Genre Guide

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1. What are descriptions and explanations?

In the R Lab assignment you are required to describe the trends you see in the graph you plotted with R and then give plausible reasons why such trends occur. With the description, you want to help the reader see what the trends are in the graph. With the explanation, you want to tell the reader the possible causes of the trends. You want to show how well you understand the statistical data you generated.

The length of the descriptions and explanations can vary. They can be over 1000 words or they can be as short as a four- to five-line paragraph. For this assignment, you are only asked to write a short paragraph in response to scenarios or questions.


2. What do you need to include in a good description and explanation?

Sometimes your lecturer/instructor will give you guidelines on what you need to include in your description and explanation. In many cases, they should contain the following sections:

  • Introduce the graph/table/chart (can be optional)
    • say what graph/table/chart you are referring to
    • though optional, it is still a good idea to let the reader know what graph/table/chart you are referring to
  • Report KEY findings in the graph/table/chart
    • write the most significant trends in your graph/table/chart
    • (If you give all the details of the graph, it only shows that you do not know how to analyze the data)
    • describe the most significant trend first, followed by the second most important trend, third most important trend, etc.
  • Discuss the findings (can be optional)
    • can be optional depending on what your lecturer/instructor wants in the assignment
    • write possible explanations (why the data is like that), inferences (what the data implies), and/or implications (what the data suggests)
    • hedge (use tentative language) because you are not sure whether your explanations, inferences, and/or implications are correct
  • Include citations (if you need to for the assignment)
    • check whether your assignment requires citations
    • check which citation style you need to use
    • make sure you include both in-text references and end-of-text references in your work


3. What to take note of when you write your descriptions and explanations?

Before you write:

  • analyze the graph/table/chart
  • note the significant trends
  • think about which of the trends is the most significant, second most significant, etc.
  • consider what the possible causes and implications could be for the trends you notice
  • check if you need to give citations in the exercise (and also which citation style, e.g. IEEE, Vancouver, to use)

While you write:

  • make sure you use the appropriate tenses (e.g. you do not want to use present tense to describe a trend in 2010)
  • make sure your ideas are logically connected with one another

After you write:

  • reread and proofread your work (this will help you find mistakes and typos in your writing)
  • make sure you have given both in-text and end-of-references (if they need to be included)


4. What language would be helpful when writing descriptions and explanations?

  1. Language to describe trends needs to be clear and specific so that the reader is able to understand immediately what you are trying to convey. Some of the essential vocabulary and language function are given below:
    • nouns / verbs /adjectives that describe trends
      • nouns: increase / decrease / peak / trough / fluctuation / stabilization
      • verbs: increase / decrease / peak / remain / level off / reach the bottom
    • adjective: steady / stable / stagnant / volatile
      • adjectives / adverbs that describe the degree of movement
      • adjectives: slow / gradual / steady / significant / dramatic / sharp
      • adverbs: slowly / gradually / considerably / significantly / dramatically / suddenly
    • comparatives and superlatives
      • comparatives (e.g. The box plot shows that the number of births on weekdays was higher than on weekends.)
      • superlatives (e.g. The most significant trend seen in the box plot is that most births took place during weekdays, with the highest mean on Tuesdays.)

2. Different ways to hedge when you are asked to give reasons for your findings:​

    • modals (e.g. may / might / could / would)  e.g. The low number of births on weekends could be because doctors do not work on weekends in the U.S.
    • verbs (e.g. seem / appear / suggest / indicate)  e.g. The reason for the high number of births on weekdays seems to be that many mothers schedule their c-section or induced labours on days when doctors are working.
    • adjectives (e.g. possible / probable) e.g. A possible reason for the trends seen in the box plot is because doctors do not work on weekends in the U.S.
    • adverbs (e.g. possibly / probably) e.g. This is possibly because doctors do not work on weekends in the U.S.


Useful resources

More information on this genre:

Writing for a purpose (British Council) - This site also includes other information, short exercises and self-learning activities.


More information on citations:

English Language Centre (PolyU) - This site has information on the four common citation styles used in academic writing.


More information on the language features:

Describing trends and giving reasons - Experience English 

Comparatives and superlatives (also includes self-learning exercises.) -  Study Zone (University of Victoria) 

Hedging (also includes self-learning exercises.) -  English Language Centre (PolyU) 


About this website

This website has been developed as part of the UGC funded project, "Supporting and developing students’ English literacy practices in the disciplines” which is funded by the University Grants Committee’s Competitive Funding Scheme on Teaching and Learning for the 2012-2015 triennium. This inter-institutional literacy project aims to examine the provision of English literacy across three broad disciplines in Hong Kong tertiary institutes, namely Social Science, Science and Engineering in the participating institutions that include the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, City University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Baptist University. The website consists of a comprehensive support system to help provide a stimulating learning environment for students, content and language teachers. It also aims to help teachers become conversant with disciplinary genres and the linguistic and pedagogical resources suitable in a second language learning environment. The resources on this website will be open to and shared by all tertiary institutions in Hong Kong and beyond.