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How to write language and gender articles

Have you ever noticed that men and women have different conversational styles? They speak and write differently. For example, a woman is unlikely to say precisely what she wants, whereas a man will be specific. Think about this example: -

Woman: Wouldn’t be nice to go for a picnic in the countryside?

Man: Not today, I’m going to watch the football on TV.

The woman is actually suggesting that they go out, but prefaces her request with a phrase ‘Wouldn’t it be nice...’ which is a hypothetical remark rather than a direct suggestion, e.g. ‘Let’s go for a picnic.’

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There are many other examples, some are given in Deborah Tannen’s books on language and gender differences. You could read a few of them to be sure that you can write language and gender articles.

Her books include: -

  • That’s Not What I Meant (1986)
  • You just don’t understand! (1990)
  • Talking from 9 to 5 (1994)
  • Conversational Style (1984)
  • You’re wearing THAT? (2006)
  • Gender and Discourse (1994)
  • The Argument Culture (1998) and
  • Talking Voices (1989)

Another useful book is one you may have read, or at least heard of: - Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray (1992). He has written other books about relationships and the communication styles of men and women, such as

  • Why Mars and Venus Collide (2007)
  • Beyond Mars and Venus (2017)
  • Venus on fire Mars on ice (2010)
  • Mars and Venus together forever (1996)
  • Mars and Venus on a date (1997)

All these books are easy to read and fascinating. They give readers insights into the different ways that men and women communicate. They are very useful when it comes to writing language and gender articles.

Think about the way you use language. Do you think the language you use is rooted to and dependent on your gender? Why? Why not? Listen to conversations and try to find out what makes male and female conversations different. It isn’t simply about the topics they elect to talk about. For example, both men and women are likely to talk about TV programmes and the films they have seen. As for sport, although in the past the topic may have been mainly a male preserve, this is less so these days.

There are some differences between men’s and women’s communication styles, however, according to research. Interestingly when asked about their communication strengths and weaknesses both agreed on their own and the others.

The main three strengths that women have are empathy, good listening ability and effective ways of displaying empathy. Their weaknesses were identified as an inability to get straight to the point, not being authoritarian enough and being overly emotional.

As for men, their main strengths were identified as having an authoritative air about them, being succinct and direct, and being ale to display power effectively. Their main weaknesses were perceived as being too blunt, or too direct, insensitive to other’s reactions to what they say, and being overly confident about their opinions.

How far would you agree with these strengths and weaknesses as they relate to you and your friends and relatives?

The books above are not academic ones but designed to be read by everyone. Scholarly articles abound discussing the differences in men and women’s discourse, even though the discipline is relatively new, coming out of the feminist movement. The study of the differences between male and female styles of speech has been pursued since the 1960s in the disciplines of Sociology, Applied Linguistics, Sociolinguistics, Discourse Analysis and so on.

There is an academic journal dedicated to the subject, Equinox Publishing Ltd.’s Gender and Language journal. This is useful if you are to write your own articles on the subject.

There is also an International Gender and Language Association (IGALA), which you may wish to consider joining.

The more articles you read, and the more you interact with academics and students who share your interest in language and gender, the better you will write your articles on the subject. Read widely and form your own opinions, as not all authors agree. You will have to exercise your critical thinking skills to decide which authors you like and which you don’t like. That is, usually based on who you agree and disagree with. You will need to be unbiassed and present both sides of the argument in your article. Alternatively, if you have very strong views about what is correct and incorrect, you are quite at liberty to say what you think as long as you can back up what you say with logical arguments. You will also need to quote from published articles on the subject.

It is advisable to take notes as you read. Do this systematically in a notebook, online or in print. It is inconvenient to make notes in margins as by the time you come to write up your research you will have a lot of books to go through to find your notes. This is time-consuming and unnecessary. You can add suitable quotations to your notes, but don’t forget to give the name of the book or article that the quotes come from, along with the date of their publication, author and publisher. You will also need to supply your readers with the page numbers of the quotes. They can then check that you have got them right. It is sometimes the case that an author of an academic paper or essay misquotes, so a reader should take care to check that the quote is in fact correct. Punctuation is important, and names should always be spelled correctly when quoting.

If you are to write an original article, you will need to do your own research. There are several ways of doing this and you will have to work out what will work best for you. You will, of course, need the informed consent of all participants, which means that you will ask if you can have their written permission to record their conversations. The consent forms may be needed if you publish your article and would certainly be needed if you are doing your research for a degree.

There are several ways of doing your recordings. Your groups could be comprised of: -

  • all male speakers
  • all female speakers or
  • male and female speakers.

If you have mixed gender speakers, there should be equal numbers of both to ensure that the genders are equally represented and that theoretically at least, each gender would have equal ‘talk tine’.

