Topic 6 – Written communication. Kinds of written texts. Structure and formal elements. Norms ruling written texts. Routines and formulae

Topic 6 – Written communication. Kinds of written texts. Structure and formal elements. Norms ruling written texts. Routines and formulae

I have based this essay on the following source:

– Crystal, David. The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Language.

– Cook, Vivian. Second Language Learning and Language Teaching.

In this theme I will deal with the following issues:

Firstly, with the status of writing versus speech throughout history: Crystal, Bloomfield, Rivers, and ECF.

Secondly written communication versus spoken communication.

Thirdly different types of written texts.

Fourthly with the formal structure and elements of written texts.

To end up with the norms, routines and conventions used in written texts.


The history of language study illustrates different attitudes concerning the status of writing and speech communication. For several centuries, the written language held a prominent place since it was the medium of literature and the rules of grammar were mainly illustrated from written texts and the everyday spoken was generally ignored.

However, in the 19th and 20th c. a new approach emerged and pointed out that speech is the primary medium of communication among all peoples (D. CRYSTAL).

The linguist Leonard BLOOMFIELD stated that ‘writing is not a language, but a way of recording language by means of visible marks’. Now the study of speech is a well developed subject.

According to the linguist RIVERS and the ECF there is a clear distinction between practical writing and creative writing.

  1. PRACTICAL WRITING refers to
    • the transfer of information in everyday life situations, as in newspaper, memos, personal notes, letters.
    • the recording of information for later use as in books, articles, in notes to oneself, shopping lists.
    • the recording of formal situations as in contracts, wills, sacred writings, etc.
  2. CREATIVE WRITING refers to the use of writing for

· for entertainment purposes as in some forms of literature (novels, plays, etc)

· as self-expression, as in poetry, journal writing, personal diaries, etc.


Writing is the symbolic representation of language in graphic form. We have no idea where speech began, but we know that writing originated in certain areas of the world. Any child acquires spoken language without specific formal instructions, while writing must be taught and learned through deliberate effort. Nowadays, there are groups of people in the world who are unable to write. While language comes naturally to human beings, writing does not.

Main differences between writing and speech:

  1. Writing is: space-bound, static, permanent and speech is time-bound, dynamic, and transient, both participants are present, and the speaker has a specific addressee in mind.
  2. The permanence of writing allows repeated reading and close analysis. On the other hand, the writer takes his time in choosing his word, checking, reordering and revising his writing.
  3. The participants in written interaction cannot normally see each other, and they thus cannot rely on the context to help make clear what they mean, as they would when speaking. As a consequence, writing avoids word such as: ‘this one’, ‘over there’, etc. The writer has no access to immediate feedback and has to imagine the reader’s reaction.
  4. Written language displays several unique features, such as punctuation, capitalization, spatial organizational, colour and other graphic elements. Written language tends to be more formal than spoken and is more likely to provide the standard. It also has a special status, mainly deriving from its permance,
  5. In daily life speech has mainly a primarily interactional use (establishment & maintenance of human relationships) and writing a transactional use (working out of and transference of information). (Exception: personal correspondence & computer-based interaction).


Just as spoken language shows an arbitrary link between sound and meaning, written language shows and arbitrary link between symbol and sound. Writing systems can be grouped into three basic types:

· LOGOGRAPHIC writing (refers to a system of writing where a sign may represent an entire word).

· SYLLABIC writing (employs signs to represent syllables such as Japanese).

· ALPHABETIC writing (represents consonant and vowel segments. Generally, alphabets do not indicate details of pronunciation.)

The symbols used in these three types of writing correspond to three main units of linguistics: words, syllables and segments.

Limited and Full Writing.

Limited writing includes both picture writing or pictography and ideography, the use of pictures to present not the object drawn but an idea suggested by the object (use of a drawing of the sun to represent the idea of ‘warmth’).

A full writing system represents words, not objects. To represent a language, a full writing system must maintain fixed correspondences between signs and the elements of language.

As far as text types, five major types of texts are often recognized as:

  1. NARRATIVE: have to do with fictional (novel, fairy tale) or real-world events (newspapers report), that is time.
  2. DESCRIPTIVE: are concerned with the location of persons and things in the space.
  3. DIRECTIVE: have to do with concrete future activity.
  4. EXPOSITORY: identify and characterize phenomena (definitions, explanations, summaries, essays).
  5. ARGUMENTATIVE: depart from the assumption that the receiver’s beliefs must be changed.


As a GENERAL DEFINITION of the main formal CHARACTERISTICS of written texts, we could say:

  1. texts and their component parts (letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, etc) are persistent & static.
  2. In addition, considerable sections may be scanned almost simultaneously or at least repetitively.
  3. written texts lack an immediate context (Crystal points out).
  4. are relatively explicit
  5. and relatively autonomous.

MORE SPECIALLY we can say that writing is a way of communication which uses a system of visual marks, which represents speech sounds. The standardized writing system of a language is known as its orthography. English orthography consists of:

· a set of letters (alphabet) and their variant form (upper & lower case).

· the spelling system

· and the set of punctuation marks.

