Kwasnik, B.H. , and K.  Crowston. “Introduction to the Special Issue: Genres of Digital Documents.” Information Technology and People 18.2 (2005): 76-88. Print.


Purpose – To introduce the special issue on “Genres of digital documents.” While there are many definitions of genre, most include consideration of the intended communicative purpose, form and sometimes expected content of a document. Most also include the notion of social acceptance, that a document is of a particular genre to the extent that it is recognized as such within a given discourse community.

Design/methodology/approach – The article reviews the notion of document genre and its applicability to studies of digital documents and introduces the four articles in the special issue. Findings – Genre can be studied based on intrinsic genre attributes or on the extrinsic function that genre fulfills in human activities. Studies on intrinsic attributes include classifications of genres as clusters of attributes, though these classifications can be problematic because documents can be used in flexible ways. Also, new information technologies have enabled the appearance of novel genres. Studies on extrinsic function include ways to use genre for education or information accesses, as well as the use of genre as a lens for understanding communications in organizations. The four articles in the special issue illustrate these approaches.

Originality/value – The paper provides a framework that organizes the range of research about genres of digital documents that should be helpful to those reading this research or planning their own studies.

Keywords Digital libraries, Research, Digital storage, Classification

  • The authors define genres as “fusion of content, purpose and form of communicative action” (76).
  • The authors acknowledge that there is no scholarly consensus surrounding the definition of genre (77), noting that beyond the notion that “Genres are a way people refer to communicative acts that is understood by them, more or less, but which is often difficult to describe in its particulars” there is little consensus about what a genre actually is.
  • The authors acknowledge that pretty much everyone else acknowledges that genres are composed of: 1) form; 2) content; 3) communicative purpose; and 4) social acceptance by discourse community.
  • The authors use the terms “intrinsic” (attribute analysis) and “extrinsic” (context/social analysis) to describe the formal and substantive/functional characteristics of genres.
  • A key question:  Do digital genres emerge from what people do on the web, or does technology itself afford was of doing things that people can then discover and exploit? (79)
  • The authors identify a couple of different substantive/functional characteristics of genre:  1) Rhetorical & Education function of genres (socialization into new systems of discourse, education); 2) Use of genres for information-based tasks (formal characteristics such as terms, tense, syntax, etc., allow for generic categorization of information based on structure).
  • The authors draw attention to genre ecologies and genre repertoires to highlight the overlap and interlocking of genres to structure activity and meaning-making in particular contexts.
  • The authors note that “studying the genres of digital documents – identifying them, seeing how they are used and formed, understanding their role in work and human endeavors, and exploiting them for analysis and other information-based tasks – is a formidable undertaking” (83).

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