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Rhetorical functions in academic writing: Taking a stance

Introduction

In higher education, you need to be able to write critically. As well as giving the facts, you need to be able to make use of these facts to come to general conclusions. These conclusions need to be justified and supported by evidence. You also need to be aware of other points of view that exist and this must be dealt with.

Read the following sentence:

Previous studies (Jones, 1997; Smith, 2006) have indicated that the intensity of physiotherapy provision may affect some patient outcomes including reduced mortality following a stroke.

In academic writing, it is often necessary to make it clear to your reader what opinion you hold or what your position is with regard to a certain issue. This is often called your "voice" or your "position" or your "claim". It may be based on other people's research (eg, Smith & Jones), but the conclusion you have come to is your own.

As a student, it is not enough to simply describe a situation or recall the facts, you need to take a stance or position yourself in relation to the situation or the facts. This is particularly important in assessment when you have to answer a question.  Of course, you need to know and reproduce the information, but you also need to use the information to give an answer to the question, to give YOUR answer to the question.

In the sentence above, the words "indicate", "may" and "some" show the writers position towards the previous studies. Instead of "indicated", the words "shown", proved" or "suggested" could have been used. The word "may" might have been replaced by "could", "will" or nothing. "Some" was chosen, where "many", "few" or "most" were also possible.

Expressing your voice

You can show your position with respect to a particular issue by:

Showing confidence

It was clearly proposed not as a permanent arrangement, but as a temporary measure of co-operation between different individual.


This latter point was perhaps the greatest concern for Britain's aviation planners as the war went on.

You can be cautious through the use of hedges such as "perhaps", "maybe", "could", "might".

You can be confident through the use of boosters such as "definitely", "will", "must", "cannot".

See: Expressing degrees of certainty

Being explicit about relationships

You can show your position towards the relationships in the text.

If you think two ideas are almost the same, be explicit about it

Marx referred throughout his work to other systems than the capitalist system, especially those which he knew from the history of Europe to have preceded capitalism; systems such as feudalism, where the relation of production was characterized by the personal relation of the feudal lord and his serf and a relation of subordination which came from the lord's control of the land. Similarly, Marx was interested in slavery and in the classical Indian and Chinese social systems, or in those systems where the ties of local community are all important.

If you intend your sentence to give extra information, make it clear.

He is born into a family, he marries into a family, and he becomes the husband and father of his own family. In addition, he has a definite place of origin and more relatives than he knows what to do with, and he receives a rudimentary education at the Canadian Mission School.

See: Writing paragraphs: signalling

Indicating the strength of your claim.

You can show your position with regard to the points of view or the evidence that you have presented.

Research suggests that we have at least four types of memory.

or:

Research shows that we have at least four types of memory.

See: Citing sources

Here are some other words and phrases that you can use to show your position:

1

Introductory verbs

e.g. seem, indicate, suggest

2

Thinking verbs

e.g. believe, assume, suggest

3

Reporting verbs

e.g. claim, find, confirm, assert

3

Evaluative adjectives

e.g. important, misguided, wrong, misguided, inaccurate, incorrect

4

Evaluative adverbs

e.g. accurately, unsatisfactorily

5

Adverbs of frequency

e.g. often, sometimes

6

Modal verbs

e.g. will, may, might, could

7

Modal adverbs

e.g. certainly, definitely

8

Modal adjectives

e.g. certain, definite

9

Modal nouns

e.g. assumption, possibility

10

Signalling words

e.g. furthermore, similarly

Example

Read the following example from the field of Physiotherapy and identify words that show the author's position:

Patellofemoral disorders are amongst the most common clinical conditions encountered in the sporting and general population. Patellofemoral pain is usually described as diffuse, peripatellar, anterior knee pain. Symptoms are typically aggravated by activities such as ascending or descending stairs, squatting, kneeling, running and prolonged sitting.

A wide variety of disorders may fall under the umbrella term of patellofemoral pain. As a result, a thorough systematic evaluation of the patient’s lower extremity alignment, patellar mobility and alignment, muscle flexibility, strength, co-ordination, soft tissue and articular pain is important in determining the possible causes of patellofemoral pain and prescribing an optimal rehabilitation programme. Management of patellofemoral pain syndrome often includes reduction of pain and inflammation through cryotherapy, heat therapy, massage therapy, muscle flexibility and strength training (especially quadriceps), patellar taping, bracing, orthotics, correction of abnormal biomechanics or other causative factors, acupuncture and surgery.

(From: The effect of medial patellar taping on pain, strength and neuromuscular recruitment in subjects with and without patellofemoral pain. By Janet H. L. Keet, Janine Gray, Yolande Harley, & Mike I. Lambert. Physiotherapy, 93 (2007) 45–52. )

Examples are:

Patellofemoral disorders are amongst the most common clinical conditions encountered in the sporting and general population. Patellofemoral pain is usually described as diffuse, peripatellar, anterior knee pain. Symptoms are typically aggravated by activities such as ascending or descending stairs, squatting, kneeling, running and prolonged sitting.

A wide variety of disorders may fall under the umbrella term of patellofemoral pain. As a result, a thorough systematic evaluation of the patient’s lower extremity alignment, patellar mobility and alignment, muscle flexibility, strength, co-ordination, soft tissue and articular pain is important in determining the possible causes of patellofemoral pain and prescribing an optimal rehabilitation programme. Management of patellofemoral pain syndrome often includes reduction of pain and inflammation through cryotherapy, heat therapy, massage therapy, muscle flexibility and strength training (especially quadriceps), patellar taping, bracing, orthotics, correction of abnormal biomechanics or other causative factors, acupuncture and surgery.

Exercise

Try this exercise: 

Exercise 1

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