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What is Metadiscourse?

(the following is freely borrowed, adapted, and quoted from Joseph M. Williams, Style: Toward Clarity and Grace, published by the University of Chicago Press.)

We use metadiscourse when we filter our ideas through a concern with how our reader will take them. Though metadiscourse does not refer to what we are primarily saying about our subject, we need some metadiscourse in everything we write.

Metadiscourse is the language we use when we refer to our own thinking and writing as we think and write—to summarize, on the contrary, I believe; to the structure of what we write—first, second, more importantly; and to our reader's act of reading—note that, consider now, in order to understand.

Metadiscourse is the language we use when, writing about some subject matter, we incidentally refer to the act and to the context of writing about it.

We use metadiscourse verbs to announce that in what follows we will explain, show, argue, claim, deny, describe, suggest, contrast, add, expand, summarize. We use metadiscourse to list the parts or steps in our presentation: first, second, third, finally; to express our logical connections: infer, support, prove, illustrate, therefore, in conclusion, however, on the other hand. We hedge how certain we are by writing it seems that, perhaps, I believe, probably, etc.

If scholarly writers use the first person, they do so to announce their intentions or to review in metadiscourse, We can now see, I have shown that, etc.

Here are examples of metadiscursive sections from a well-written essay of your peers:

"Sophocles thus provides the rationale for Creon's unforgiving resolve, and the validity of this rationale cannot be wholly denied. Understanding this, the play's final lesson seems truly hard earned. We find it bluntly put in the final chorus' decree that wisdom and haughtiness can never intertwine."

"This is key to understanding that Antigone is not the only tragic hero in this tale."


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