As a fan, you are already familiar with genre whether you realize it or not. If you read the newspaper every day, then you are probably familiar with section headings like “Sports” or “Advice” or “Op-Ed.” If you rent movies, you are likely to be familiar with the signs hanging above each section categorizing films into “Action/Drama” or “Comedy” or “Family.” These labels are all identifying genres. A broad definition for genre is the categorization of the shared languages, symbols, and knowledge that enable someone to act within a community.[5] From the example of visiting a movie rental store, the label of “Comedy” notifies you that the films displayed under this sign most likely use humorous language and brightly colored visuals. This understanding of what a "Comedy" movie should look like is a combination of all prior experiences you've had watching comedies. Based on similar elements and patterns you've noticed within the genre you develop expectations about every other film labeled as a "Comedy". Identifying a genre therefore relies on being familiar with its idiosyncratic labels and taking note of the elements repeating across its forms. Being able to identify writing genres will especially be helpful in preparing you to become a successful participant in an online fandom.

"When you start writing in those genres you begin thinking in actively productive ways that result in the utterances that belong in that form of life and you take on all the feelings, hopes, uncertainties, and anxieties about becoming a visible presence in that world and participating in the available activities.” -Charles Bazerman, Rhetorical Theorist

Another way to look at writing genres are as tool sets used to enable the purpose of each online fan community (for example: the purpose of communities is to discuss each other’s fan-made writings). The first step toward enabling purpose in any online community is determining who qualifies to become a member, and genre provides the necessary comparative tools to make those judgment calls. As Professor Bazerman aptly puts it, genre is the means through which someone becomes “a visible presence” or participant in a community. In the following sections, we provide a brief explanation for two commons tools of genre in the hopes that they will enable you to uncover the writing genres necessary to become a successful participant in your chosen fandom: tropes and language.


Tropes are motifs or figures of speech that recur across a genre. If you have ever taken an English class in your life, you are probably familiar with the literary tropes of irony, simile, and metaphor. These tropes are also used in online fan communities though they differ from their literary counterparts in that tropes online are both visual and textual. Let’s start with some basic definitions.

Metaphor and Simile

Metaphor and simile are the comparison of two unlike things ”to suggest a resemblance.”[1] Reaction GIFs frequently used in online fan communities can be broadly categorized under these tropes.

Tumblr user supersonicjam: so my big sister isnt too fandom savvy

she thought martin freeman was in team free will


Animated GIFS are short movie clips of an actor making an expression or performing a gesture. The GIF of Andrew Garfield (Spiderman in the new Spiderman) above shows the actor gesturing his hands exaggeratedly. The actor's concentrated expression and hand gesture convey a similar befuddlement as the “how even” figure of speech (a textual tropes commonly used in fandom) laid over the image. By taking the clip away from the context of the movie, the GIF has simplified the gesture into a repeatable trope. Expressing emotion can be difficult while writing online because of the lack of face-to-face interaction. Animated reaction GIFS accompanied with expressions like "how even" attempt to make up for this by conveying specific emotions. So, how does this relate to metaphor and simile? We can think of the literary tropes metaphor and simile as the parents to tropes like the Andrew Garfield GIF and "how even." A simile, for example, is "the thunder sounded like a bass drum beaten by the hands of Zeus." The sound of thunder is a phenomenon in nature, and the sound of a bass comes from a man-made instrument. The two images are dissimilar, but when used in combination, we get a sense that the sound had a rhythm similar to one playable on a bass drum. The Andrew Garfield GIF and "how even" are similarly disparate. The Andrew Garfield GIF is taken from a film in a moment not necessarily expressing befuddlement, and "how even" is an incomplete question. Combined together they connote confusion. In other words, tropes online are similar to the literary tropes of metaphor and simile in their function to create a resemblance between two unlike things but different because they are expressed through both visuals and text.


Irony is the second type of trope frequently used writing in online fan communities. Irony is
“the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.” [3] Let’s take a look at the character blog subgenre as an example:

Tumblr user assskvoldemort:

But, I have heard of it…
Perhaps, one day…

The above images are borrowed from a post made by Tumblr user assskvoldemort. The user runs a Harry Potter fan blog written as if Voldemort were its author. Users submit questions to the blog, and "Voldemort" responds either with a text or picture post. Though the media assskvoldemort uses to express the content of her posts differ, they always employ the trope of irony. For example, her reply above plays on the irony of Voldemort acknowledging a website that presents the story of Harry Potter as fiction. It also mocks Voldemort’s position as the story’s villain by making him say uncharacteristic phrases such as “Dark Lord things.” This joke is actually a combination of two tropes. “The Dark Lord” is a phrase that recurs in the Harry Potter series and a trope within the Harry Potter genre, and her satire of that trope falls under the trope of irony. You should note that repurposing tropes from original works into new tropes is a common fan practice in writing for online fan communities.

So what?

