A bunch of open books carelessly stacked on top of one another. 'Text' is visible.

‘Text’: Let’s Complicate the Term




When you hear the term, ‘text’, what comes to mind? Well, most people would say that ‘text’ is either a printed form of text, or a literary work. This explanation would not be wrong, but it’s not exactly right. A big lesson I’ve learned this semester is that writing scholars like to overcomplicate and overanalyze terms. Admittedly, their actions are completely justified. After all, they are the ones with the fancy degrees. However, us undergraduates are left feeling dizzy after reading Doug Eyman’s book, Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice. That being said, let’s dive into what Eyman and other scholars have to say about the term ‘text’.

The Term ‘Text’

In 1981, Robert de Beaugrande and Wolfgang Dressler described ‘text’ as a communicative event that must check seven boxes. Here is a basic rundown of Beaugrande and Dressler’s criteria:

  1. Cohesion – must adhere to grammatical rules.
  2. Coherence – must have meaning.
  3. Intentionality – must have a purpose.
  4. Acceptability – purpose must be recognized by audience.
  5. Informativity – amount of new or expected information.
  6. Situationality – must be deemed appropriate.
  7. Intertextuality – must be in relation with other texts.

In order for writing to be deemed ‘text’ it must follow these guidelines. As we can see, Beaugrande and Dressler take a rhetorical approach to defining the term. They are concerned with how successful a ‘text’ is. Although reading this section gave me a headache, this checklist is definitely helpful. Moving forward, I will be referring back to this checklist while writing academic essays.

That being said, break the rules. In order to successfully break rules, you first must understand the rules. One rule in particular I see being broken is cohesion. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is one to break traditional grammar rules. Some background on Piepzna-Samarasinha, they are autistic. Their way of thinking and writing is different than neurotypical folks. Nevertheless, that does not make their writing any less effective. Although most people will not think this deeply about the term ‘text’, it is important to distinguish the tangible and rhetorical nature of ‘text’.


One response to “‘Text’: Let’s Complicate the Term”

  1. […] message sent by a friend. When I say text, I am looking at words in front of me. However, this is a limiting idea. Any media can be considered a […]

Leave a Reply

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