Generic structure potential of the english introductory information pages of university websites in Vietnam

University websites are an indispensible means for the purposes of information,

administration and promotion. In such a globalization era, university websites are designed

as a kind of multimodal text with the combination of language, signs, audio and visual

components, and presentation effects; and most websites are bilingual, trilingual, or even

multi-lingual, so as to address a variety of audience with different access purposes, of

different age groups, and from different countries and background. This paper reports on a

study of the generic structure potential (GSP) of the English introductory information pages

of 10 university websites in Vietnam. The GSP analysis is based on Hasan’s (1985)

framework. The aim of the analysis is to explore the obligatory, the optional, and the

iterative elements, which together construct the GSP of these websites. From the findings,

suggestions related to improving the quality and the functioning of the websites could then

be drawn out.

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T p chí Khoa h c Ngôn ng  và Văn hóaạ ọ ữ ISSN 2525­2674 T p 3, S  1, 2019ậ ố
GENERIC STRUCTURE POTENTIAL OF THE ENGLISH
INTRODUCTORY INFORMATION PAGES OF UNIVERSITY
WEBSITES IN VIETNAM
Nguyen Thi Minh Tam*
University of Languages and International Studies, Vietnam National University
Received: 06/09/2018; Revised: 02/10/2018; Accepted: 22/04/2019
Abstract: University websites are an indispensible means for the purposes of information,
administration and promotion. In such a globalization era, university websites are designed
as a kind of multimodal text with the combination of language, signs, audio and visual
components, and presentation effects; and most websites are bilingual, trilingual, or even
multi-lingual, so as to address a variety of audience with different access purposes, of
different age groups, and from different countries and background. This paper reports on a
study of the generic structure potential (GSP) of the English introductory information pages
of 10 university websites in Vietnam. The GSP analysis is based on Hasan’s (1985)
framework. The aim of the analysis is to explore the obligatory, the optional, and the
iterative elements, which together construct the GSP of these websites. From the findings,
suggestions related to improving the quality and the functioning of the websites could then
be drawn out.
Key words: English introduction page, generic structure potential (GSP), university,
website
1. Introduction
In August 2016, more than one billion websites existed worldwide, representing an
increase of almost eighty million websites since July 2016 (Agrebi & Boncori, 2017). In the
knowledge-based economy, the miraculous growth of websites and other Internet intermediaries
is a convincing evidence for the handiness of Internet communication and the potential of
Internet intermediaries in general and of websites in particular. In Vietnam, Internet
intermediaries have proliferated incredibly fast for more than two decades now, and almost all
organizations in any sectors now have their own websites. In education sector, universities in
Vietnam now have all built up their websites and use them as an absolutely indispensable
channel for performing different functions and enacting their roles. 
2. Theoretical framework
2.1. Research question
1. What is the generic structure potential of the English introductory pages of Vietnamese 
universities? 
2. What could be changed in the generic structures of these pages to enhance their 
performance?
2.2. Genre analysis
* Email: tamntm1982@vnu.edu.vn 
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Genres have been characterised as staged, goal oriented social processes. Genres are how
things get done, when language is used to accomplish them (Martin, 1985). For Swales (1990),
genres constitute a class of communicative events, the members of which share some set of
communicative purposes. These purposes are recognized by the expert members of the parent
discourse community, and thereby constitute the rationale for the genre. In functional
linguistics, genres are defined as a recurrent configuration of meaning, which enacts the social
practices of a culture (Martin & Rose, 2008, p.6). To be more specific, genres can be
characterized by recurrent global patterns, and the organisation of each genre can be
distinguished by recurrent local patterns. For example, narrative genres in general can be
distinguished globally on the presence or absence of sequence in time, and the presence or
absence of a complicating event, and the fable sub-genre could be characterized by the stages
Orientation^Complication^Resolution. A genre is a highly structured and conventionalized
discourse which occurs among the members of a community (Bonyadi, 2012).
In the view of functional linguists, the basis for classifying texts into genre could be the
social processes that the texts enact. In functional view, any linguistic analysis should start with
the communicative purposes to be realized by the texts, and language only serves as the input
bank for any linguistic choices in order to realize different communicative purposes, as
language is a meaning making resource (Halliday, 1970). In Martin’s (1992, 1997, 2000)
perspective on genre analysis, which is grounded on systemic functional linguistics, genre is
defined as: “a system structured in parts, with specific means to specific ends.” (Vian Jr. &
Lima-Lopes, 2005, p. 29, as cited in Figueiredo, 2010, p.127). 
Taking SFL approach in their study on genres and teaching genres, Knapp and Watkins
(1994) define genres as a useful way to classify the social processes that are realized through the
use of language (p.25). 
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Figure 1. Classification of genres (Knapp & Watkins, 1994, p. 26)
Genre analysis, emerged in 1980s and blossomed in the 1990s, is the study of naturally
occurring written discourse focusing, in particular, on analysis beyond the sentence level
(Bhatia, 2004). For Bhatia (2002, p.5), a generic description can serve as a resource of
