will gain a better understanding of the tone, content, and structure of the text. In situations where you do not know the answer, you will need to investigate more deeply.

Start by looking for resourcesstyle guides are often a rich source of information as are many university writing centres (including the Writing Help Centre). Next, locate sample texts. These samples will help you gauge what is conventional; if the same aspects appear across several examples (e.g., use of short paragraphs), this is a strong indication that it is a text convention and something that you are meant to emulate in your own work. Lastly, ask questions! Professors, peers, and writing tutors are always a good source of information.

Some of the more popular academic texts are also featured on this page for your reference.

Annotated Bibliography

Annotated bibliographies are a list of sources that include not just the publication information but also a writer’s commentary on that text, ranging from a simple summary to a brief critique. Annotated bibliographies are useful for tracking what one has read and for identifying texts that will be of value when synthesizing sources for a literature review, methodology, or discussion section.

Annotated bibliographies may be assigned as part of coursework so that professors can provide feedback on the nature of the sources you are locating and advise on their suitability before you continue with your project.


Looking for more information on annotated bibliographies?

Critical Review

Critical reviews briefly summarize and then evaluate an academic article or book. They may also be referred to as an article or book review, a critical commentary, or a critique. Published reviews help other academics determine whether they should read the article or book in question, whereas critical reviews that are part of course assessment help instructors determine a student’s understanding of and their ability to critically analyze scholarly work.

Evaluation of texts may be guided by some questions or disciplinary protocols. That said, general questions that can be investigated in a critical review include the following:


  • Has the work (be it a journal article or book) achieved what it set out to do?
  • Who is the intended reader of the work?
  • What is the context for the research?
  • What are the gaps in existing research?
  • Does the researcher consider different points of view fairly?
  • Who does the author cite? Has the author failed to cite or engage with a relevant expert, theory, and/or idea?
  • Are sources cited from legitimate peer-reviewed articles?
  • How is the current research project justified?
  • Does the author use timely and/or relevant evidence when justifying their own research?
  • Why is the issue worth investigating? Will it contribute to advances in the field?


  • What is the research objective?
  • If applicable, who/what was the population studied? Is the sample representative?
  • What tools were used and why?
  • What type of data was collected and why (qualitative/quantitative)?
  • How were the data collected?
  • If surveys were used, were any of the questions biased or leading?
  • What controls were used and were they sufficient?
  • When and where did research take place?
  • Is the method appropriate for answering the research question? Were appropriate statistical tests used?


  • Any surprises?
  • Are the results generalizable?


  • Is there sufficient data?
  • What was interesting about charts/graphs included? Are they easy to interpret?


  • How did the author interpret the data?
  • What are the strengths/limitations of this interpretation?
  • Did the author use flawed reasoning or logical fallacies when interpreting the results?

Next Steps

  • What is proposed for future study?


  • Why does this study matter?
  • How does it add to collective knowledge about the topic?


  • Does the author rely on emotive language to persuade readers?
  • Is the work logically structured and organized?
  • Does the title reflect the contents of the work?

Additional Questions

  • How does the work relate to other relevant theories and/or ideas? Does it complement or contradict what has been studied or stated previously?
  • What other experiments, methodology, or investigation could test the stated conclusion?
  • What assumptions did the authors make and were they justified?
  • Is there any reason to suggest that the author is biased in their views?
  • Who funded the study? Who are the key stakeholders?
  • What were the strengths, weaknesses, and/or limitations of the study?
  • Can the results be generalized beyond the scope of the study or experiment?
  • What are the practical implications of the findings?
  • What should be done moving forward?
  • What would I like to ask the author(s)?

Note: Sometimes “article review” is synonymous with synthesis review, so be sure to double-check requirements.

Writing reviews for publication can be a good first step for graduate students who want to experience the academic publication cycle but who do not yet have original research to publish. Book reviews are often more common than article reviews, and, by becoming a reviewer, graduate students can often build their professional library through acquisition of reviewer copies. However, one barrier to becoming a reviewer may be a lack of sufficient disciplinary knowledge, which can make it difficult to situate and critique the text within the larger academic conversation.

Interested in publishing a critical article or book review? Review the guidelines in style guides or journals in your field.

Sample reviewer guidelines:


Looking for more information on writing critical reviews?

Research Poster

Research posters are visual texts that are frequently used at academic conferences to share new research (including preliminary results) with a wider scholarly audience. Posters are especially popular in STEM subjects, but many conferences will feature poster presentations regardless of discipline.

Effective posters provide enough information to intrigue readers but do not overwhelm with too much detail. Increasingly, presenters will include a link to the full paper that readers can review if they so choose.


Looking for more information on creating research posters?