If you use an all-female group of speakers, you could then use an all-male group (with the same number of participants) and compare the recordings. If you use two single-gender groups they should be compared in your analysis.

Before you begin collecting your data, decide what phenomenon you will be investigating. You could find out which gender respects the unwritten conventions of turn-taking and collaborating to reach a desired outcome (this can be achieved when people finish sentences started by another person, for example). Is one person more dominant than the other members of the group? Is that person male or female (in a mixed group?).

Will you be focussing on vocabulary used, or on structure, or on body language, which is integral to communication strategies, or another aspect of language?

A useful journal for students of discourse analysis is Discourse & Society. Another is Critical Discourse Studies, but there are many others that will help you in your research.

You could research any of these questions or come up with your own. Ideally you should record three three-minute conversations, with each of the three groups described above.

  • Do women use more ‘hedges’ than men? Hedges can be words such as ‘very,’ ‘probably’, ‘kind of’ and so on.
  • Are men more direct in their speech than women?
  • Do women elaborate more than men?
  • Do men interrupt women more than women interrupt men?
  • Does status or perceived status have an effect on the interactions?
  • When men and women speak together, is the man more dominant?
  • Who uses the most fillers such as ‘uh’, ‘er’, ‘umm’ men or women?
  • Who uses the most question tags such as ‘don’t we?’ or ‘isn’t it?’ and so on.
  • Do men or women tend to follow the turn-taking convention? What about in mixed groups?
  • Do men or women tend to finish each other’s sentences and overlap? Or do both do it equally?

There are many other research questions that you could pursue, so don’t feel at all constrained by these suggestions.

To answer the questions in order: -

  1. Women tend to speak more tentatively than do men. However, men can also use tentative language. On the whole it would seem that women do use more hedges than men.
  2. It follows from the answer above, that men tend to speak more bluntly than women. However, if you read the articles listed in the reference section below, you will see that there is no absolute consensus regarding this question.
  3. It depends on the topic of conversation, but it is fairly safe to say that on the whole, women do embellish what they say. Perhaps this is because, if they interact with children, they are story-tellers.
  4. The answer to this is complicated, as research shows that women are interrupted more than me. It doesn’t matter if they are speaking to men or women, though.
  5. Yes, and this should not be ignored in an analysis of conversation. Status is important. You don’ t speak to your boss in the same way you speak to your colleagues.
  6. Usually the man is more dominant. However, it depends on status and the character of the woman.
  7. It seems that both genders use fillers, although women tend to use ‘um’ when thinking what to say next, while men use the more guttural ‘uh.’
  8. Research has shown that women tend to use more question tags than men.
  9. Women tend to be more careful about turn-taking than men, although they often overlap when collaborating to negotiate meaning.
  10. Both do this. The research to date has not been conclusive.

To record a conversation a recording device is necessary. Use a video camera for the best results as then you can analyse the speakers’ body language as well as their spoken language. You will also need a notebook and pen, as you may wish to make notes as you listen to the conversations.

It is important that you transcribe what is said exactly. That means you have to time pauses and show when more than one speaker is talking at the same time. This is called overlap.

Then there are the repair strategies which are used when there is a misunderstanding or when a speaker started a sentence and then decided to change it.

You need to watch what happens when someone is listening very attentively to another speaker. The active listener shows understanding and acknowledges the speaker in some way, even if this is just by using phatic communication such as ‘uh-uh.’ These sometimes overlap, as do continuers such as ‘sure’.

When you replay the conversations you have recorded, you will find that there are clear segments which can be easily separated from the main conversation. Topics might change, or a particular sequence will clearly present itself for your attention. You don’t actually have to use the whole transcription in your analysis, just significant highlights, unless, that is you are doing a PhD thesis or a dissertation. Then all the transcription must be presented in the appendices. Articles in journals are limited by the space available.

Transcriptions are not particularly easy to do. A lot of patience is needed as you have to repeat the recording again and again to make sure you have transcribed everything that you can. There are occasions when you really can’t understand what is being said. This may be because more than one person is speaking or because something went wrong with the recording. There are symbols to use when this happens, and you would do well to study all the symbols before beginning to transcribe your recorded conversations.

Before you begin your transcriptions, you might ask some friends to record a conversation for you so that you can transcribe them. Do the transcribing while you are all together so that you can get a better understanding of what was said. The speakers will always remember what they said, so the transcript should accurately reflect the conversation. Of course, when you think you have completed your transcription of the conversations you will use for your article, you can ask for clarification from the participants in the conversation. The sooner this is done after the recording has been made, the better, as people are more likely to be able to remember what they said. Often collaboration is the key to a successful transcription.

The problem with transcriptions is that you are never quite satisfied that you have got everything right. However, at some point you will have to stop work on them and send your article off for publication.

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