“knowledge of procedures, practices and conventions that make the text possible and relevant to
a particular socio-rhetorical context.” 
Any genre analysis starts with identifying the communicative purpose(s) of the texts or
genres under investigation and the use of language in institutionalized settings controlled by
communicative conventions existing in and created by a group of participants in a defined
discourse community (Martin, 1985); but the key step in genre analysis is the identification of
the moves in a text (which is based on the conventions set by the discourse community). In
other words, an investigation into how the text producers organize the information throughout
the text – the generic structure built up from moves in a text – could facilitate understanding of
a text and evaluating its function(s) fulfillment – to what extent the text could perform the
communicative purpose(s) it was aimed to perform.
2.3. Generic structure potential
Generic Structure Potential (GSP) is an abstract theoretical notion developed by Hasan
(1985), which is a schema that could represent all textual elements available for the development
of a genre to establish the genre status of a discourse. Hasan (1985) states that for each genre,
there is a potential of elements, or stages that occur / reccur throughout texts and that could be
identified in certain patterns of moves. The GSP of a particular genre is a statement of the
structural resources available within a given genre (Hasan, 1984, p. 79). According to Halliday
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and Hasan, GSP of texts in a genre “expresses the total range of optional, [iterative], and
obligatory elements and their order in such a way that we exhaust the possibilities of text that can
be appropriate to (the contextual configuration of that text)” (1985, p. 64).
In other words, the GSP of texts in a certain genre represents the full possibility of
occurrences of elements for a particular text in that genre. To analyze the GSP of texts in a
certain genre, we must identify the following in the organization of the texts:
(i) Obligatory elements - What elements must occur?
(ii) Optional elements - What elements may occur? 
(iii) Sequencing of elements - what arrangement of elements is obligatory and optional? 
(iv) Iteration - How often may the elements occur?
An illustration of how GSP could be identified in a text is demonstrated in Hasan’s (1984)
analysis on the obligatory and optional rhetorical elements of English shop transaction.
The GSP represented in Figure 2 below could be read that: any shop transaction is
conventionalized to potentially consist of 9 elements: (i) Greeting (G), (ii) Sale Initiation (S.I),
(iii) Sale Enquiry (SE), (iv) Sale Request (SR), (v) Sale Compliance (SC), (vi) Sale (S), (vii)
Purchase (P) (viii) Purchase Closure (PC) and (ix) Finis (F). Among these 9 potential elements,
G, SI, SE, and F are optional and SR, SC, S, P and PC are obligatory. G and SI are optional, but
if they do occur, they always take the initial position in the transaction; and if they both occur,
then either G may precede SI, or follow it. SE is optional, and can be iterative; SE can occur
anywhere, so long as it does not precede G or SI and so long as it does not follow P or PC or F.
SR and SC are both obligatory; if SR occurs twice, then SC must also occur twice (Olaniyan,
2014, p. 73).
Figure 2. The GSP of shop transaction (Hasan, 1984)
The analysis of obligatory and optional elements, their sequence and iteration in texts of
other genres could be done in the same way, thanks to which the GSP of those genres could be
seen.
2.4. University websites
In the era of globalization, universities are expanding their goals and enriching their
features. Modern universities are taking complex roles including educating, researching, and
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preserving and disseminating knowledge (Altbach, 2008). They are no longer limited to the role
of knowledge providers - ensuring the qualified personnel for different sectors; they are
extending to the field of research and development, taking the roles of innovation facilitators,
innovation promoters, talent builders, and knowledge pioneers. Recently in its 2017 report,
UNESCO also emphasizes the roles of universities in fostering sustainable development and
empowering students, and addressing global crises. Intensive and large-scale changes in the
higher education today have been directed and signposted by the emergence of new
technologies, the expansion of integration processes in the higher education system and the
formation of the global education space, and the spread of the “continuous” learning concept in
the last decade (Pogodaeva, Zhaparova, & Efremova, 2015). The complex roles of universities
are enacted and promoted via different channels, and Internet intermediaries are essential. 
Websites as well as other Internet intermediaries are indispensible means for the purposes
of administration and promotion for any organizations nowadays. In its 2010 reports, OECD
emphasizes the importance of Internet intermediaries in advancing the development of bodies in
different sectors:
“As the Internet has grown to permeate all aspects of the economy and society, so too has
the role of Internet intermediaries that bring together or facilitate interactions, transactions
or activities between third parties on the Internet. Internet intermediaries influence and
determine access to and choice between online information, services and goods. They
provide tools that enable users to access information and provide new opportunities for
social activities, speech and citizen participation.” (OECD, 2010, p. 3). 
Just like in other sectors, in tertiary education, websites are where various web-based
applications are put out for various purposes. Linguistically speaking, websites are multimodal
text with the combination of language, signs, audio and visual components, and presentation
effects; and many websites are bilingual, trilingual, or even multi-lingual, so as to address a
variety of audience with different access purposes, of different age groups, and from different
races and background. However, as universities are classified as academic institutions, the