The question now is how can you use these tropes in your journey to becoming a participant in online fan communities. In both examples, tropes were combined with other tropes from various genres. The first example combined the textual trope "how even" with the Andrew Garfield animated GIF trope to connote confusion. The second example combined tropes used in the Harry Potter genre and the trope of irony to satirize the character of Lord Voldemort. The first lesson we can take from this is that when you want to express how you feel about something writing online you should consider using tropes. Since tropes are repeated across genres, the other fans you are writing to will most likely be familiar with the trope and understand the emotion you are trying to convey. Secondly, tropes signify fan status. The success of the Voldemort character blog’s joke exemplified above depended on the audience’s familiarity with the trope “The Dark Lord” and the popular fan site Pottermore. If the reader understands the tropes and gets the joke, the character blogger understands her audience as fellow fans. If her audience of fans approves of her joke, then she too has proven herself as a fan and a member of the community. For you, a fan trying to become a participant in and uncover the writing genres of online fandoms, a good place to start is identifying what phrases and images repeat across writing samples from the online community. Do you recognize any tropes borrowed from the show or movie being fanned over? How is that trope changed when transferred to digital writing? When you answer these questions, try to copy what other fans have done to make successful tropes. Maybe make some GIFs of your own using tropes borrowed from your favorite media. By making and sharing these tropes in your writing online, you demonstrate your fan status to others and come one step closer to becoming an acknowledged participant in your chosen online fan community.


Uncovering the writing genres in your chosen fandom is important for becoming a participant because it tells you what kind of languages to use while communicating with fellow fans. Most fandoms have multiple types of languages, and each fit to a separate rhetorical appeal of ethos, pathos, or logos. For example, you may not have had experience communicating with other fans online, but you've probably had some "fan moments" out in the real world. Let's say you and your friend Betty are fans of a sports star, and that sports star happens to walk into the store where both of you are shopping one day. It's fairly likely that you and Betty react by going over to the star to ask for his autograph, shake his hand, compliment him on last night's game, and maybe snap a quick photo together. We're going to imagine that the language you used during this interaction wasn't as coherent as you might have liked (celebrities will do that to you), and we're going to label this type of language as making an emotional appeal (pathos). Now, let's fast forward to later that night. You're watching the game with Betty, and you get into a fight over some error about something that player did. You try to prove Better wrong by talking about the player's statistics over the past four years. We're going to label this fact speckled language as making an appeal to reasoning (logos). Finally, for our last scenario, we're going to imagine you and Betty ran into your friend Lance. Lance comments that he doesn't think your favorite sports player is very nice. You kindly reply that you know he's nice because you've met him in person, and we're going label this type of language as appealing to credibility (ethos). These scenarios are meant to demonstrate how language changes depending on the situation in the "real world." Now, we're going to explore their online equivalents.


When writing online, evoking emotions is much more difficult because other users cannot see your face. Users have found ways around this, however, by creating other means for conveying emotions. Common types of methods are animated reaction GIFS (see Tropes), memes, emoticons, and different forms or genres of writing. As an example, let's take a look at how Supernatural fans participating in GISHWHES communicated with one another:

i'm nicole i'm from michigan where the weather is more screwy than the mood swings of a pmsing woman

The user is interacting with her teammates for the first time. In real life, we would expect Nicole to try and make a good impression on her teammates by smiling, and speaking with friendly and welcoming language. The user attempts to make a good impression online by conveying positive emotion in her writing. She does this by excluding punctuation and switching between capital and lowercase words. Nicole borrows this language form from the popular microblogging website Tumblr. While blogging on Tumblr about an emotional scene in a show or movie, fans often write in a style similar to Nicole's message. For example, Tumblr user illegallybrownn posts her reaction to the newest Supernatural episode by writing “not even a minute into the episode and shit is going crazy.” Both messages are informal in their use of lowercase, and both are attempting to highlight emotion. We might assume from these examples that writing to convey emotion typically employs an informal genre of language in online fan communities.


What kind of language helps prove a fan's credibility in online fan communities, what language form enables them to be heard by fellows fans, and why is it important to appear credible and authoritative in trying to become a participant? In general, credibility is important in any writing genre because it validates a writer's authority to make claims. In fan communities, these claims typically center around the object of one's devotion. After all, one of the purposes of online fan communities is to discuss and criticize objects of fandom. The character blog subgenre has a purpose of portraying characters as if they are real people running personal blogs. With this purpose, evincing credibility relies on how accurately the bloggers portray characters from the original fictions. For example, the Tumblr user dearlokigodofmischief runs a blog portraying the character Loki from the blockbuster movie The Avengers. [4] The blogger replies to a fan's submission:

“Harbinger—” Loki started to say, but she was gone in an instant. Sighing, he glanced at the wolf, knowing he had said the wrong thing, but, of course, Wesker came in at that moment. He had the most annoying way of showing up when Loki was down, when he didn’t want to deal with such a thing. “I declined her offer to go on a walk, seeing as Nacht does not favor me, I did not wish to intrude on her time with her creator. She took this to mean that I did not favor being in her presences,” Loki informed Wesker. “At least… I believe that is what happened…” Sometimes women were too complicated to understand.

