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Academic reading: Genre and layout

Genre and layout

All texts are multimodal. That means that every communicative act (spoken and written) happens through more than one channel of communication (mode). For spoken language you can, for example, use gestures and your tone of voice while written language always involves other visual elements like headings, typography and margins.

These visual elements, like layout and typography, have a great effect on the way readers perceive the publication they read. Imagine an (online) newspaper without heading or even paragraphs. In a newspaper in general you expect the layout to be varied page by page and the appearance of the layout to change between parts of the paper. If a topic needs to be further explained in detail, you will often find a features section on the side of the page.

You have seen different types of genres in task 2 (a Facebook status update, poetry, online advertisement, a film review and an academic paper). These documents look different in terms of layout because they are intended to do different things (different goals). In this chapter you will look at the layout of different sources you will encounter during your studies. As mentioned earlier, your knowledge about different genres (and in this case: the layout) will help you reduce your processing time when reading.

In this part of the module, we will focus on an academic article (research paper), an online newspaper (The Guardian) and an online e-book with academic research.

Academic article

The academic article (research paper) covered in this module is an article from an academic journal.

The first thing you might notice is that the article is written in 2 columns. As you can see, the title is in bold. Below you will often see the authors of the article listed and for which university/organization they write. In this case, the authors work for the University of Vienna. At the very top you can see from which journal the text comes from and what the doi number is (A doi is a digital object identifier, kind of like an ISBN number for digital publications). Easy to use if you need to reference the text!

The article then starts with an abstract (in bold) of the article. It is recommended that you read this abstract first so that you can then decide whether to read the rest of the article for the details.

Academic article

Then the introduction and the body of the text start. The body also consists of all kinds of headings in bold. Some examples:

Academic article headings

Another thing that stands out is the type of figure. In academic articles, you will often see tables or figures that either explain the topic or show the results of the studies conducted.

Academic article figure

In the case of a research paper, you will sometimes see multiple studies listed in one paper. In order to keep an overview, the various studies are often written down with titles such as 'study 1/study 2'. This is very useful because that way you can quickly search between the different studies within one paper.

Academic article study title

Each study in this particular paper is subdivided into the following headings: Method, Stimulus, Pre-test of Stimulus Material, Participants, Measures, Randomization Check and Data Analysis.

At the end of the paper, you will see a list of references used. You can consult these references if you would like more information about a specific topic or if you want to use the information from the text for your own text.

Academic article references

Online newspaper

An online newspaper differs in layout in some respects compared to an academic article. Look at the following article by Jones and Avalar (2021). The first thing you notice is a title with a subtitle below that reflects the body of the article.

Online newspaper title

You don't see two columns like in an academic article, but you see several shorter paragraphs, each with its own subtopic. In an academic text, you will see references to other articles in the text (for example De Vries, 2021), but in an online newspaper article, you will often see links (in this case in red) to previous articles on the subject.

Online newspaper links

Of course, the type of illustrations also stands out. In an academic article, it is less likely (depending on the subject, of course) that you'll see a photo, but rather a table or graph with data. In a newspaper article, you often come across photos that illustrate the subject.

Online newspaper photo


The following images are from an e-book by Biaski, Brunton and Bunz (2019). Unlike an academic article an e-book, containing (scientific) information about the topic you find interesting, always starts with a title page with the title of the book and the authors (just like a regular printed book).

E-Book title

The publisher is then also mentioned, and you will see more detailed information about the publication of the book, such as the publication year, the ISBN number and the DOI number. This information is useful if you want to reference the book.

E-Book details

Then follows the table of contents of the book. In this book, you see the chapters and each chapter is written by a different author. The book is actually a sort of collection of articles written on the subject.

E-Book table of contents

Each chapter then starts with a title and the name of the author of that particular chapter and the subheadings.

E-Book chapter

At the end of each chapter you will often find the references that the author has used in his chapter of the book.

E-Book references


Complete the following sentences with phrases from the box. The sentences summarize the importance of formatting in academic writing and its importance for readers:

doing lots of reading / inconsistencies / clear and consistent / misinterpret / formatting guidelines

  1. Academic text formatting includes page headings and sub-headings, page margins, spaces between lines, indentation of paragraphs, use of accessible fonts, page numbers and so on, all of which should be ____________________.
  2. ____________________ assist readers in recognizing a writer's ideas and information so it is a good idea for readers to become familiar with them.
  3. ____________________ in formatting and citations distract the reader from the content of the writing.
  4. If formatting is not done consistently, either the reader will ____________________ the meaning of the document or stop reading it altogether.
  5. It sounds obvious but it’s true - readers get used to academic formats by ____________________!

  1. Clear and consistent
  2. Formatting guidelines
  3. Inconsistencies
  4. Misinterpret
  5. Doing lots of reading