All of these elements are combined in a written text and contribute to mark specific features of texts. For example, the independence of words in a text is made obvious through the spaces in the written string, the sentences of a language are indicated in the written form by capitals and periods; units of discourse, such as sentences and paragraphs are clearly identified through layout and punctuation, and are linked by connectors, etc.

The Greeks invented the alphabet (this name comes from the first two Greek letters, alpha and beta) and all the subsequent alphabets, ancient and modern, derive from the Greek one.

The ideal alphabet imposes a direct relation between the sounds of a language and the sings that represent them. In practice, signs represent combinations of sounds (ex. the English letter X stands for the sound k + s) and combinations of signs represent one sound (the letters PH for f).

In all languages, pronunciation changes continually, so a new spelling system would itself need reforming after a time but as languages have got dialects, which one is going to set the basis for this reform?

Few writing systems exist in purely logographic, syllabic or alphabetic form. Most systems use logograms for numbers, and English includes the signs & (and), $ (dollars) and the percent sign %. English also creates logograms from initials like USA, FBI, NATO, LASER.

In order to capture different elements of the spoken language such as: pause, stress, tone, pitch, indicating hesitation, surprise, anger or interrogation; written systems have developed auxiliary marks, spacing and PUNCTUATION.

The word punctuation derives from the Latin work punctus, “a point”. It refers to the system of marks or points inserted in a text to clarify meaning or a change in pitch or intonation.

Modern punctuation is complex:

  • (.) indicates completion of the sentence.
  • (:) major division within a sentence.
  • (;) marks minor sentence division.
  • (,) makes groups of word units.
  • (‘) denotes possession.
  • (?) signals a question.
  • (!) indicates emphasis.
  • (–) marks a break in a sentence.
  • (-) separates words.
  • (…) signifies an omission.
  • (“”) encompass the words of a speaker.

Another formal feature of written language is the use of CONNECTORS, words and expressions that help to join ideas by showing the relationship between them. Written language displays grammatical connections between individual clauses and utterances. Connectors can:

· add information (in addition);

· show a parallel situation (in the same way, on the same token);

· show contrast (on the other hand);

· show result and consequence (as a result, consequently).


PUNCTUATION and CONNECTORS combine to give a text coherence and cohesion. Texts are formed by paragraphs which generally follow a specific structure: they usually start by stating the topic sentence, which is one main idea expressed in the first sentence. After that, supporting ideas will be added in subsequent sentences. Finally a conclusion will end the paragraph. A new idea will be expressed in a new paragraph.

When writing is taught, a number of more or less explicit norms or RULES are referred to, and these norms will therefore be partly conscious to the language users when they write. Consequently, written language will be more constrained by rules than spoken language, especially as regards its form.

Rules that govern written texts do not only include the grammar rules of the language, but also discourse rules of coherence and cohesion, which produce the feeling that a text is a structured and forms a whole rather than a string of sentences place one after the other. Thus words are used in their appropriate sense to produce coherent sentences and sentences are linked by connectors to produce paragraphs, texts, etc.

The written language is also more conservative than the spoken language. When we write something -particularly in formal writing- we are more apt to obey the ‘prescriptive rules’ taught in school, or use a more formal style, than we are to use the rules of our ‘everyday’ grammar.

Generally, the relationship between sender and receiver- the interpersonal relationship of the interlocutors- conditions the LEVEL OF FORMALITY of the text. At the same time, the time and the situation can function as a conditioner of the formality level. The level of formality ranges from:

· very formal writing (solemn, as in writing of laws and other legally binding documents such as wills, etc)

· to highly formal writing (public and professional writing);

· to informal (private use as in writing to friends and family)

· and very informal (as in vulgar writing).

The level of formality is usually accompanied by LINGUISTIC INDICATORS. Highly formal writing displays features of formal treatment (Sir, Madam, etc) and protocol formalisms (please, May I, etc), in addition the tone and language used is polite and respectful. Informal writing may display features of colloquialisms, and the tone is distended and familiar.

ROUTINES can be defined as “conventional ways of presenting information”. There are two main kinds of routines:

· Information routines: Types of information structures including: stories, descriptions of places & people, presentation of facts, comparisons, instructions. Information routines may be identified as expository or evaluative.

EXPOSITORY ROUTINES: involve factual information depending on questions of sequencing or identity of the subject. According to Brown & Yule (1983) the main types of expository routine are narration, description and instruction.

EVALUATIVE ROUTINES: are often based on expository routines. They involve drawing conclusions, usually requiring the expression of reasoning. They include: explanations, predictions, justifications, preferences, decisions.

· Interaction routines: they include the kind of turns typically occurring in given situations, and the order in which the components are likely to occur. For example: telephone conversations, interview situations, casual encounters, conversations at parties.


The development of writing is one of humanity’s greatest intellectual achievements. From pictograms, ideograms and logograms, the graphic representation of language has developed through syllabic writing to the alphabet. This achievement through the discovery of the relationship of sign and sound, fort on the word level, then on the syllabic level, and finally on the level of the individual segmental unit. All this resulted in the reduction of the number of sings required to symbolize a language in written form.