The post is written in a narrative style, and the language used is formal. The character of Loki is portrayed in The Avengers and Thor as being prideful and well-spoken. Someone attempting to mimic the character would need to exemplify these qualities to make an accurate portrayal. The user's complicated sentences, proper grammar, and evinced knowledge of Thor characters like Wesker and Nacht convincingly exemplify the necessary qualities. As they write, most fans must persistently measure the content of their comments against standards established by the fan community based on the original work. Other fans judge the merit of each other's writing based on whether or not it meets these standards. Thus, as you enter into the world of fandom, your worth and authority as a member of the fan community will be judged on whether or not your comments meet every other fan's expected standards.


How will sounding reasonable and logical benefit you as you participate in online fandom? Different kinds of fandoms have different standards of reasoning. When sport fans disagree on the rank of players, for example, including statistics is invaluable to backing up one's argument that one player should be ranked above another. Fans are united in their devotion to the fannish object, but disagreements still occur within the community because each individual interprets the object differently. When these interpretations clash, it can often spark contention among fans. In other words, remember as you navigate your chosen fan community not to assume that everyone will agree because everyone shares the same object of devotion. So, how should you prepare to change your language when supporting an opinion in an online fan community? Let's take a look at a fan expressing an opinion in a Harry Potter community:

Well, I know some people say that it's bad because it has withcraft, but I think te movie is very entertaining and kind of funny. My favorite character is Harry Potter, ofcourse. I like him because she's a little diferent from the others in a way. To me, he also seems like the "chosen one" if you know what I mean. Ron is really cool too. He's the funny guy in the group. Hermione,at first got on my nerves because she she seemed like a know it all. During the third movie, I started to like her more.[6]

This was a comment published four years ago on fanpop! The user introduces her opinion that the Harry Potter series is entertaining by refuting an opposing opinion that "it's bad because it has witchcraft." The user is writing under the Harry Potter tag on a website for fans and therefore should unsurprisingly expect an audience of fans. Beginning her article with the negative opinion works well as an identification device because it unites the user and audience in their disagreement with the claim. The user doesn't include any evidence, however, to back up her argument. She makes claims such as "he also seems like the 'chosen one'" and backs it up with the insufficient evidence of "if you know what I mean." She relies on her audience's familiarity with her opinion instead of evidence from the book. At first, it might seem like this is a bad example of how to use language for reasoning, but the fan knows her audience. Her claims relate to popular opinions already established in the fandom, and with an audience of fans, her assumption that they will be familiar with her claim is justified. If she were arguing, on the other hand, that Neville was the "chosen one" in the book series, she would need to back up her argument with evidence from the book. The opinion is not popular among fans and would require factual evidence. The structure, however, would be similar in both examples. So, as you make your way into your chosen fandom, don't be afraid to offer contrary opinions, but remember your appealing to an audience of fans, and they will have different expectations depending on if the claim aligns with or goes against popular opinion.

So, What?

When you communicate in online fan communities, the language you use will change depending on whether or not you are making an appeal to pathos, ethos, or logos. Tailoring one's writing style to fit the appeal is common across all types of communities. What makes this change in language different for online fan communities?

For pathos, we've discussed how expressing emotion is difficult online where you cannot see each other's facial expressions. Users make up different ways to express emotions, and these methods may differ depending on the community. A person who wants to express happiness in a fan community for a TV show might use a picture of a character from that show smiling. The fan audience reading the person's writing will recognize the character and most likely the intended emotion. If someone were to post this same image on Facebook to their family, the intended emotion might not be understood. In our example, we talked about how the Supernatural fan and GISHWHES participant employed informal language to convey emotion, but this might not be true for other fan communities like those for politics or religions. When trying to determine what language to use to convey emotion, look for patterns in your chosen fan community. What pictures show up in response to emotional posts? Is proper grammar used? If not, were the mistakes intentional?

For ethos, we discussed how each online fan community has its own standard based on the original work and that fans judge others' writings against this standard. Going into the fan community, you should already be familiar with the original work and knowledgeable about its tropes and characters. When writing, keep the original work in mind. You might not yet know what other fans accept as standard writing practices, but you can make a good guess based on your own expertise of the original work.

For logos, we discussed the appropriate situation in which to use evidence and reasoning when writing in online fan communities. If the claims you are making are popular, then you probably won't need to back them up with a lot of evidence, but if you are trying to convince others to adopt a different interpretation of a work, then you should provide evidence from the original to back up your argument. Remember fans are typically extremely knowledgeable about the objects of their devotion. When making claims, if you include facts and concrete examples, you are appealing to their expertise.

Knowing these three terms will help you discover genres of writing in your own fan communities. Your chosen fan community may label writing appealing to pathos, ethos, or logos by different names, but most writing genres work for the purposes of evoking emotion, evincing authority, and supporting claims. Changes in how online fans use language will key you to changes in writing genre. Watch for patterns in tropes and word usage, and we're confident you can discover the writing genres of your chosen fandom with ease!

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License