A framework for creating a facetted classification for genres: Addressing issues of multidimensionality

Publication Type:

Conference Proceedings


Proceedings of the 37th Hawai'i International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS), Big Island, Hawai'i, January (2004)


People recognize and use document genres as a way of identifying useful information and of participating in mutually understood communicative acts. Crowston and Kwasnik [1] discuss the possibility of improving information access in large digital collections through the identification and use of document genre metadata. They draw on the definition of genre proposed by Orlikowski and Yates [3], who describe genre as “a distinctive type of communicative action, characterized by a socially recognized communicative purpose and common aspects of form” (p. 543). Scholars in fields such as rhetoric and library science have attempted to describe and systematize the notion of genre, and have offered many different definitions of genre. We like Orlikowski and Yates’s definition because it takes into account all three aspects of genre that we recognize as fundamental: content, form, and purpose.
A document’s genre is a subtle and complex concept in which the content and form of a document are fused with its purpose or function. As such, a document’s genre cannot be separated from the context in which it is used; the same document may be construed as being of a different genre depending on how it is invoked in a given situation. Starting from the document, a letter may be a personal communication, or a piece of evidence in a court of law, or an agreement, or even a work of art. Starting from the situation, we note that differences in an information situation are often reflected in the kind of document that is considered helpful (e.g., a problem set vs. a lesson plan vs. a tutorial about mathematics, for instance). Thus, we see genre as a multidimensional phenomenon, which takes into account not only the attributes of the document itself, but also of its role in human endeavor. In this paper, we discuss some considerations in developing a facetted classification for genres to address the problem of multi-dimensionality.


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