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A Multimodal Genre Analysis of Online Product Information to Inform English for Specific Purposes

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posted on 2023-01-14, 11:22 authored by Erandi KithulgodaErandi Kithulgoda

Discipline specific writing in English for Specific Purposes (ESP) can be challenging because writing discipline specific texts involves knowing the norms of writing that come with the discipline (Miller & Pessoa 2017). With rapid digitalization of business and communication, it is questionable how Business and Marketing students would cope with genres comprising not just writing, but multiple modes, if they do not possess multimodal literacy. Moreover, hypertextuality affects content (Xia, 2020), in turn creating differences in communicative purposes of the genre. Therefore, attempts to describe any online genre for ESP teaching need to consider the facets of multimodality and digitality. This thesis analyses the Online Product Information (OPI) genre, a micro genre of the online shopping website (Andersen & van Leeuwen, 2017). It exemplifies the application of a set of frameworks to comprehensively describe the OPI genre. Also important to this study is the possibility of culture specific differences.

The analysis was based on a corpus of 480 New Zealand (NZ) and Sri Lankan (SL) beauty care and jewellery product information texts sourced from 32 online shopping websites along with 21 semi-structured interviews with specialist informants. Swales’ (1990) move structure analysis and selected resources from Kress and van Leeuwen’s (2006) Grammar of Visual Design were adopted to investigate the data sets. The analytical framework for website interactivity proposed by Adami (2015) was utilized and adapted to analyse the actions and effects of the interactive items used within OPIs.

Fourteen common moves – eight interactive and six non-interactive - were identified for jewellery and beauty care OPIs. Some move steps are unique to one particular product category, while others are common to both. Cross-cultural differences were identified in the use of moves and steps. There are more steps employed in NZ product information to realise move functions, while the same functions are achieved in SL product information, but by using a more limited set of steps that are predominantly textual.

Visually, the representational generic pattern characterizing OPI is the use of conceptual analytical structures with offer type images. The pattern was common to both countries. However, NZ beauty care product information utilizes some images of the narrative process and demand types, something which was not present in SL OPIs.

The website interactivity analysis reveals that both the SL and NZ product information offer customers the basic necessities for viewing and selecting products (purchasing, selecting requirements, facilitating reading/ viewing). However, the cumulative effect one gets when investigating interactivity is of a closed insular environment with limited opportunity to request information/question sellers in a public space, and limited access to additional information. SL storeowners seem to be more interested in promoting their product via the customer through share options and giving additional seller services. NZ online stores, seem to be less focused on getting their product promoted via customers. Their interactive strategy seems to be providing customers with extra information. They also allow customers more opportunities to provide feedback without regulating that feedback, compared to SL OPIs.

The OPI as a whole is informationally dense. It is distinguished by a high use of nouns, adjectives, co-ordinating conjunctions and third person singular present tense verbs, and a relatively low use of auxiliary verbs, adverbs, prepositions or subordinating conjunctions, determiners and modal verbs. Lexical bundles (frequently used word sequences) were identified for Move 3 – Promoting the product - to demonstrate the lexico-grammatical realisation of the move. The analysis indicates that steps operationalizing even a single move could employ a wide variety of linguistic features to realise that move, and that the patterns of language for the genre as a whole may not be a totally accurate indicator of the register of individual moves.

The findings suggest the necessity of considering genre feature variation when crossing national boundaries. They also illustrate that the visual and interactive elements of an online multimodal genre play a significant role along with its textual elements, in determining the genre functions. Therefore, ESP teaching needs to consider how text, visuals and the online environment all contribute to achieving genre purposes, when raising students’ genre awareness of a multimodal genre. Implications of the study for ESP pedagogy and online businesses are provided in the Conclusion.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Applied Linguistics

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

160102 Higher education; 160104 Professional development and adult education; 160303 Teacher and instructor development

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

3 Applied research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Alternative Language


Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies


Parkinson, Jean; Coxhead, Averil