Taking A Critical Stance Essay

Stance and Language


The resources in this section are designed to help the reader better understand the concept of Audience when writing in English for North American, academic audiences. 

Contributors:Elena Shvidko, Ashley Velázquez
Last Edited: 2013-08-15 01:13:04


Stance can be defined as the attitude that the writer has towards the topic of his or her message.  The stance that you take will greatly determine the tone of your message and the words that you choose. Notice, for example, how the authors in the following examples describe the same event that they attended. Their impressions of the event were very different, and it is reflected in the stance that they took.


Once we got to the food section of the event, I immediately realized that there was little to no organization. There was trash all over the place, with no trashcan in sight. There was a serious lack of tables to eat at, so many people were forced to eat standing up, which got really messy because of the nature of some of the foods. Many of the organizations that were selling the foods apparently didn’t talk to each other, because I saw many of the same kinds of rice, fish, even bread at the different tables.

Furthermore, many of the dishes were either cold or too little. And of all the tables, only one group also thought of bringing the drinks, so getting a drink meant standing in line for half an hour, mainly because they kept running out because of the high demand.

One would think that an event whose focus was mainly food would put a little more thought and planning into it.

Example 2

Almost all Asian student organizations have participated in this event. There were plenty of foods from different Asian countries and areas. Fried rice from China, spring rolls

from Vietnam, curries fish ball from Hong Kong and chicken from Singapore. Though these foods are not exactly like they would be tasted like in real Asia, these still give you a basic idea about how are Asian food look and taste like and how large is the diversity of Asian food. Among so many choices of foods, I definitely will recommend the curry fish ball from Hong Kong Student Association. It tastes exactly like what you would taste in Hong Kong, so it might be the most original taste of Asia.

So in relation to your audience, think about the following questions when you are trying to determine what stance to take: How do you want to be perceived by your reader(s)?  Opinionated or neutral? Passionate or indifferent? Biased or objective?

Critical or fair?  What is your relationship with the audience that may affect your choice of stance?


Language largely depends on the type of the audience that will read your written work. Therefore, before you start writing, think about your readers. How much do you think they know about the topic you are going to write about? Would they understand the terminology you may use? If not, perhaps you need to provide definitions and additional explanations. On the other hand, if your readers have a good deal of knowledge about your topic, there may be no need for you to explain the concepts with which they may be familiar.

The language that you use will also depend on the relationships that you have with your audience.  Are they your friends or classmates? Professors? Employers? Compare, for example, two emails written by the same student to a classmate and a professor:

Example 1

Hey Chris, how’s it going? Did you have fun this weekend? Hey I won’t be in class tomorrow, I sorta feel sick. Could you stop by Dr. Johnson’s office and grab that book for me that we need for our project? I’d appreciate that.

Thanks, buddy!

Example 2

Dear Dr. Johnson,

I am sending you this email to let you know that I will not be able to come to class tomorrow because I am not feeling well. Attached is my reflection for the last assignment.

I was also wondering if I could meet with you on Thursday during your office hours to discuss my research project.

Thank you.

Best regards,

John Smith.

The aim of this study was to investigate the means used by writers to establish a critical stance in university essays. Specifically, the study identified the particular statements in essays that overtly expressed a critical evaluation, and explored the textual resources that these statements employed. This involved the manual analysis of two samples of 15 student essays from the subject disciplines of English literature and sociology in terms of the social genre/cognitive genre model of the author (Bruce, 2008a). Two generic elements, operating together, emerged as the principal means used by writers to express a critical evaluation. First, the critical statements employed a small range of coherence relations operationalized in terms of Crombie's (1985) interpropositional relations. Most frequently they used: Grounds Conclusion, Concession Contraexpectation and Reason Result. Secondly, embedded within these relations, two devices from Hyland's (2005) metadiscourse model were also used to help construct a critical stance, specifically hedging and attitude markers. In relation to writing pedagogy, these findings suggest the need for novice writers to develop awareness of the use of these important textual elements to formulate critical statements and to develop the ability to incorporate them into their own writing.

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