Contextual English Essay

Using Contextual Analysis to evaluate texts

A contextual analysis is simply an analysis of a text (in whatever medium, including multi-media) that helps us to assess that text within the context of its historical and cultural setting, but also in terms of its textuality – or the qualities that characterize the text as a text. A contextual analysis combines features of formal analysis with features of “cultural archeology, ” or the systematic study of social, political, economic, philosophical, religious, and aesthetic conditions that were (or can be assumed to have been) in place at the time and place when the text was created. While this may sound complicated, it is in reality deceptively simple: it means “situating” the text within the milieu of its times and assessing the roles of author, readers (intended and actual), and “commentators” (critics, both professional and otherwise) in the reception of the text.

A contextual analysis can proceed along many lines, depending upon how complex one wishes to make the analysis. But it generally includes several key questions:

1. What does the text reveal about itself as a text?

– Describe (or characterize) the language ( the words, or vocabulary) and the rhetoric (how the words are arranged in order to achieve some purpose). These are the primary components of style.

2. What does the text tell us about its apparent intended audience(s)?

– What sort of reader does the author seem to have envisioned, as demonstrated by the text’s language and rhetoric?
– What sort of qualifications does the text appear to require of its intended reader(s)? How can we tell?
– What sort of readers appear to be excluded from the text’s intended audiences? How can we tell?
– Is there, perhaps, more than one intended audience?

3. What seems to have been the author’s intention? Why did the author write this text? And why did the author write this text in this particular way, as opposed to other ways in which the text might have been written?

– Remember that any text is the result of deliberate decisions by the author. The author has chosen to write (or paint, or whatever) with these particular words and has therefore chosen not to use other words that she or he might have used. So we need to consider:
   – what the author said (the words that have been selected);
   – what the author did not say (the words that were not selected); and
   – how the author said it (as opposed to other ways it might or could have been said).

4. What is the occasion for this text? That is, is it written in response to:

– some particular, specific contemporary incident or event?
– some more “general” observation by the author about human affairs and/or experiences?
– some definable set of cultural circumstances?

5. Is the text intended as some sort of call to – or for – action?

– If so, by whom? And why?
– And also if so, what action(s) does the author want the reader(s) to take?

6. Is the text intended rather as some sort of call to – or for – reflection or consideration rather than direct action?

– If so, what does the author seem to wish the reader to think about and to conclude or decide?
– Why does the author wish the readers to do this? What is to be gained, and by whom?

7. Can we identify any non-textual circumstances that affected the creation and reception of the text?

– Such circumstances include historical or political events, economic factors, cultural practices, and intellectual or aesthtic issues, as well as the particular circumstances of the author's own life.


Stephen C. Behrendt – Spring 2008

Farida, Nevin (2008) A textual and contextual study of English language and literature essays: the case of First Year English Department students' writing in Dhaka University, Bangladesh. PhD thesis, University of Warwick.


WRAP_THESIS_Farida_2008.pdf - Requires a PDF viewer.
Download (17Mb)

Official URL:

Request Changes to record.


This research examines English language and literature essays written by First Year students of the English Department at Dhaka University (Bangladesh) using multi-method genre analysis. The first method used was text analysis. Essay topics were analysed from the two contexts to identify their topic fields and main rhetorical functions. This helped develop the two models to analyse the structure of essays: an Exposition-Discussion model and a Description-Recount model. Then, a total of 100 essays from the two contexts were analysed on the basis of Move-strategy structure to see what structural patterns the essays possessed, what tactical choices the students took to express the moves and what was presented in terms of content matter within those moves. The second method was a questionnaire that was distributed to students in the department to discover their perceptions of the writing tasks given. And the third method was interviews conducted with teachers and students of the department to find out about their perceptions of student writing. This, then, is a genre-based study which draws both on written data and on interaction with community members.
The multi-method approach to genre analysis revealed that students of the English Department write three different kinds of essays, Description-Recount language essays, Exposition-Discussion language essays and Exposition-Discussion literature essays. The study further revealed that although students wrote these different kinds of essays, they were unable to make connections between their language essay writing tasks and literature ones because of the disciplinary variations. Moreover, the literature essays were found to be much more challenging to write than the language ones. In the light of this, the need for a fourth type of essay writing is identified.
This research contributes to the fields of applied linguistics and education in several ways. Firstly, the models developed not only give insights into the generic structure of the essays students write in the English Department at Dhaka University, but they could also function as a starting point for other researchers working with similar texts. Secondly, the analyses of the high and low grade essays explain how some features of writing are more highly valued than others in this context. Thirdly, the study has pedagogical implications that can benefit students and teachers who would use genre based approach to teaching language and literature essay writing. Fourthly, this research demonstrates a multi-method approach to genre analysis which brings out complementary and sometimes contradictory perspectives on the same written products. Fifthly, it can help university planners and policy makers to consider the relationship between main discipline courses and support courses and minimise any gaps. Finally, it can raise awareness among the global applied linguistics community about the kind of student writing produced in contexts such as the English Department of Dhaka University.

Item Type: Thesis or Dissertation (PhD)
Subjects:L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
P Language and Literature > PE English
Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH):University of Dhaka. Dept. of English, English language -- Study and teaching -- Bangladesh, English literature -- Study and teaching -- Bangladesh, Education, Higher -- Bangladesh -- Evaluation
Official Date:July 2008
July 2008Submitted
Institution:University of Warwick
Theses Department:Centre for English Language Teacher Education
Thesis Type:PhD
Publication Status:Unpublished
Supervisor(s)/Advisor:Wharton, Sue ; Gardner, Sheena ; Smith, Richard C., 1961-
Sponsors:University of Dhaka ; Commonwealth Commission
Format of File:pdf
Extent:420 leaves : charts

Request changes or add full text files to a record

Repository staff actions (login required)

View Item

Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *