Academic writing

Rhetorical functions in academic writing: Narrating and reporting


Read the following texts:

Example 1

The Evolution of Sound Recording

The history of recording sound stretches back to 1857 when Leon Scott, intent on obtaining a picture of what sound waves looked like, devised a method for recording the vibrations in the air. His device, later patented as the Phonoautograph, used a large parabolic horn to channel incoming sound waves to a membrane covering the narrow end of the horn. A bristle attached to the membrane by a lever traced a path in a revolving cylinder coated with lamp-black. As the membrane vibrated in response to sound waves, the bristle etched a pattern in the lamp-black that corresponded to the frequency of the sound. Although this was useful for gaining a view of what different sound waves looked like, the device could only record incoming waves - there was no provision for playing back the sound wave traces.

After studying the Phonoautograph, Thomas Edison modified the basic design in 1877 so that it would be capable of playing back sounds. While the sound quality was rather pitiful, the fact that this feat could actually be accomplished encouraged others to continue development. Edison’s device utilized a grooved metal cylinder encased in tinfoil. A horn concentrated the sound waves when someone spoke into it. At the apex of the horn, a thin membrane attached to a needle transmitted the vibrations - the resulting waves were scored into the tinfoil as the needle moved up and down, creating a path of varying depth. The cylinder in this device was rotated by means of a hand crank. Once the sound was recorded, the needle was returned to the beginning of the groove. Turning the hand crank caused the vibrations captured in tinfoil to travel from the needle to the diaphragm and a crude replica of the human voice emerged from the horn.

Alexander Graham Bell took this invention a step further by replacing the foil-covered cylinder with one coated with wax. The needle cut a pattern that varied in depth onto the wax surface. For recording, Bell relied on a very sharp stylus and firm membrane. During playback, he switched to a dull stylus and a looser membrane so as not to destroy the original impressions. To reuse the cylinder, the wax could be shaved and smoothed. For the first time, sound recording could be accomplished on removable and reusable media. The process was further improved with the addition of an electric motor to replace the hand crank, so that recording and playback took place at uniform speeds. Recorded cylinders were then metal-plated to create a mould so that a number of copies of the original could be produced.

The technology spawned a mini-industry. Phonograph parlours sprang up around the country in the late 1800s where amazed visitors paid a nickel to hear voices muttering from these primitive playback devices.

The recording cylinder was replaced by a disc in 1888 when Emile Berliner devised a variation of this basic recording technique. Berliner’s gramophone used a stylus travelling within a spiral groove on a flat disc. Sound waves caused the stylus to cut a pattern side to side within the groove. The pattern on the disc could then be reproduced using a metal mould and hundreds of recorded discs could be manufactured inexpensively from each mould. The disc itself was fashioned of metal covered with wax. After the stylus cut the pattern, removing the wax from its path, acid was used to etch the resulting waveform into the metal subsurface.

While the sound quality wasn’t up to par with that of the cylinders, the recording method was better suited to mass production. By the year 1910, discs and spring-wound players were being sold all over the world featuring recordings by some of the most popular singers of that era. Development of the vacuum tube amplifier in 1912 by Lee de Forest spurred efforts to combine the phonograph and gramophone with amplified playback, a process which took several more years.

During the same period that Edison, Bell, and Berliner were working on their sound recording devices, others were working on developing methods of magnetic recording of sound waves. The pattern of sound waves, instead of being imprinted on a disc or cylinder, is translated into a series of magnetic domains that can be stored on a variety of media. The first patent for such a device was claimed by Oberlin Smith in 1888. Later, a man by the name of Poulson created a magnetic sound recorder that used steel tape as the recording medium. He exhibited his invention at the Paris Exhibition in 1900, calling his device a Telegraphone.

The radio broadcast industry was very interested in equipment that could store sound and immediately play it back, since it enabled them to repeat some broadcast material - such as newscasts - whenever required. The tape could also be easily erased and reused - another major benefit. Work by DeStille in 1924 resulted in the Blattnerphone, which impressed the British Broadcasting Company enough to draw them into the development process. The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company also jumped into the development effort, using steel-based magnetic tape that was initially biased to saturation. Rudimentary magnetic recorders were produced, although the early versions required literally miles of steel tape to accommodate 20 or 30 minutes of recorded sound.

Cumbersome steel-based tapes gave way to plastic-based magnetic tape. The magnetic oxides coating plastic-based tape can be formulated differently to change their recording and sound-storage properties. Undesirable characteristics such as print-through (the tendency of magnetic signals to leach through one layer of tape and affect adjacent layers) can be minimized through a choice of magnetic oxide.

Magnetic methods of recording are still widely used in cassette recorders and reel-to-reel decks, and improvements in electronics, recording media, magnetic recording heads, and noise-reduction techniques have maintained the viability of this recording method. However this method of recording is subject to certain limitations that have been largely overcome by digital recording techniques. Signal-to-noise ratios of recorded sounds, among other factors, have been greatly improved by digital storage methods.

After many years of development, digital recording gear has largely surpassed analogue, reel-to-reel, and magnetic tape recorders. Digital recording machines - such as the DAT, ADAT, RDAT, recordable mini-disc, portable studios with removable hard disk drive storage, and home computers have changed our perception of “high-fidelity” audio to startlingly clearer levels. In the digital realm, the signal-to-noise ratio is greatly improved over analogue equipment, meaning the dynamic representation of the music is greatly improved. The familiar hiss and tape noise common to analogue recording is conspicuously absent in digital recordings. This particular improvement in recording techniques ensures that the softest passages in a recorded musical work or speech will be as free of noise as the loudest levels of recorded audio. The recordist has a greater dynamic range to work with when using digital recording techniques, and fewer processing “tricks” are required to guarantee an effective sound recording.

(From: Internet audio sourcebook, by Lee Purcell & Jordan Hemphill, Wiley, 1997)

Example 2

The 1979 study was conducted to test the validity of the strong version of the critical period hypothesis. It was felt that a comprehensive study of foreign language learning ability required hard data upon which to confirm or reject the strong version. Lacking precise statements about what aspects of phonology the hypothesis involved, we included both competence and productive performance in our informants’ task, believing that if we could locate persons who had learned a second language as adults and who could consistently pass as native speakers of that language under rigorous test conditions, we would have ample grounds upon which to reject the strong form of the hypothesis.

Seven non-native informants along with three native-speaking controls were tape-recorded reading a carefully-prepared corpus in French. The non-native informants were selected for the study on the basis of their ability to pass as native speakers of French in casual conversation situations. These conversations took place in the presence of three French-speaking persons who were thoroughly familiar with the goals of the research. The French corpus included numerous sounds and sound sequences known to be especially difficult for English-speaking students. The ten tape-recorded passages were placed in five random order blocks and re-recorded onto cassettes for scrutiny by native-speaking judges. These judges included 85 French Canadians whose dominant language was French, approximately half of whom were students at the University of Ottawa. They were directed to listen carefully to each passage, and, the second time around, to assess each speaker as: 1) Francophone du Canada; 2) Francophone dun autre pays, 3) Non-francophone. Five of the seven non-native informants were consistently evaluated by our native-speaking judges as francophone. Their scores closely approximated those obtained by our native-speaking controls.

Example 3

Drama in language teaching.

Plays have been employed to teach skill in language only since the Middle Ages.

In Greece and Rome performing on stage was beneath the dignity of the class whose children could afford to go to school and a social ban remained on this activity until the tenth century, when a German abbess, Hroswitha, composed Latin plays for her novices. The expressed aim was to replace the plays of Plautus and Terence, then considered too saucy for use in the cloister. Owing to the now usual way of acting out the Bible stories in mystery plays, stage work was not an unusual recreation among clerics. Latin plays, written in the classical manner, were often played in the monasteries by the troupes of monks who staged the mystery plays in the churchyard.

Taking their cue from these mystery plays, the Jesuits developed another approach. Many of their plays were in a classical style, but the characters were abstractions drawn from grammar and literary criticism. The plays were meant both to drill pupils in speaking Latin and Greek and to teach formal grammar. it is not unlikely that the characters were modelled on the personifications of the De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii of Martianus Capella, which was still known during the Renaissance. This type of allegory had been a favourite device among medieval poets, and Martianus Capelia had had many medieval imitators in vernacular languages.

One of the last sets of this type of play was the dramatized version of the Ianua linguarum, published in 1664. The adaptation was made by D. Sebastianus Macer for the use of the school of Patakina, at which he had taught, and which was regarded, even by the master himself, as a model school. Though the book followed all the allegorical conventions of the Jesuit play, there were several important differences. First, the Cornenius plays were in prose, while the others had been in verse. Second. the exact classical format was not followed, the plays being of varying length and shape. But as the taste for allegory waned, so too did interest in this sort of play.

Classical drama formed an integral part of the Renaissance classics curriculum. In England several who founded grammar schools specified that a classical play should be performed every year; and on the continent, where Catholics were teaching in Protestant schools and vice versa, the religious climate excluded contemporary religious plays, so the classical repertoire was used exclusively. But medieval scruple hung on grimly, even into the eighteenth century.

In England especially, the custom of an annual performance of a classical play was still vigorously flourishing at the end of the nineteenth century, school editions being prepared with staging in mind. Owing to the activities of the great German classicists, the basic texts were now solidly established, but for school use they were carefully expurgated, a difficult task considering the exigencies of meter. Many editors normalized the preclassical spelling and even added stage directions. The place of such presentations was strengthened by the advent of the Direct Method, and they spread to the teaching of modern languages. Though it was considered most desirable to use plays written for native audiences, this means of instilling confidence was made available to younger pupils by providing them with plays in simplified language and style. As far as modern plays were concerned, teachers were inclined to choose those which reflected the culture of the country.

In modern schools and universities the modern-language play came to be a special show put on for the delectation of students’ parents and staff wives, but it also had the serious purpose of having pupils exercise their oral skills under some difficulty. In Russia, some schools encouraged the pupils to run puppet theatres in the foreign language, a natural outcome of the general interest in this art form.

Example 4

In early 1982 telephone interviews were conducted with a statewide probability sample of 2,083 registered voters in a major southwestern state. The interviews were conducted for a state agency and addressed various voting-related attitudes and opinions.

Within this context, a split ballot (experimental) design was employed whereby approximately each quarter of the sample was asked age utilizing a different question format. Three open-end and one closed-end question formats were investigated:

  • How old are you?
  • What is your age?
  • In what year were you born?
  • Are you 18-24 years of age, 25-34. 35-49, 50- 64, 65 or older?

Each question format was drawn from previous research and was selected to be illustrative of one approach to asking age. The particular question format used when asking an individual study participant his or her age was randomly determined prior to the interview. Interviewers made no determination as to what age question format was employed for a specific study participant.

All interviews were conducted from a centralized, supervised interviewing location and began with an interviewer asking to speak to a prespecified individual. The interviewer then introduced himself/herself and stated who was conducting the study and asked for the potential study participant’s cooperation. The questionnaire consisted of 20 questions, of which the age question was number 15.

Actual age data were available from the state agency for 1,324 of the individuals interviewed. Therefore, following the completion of an interview it was possible to compare an individual’s reported age with his or her actual age. This in turn permitted inferences as to which question format produced the most accurate age data as well as which format resulted in the lowest refusal rate or nonresponse rate.


Past tense is common.

Chronological order is also common, but when we are writing about past events, it is necessary to be explicit about the order in which things happened. To make the order clear, we mention dates and time, and we also use various links and connectives.


In 1942, ...

During the 20th century, ...

Yesterday, ...

Twenty five years ago, ...



Before he was offered a job as a lecturer,

he had finished his research.

Before this, …

For the previous X years, …

Prior to this, …

Previously, …

X years previously, …


… before which …

… prior to which …


As soon as

he had finished his research, he was offered a job as a lecturer.

On finishing his research,
After finishing his research,
Having finished his research,
On finishing his research,

he was offered a job as a lecturer.

For the following X years, …

X years later, …

After …

Following this, …

When …

Subsequently, …

Soon/Shortly/Immediately afterwards, …

… following which …

… after which …


While he was doing his research,

he made an important discovery.


doing his research,


During his research,

During this period, …

Throughout this period, …

… during which…

… throughout which…


Exercise 1: Town History