business function is very much inferior to their educating function, researching function, and
knowledge preserving and disseminating function (Altbach, 2008). The main functions to be
enacted through university websites are generally administration, knowledge dissemination, and
most importantly, promotion. For the functions to be fully performed, websites must be effective
in the sense that they have the attributes allowing them to best do the job that they are assigned.
Websites, which are defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary as “a group of World
Wide Web pages usually containing hyperlinks to each other and made available
online by an individual, company, educational institution, government, or
organization”, are a special kind of texts. Websites are actually collection of individual linked
pages that share a common graphic and navigational look and feel. Page headers are like
miniature versions of the home page that sit atop each page and do many of the things that home
pages do, but in a limited space; page footers are mostly about housekeeping and legal matters;
while page contents is so multifaceted that few general rules apply (Patrick & Horton, 2008).
According to Karayanni and Baltas (2003), the characteristics of interactivity, navigability and
multimedia design, and marketing communication content could have impact on the
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performance of websites. So in analyzing the GSP of university websites, besides the content of
information posted on the site, factors related to interactivity, navigability and multimedia
design could also be taken into account.
In line with the globalization trend in almost every aspect of modern life, in tertiary
education, targeting at international students has undoubtedly become an essential goal for the
development of globalized education. The development of bilingual, trilingual, or multilingual
websites as an effective channel for communication and promotion is definitely a must to bring
information to the students from different countries. Keswani and Kumar (2016) confirm:
“Providing good quality education has always been a thrust for nations across the globe. And if
the websites of educational institutions are not accessible to all, it might be difficult to reach the
resources for some” (p.210). In Vietnam, English introductory information pages is therefore
more and more popularly found in the websites of any tertiary institutions, and the analysis of
the GSP of these pages is hoped to shed light on how well the English introduction pages of
Vietnamese university websites might support international students in learning about the
institutions and deciding their enrollment. 
3. Methodology
The data for this study are the English introductory information pages (hereby called the
English introductory pages) of the websites of ten leading universities in Vietnam, collected in
June 2018 in the form of screen captures. The universities were chosen on the basis that all of
them are multi-disciplinary tertiary institutions with a variety of faculties or have different
campuses, with large international relation network; so the need for online information,
administration and promotion of these institutions is high. 
The analytical framework was constructed with the basis on the content and structure of
websites as multimodal promotional texts. The elements to be identified in Levitt and
Shneiderman’s (2006) guidelines are:
(i) logo/ header graphic (LG); 
(ii) page title (PT); 
(iii) search tool (ST); 
(iv) navigation bar/ links to other sections/ pages (NA); 
(v) news and events (NE); 
(vi) information/ promotion articles (IP); 
(vii) images, photos (IM);
(viii)embedded media (EM);
(ix) contact/ address, copyright (CO). 
As websites are often structured in 3 parts: header, main content, and footer, each with a
distinctive function, the analytical framework for analyzing the GSP of English introductory
pages is accordingly separated for three parts, but these three parts are all resourced from the
same banks of items as potential elements. The analytical framework for analyzing the GSP of
English introduction pages is constructed as in Figure 3 below.
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Figure 3. Analytical framework
In data analysis, the analytical framework as in Figure 3 was used to identify the elements
that potentially appear in the different parts of the English introductory pages. These elements
were then screened for their level of obligation and iteration, their positions on the page, and
their sequence in iteration with other elements. The interpretation of the elements is interpreted
from left to right, and from up to down. 
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4. Findings 
The analysis of elements in the websites reveals that the number of elements in each
website varies. The website with highest element number is quite crowded with 17 elements (8
elements in the Header, 6 elements in the Contents, and 3 elements in the Footer) while the
website with lowest element number has only 10 elements (6 elements in the Header, 3 elements
in the contents, and 1 element in the Footer).
There are 21 potential elements in the English introduction page of the 10 websites under
investigation; the distribution of them could be summarized in Figure 4 below.
Figure 4. Distribution of website potential elements
As seen in Figure 4, the Header parts are where information appears in 14 different types,
while the Content parts, which account for the largest area on the pages, are where articles of
quite few major types come out. The Footer parts are where different English introductory pages
vary the most, with only one obligatory element shared and all other elements clustered without
strict constraints.
The four obligatory elements and optional elements are specific to each part, which
means one and the same element could function as an obligatory element in one part and, at the
same time, as an optional element in another part.
The four iterative elements in Vietnamese university websites are: NA (navigation bar/
links to other sections/ pages), LG (logo), PT (page title), and email/ support. NA functions as
an obligatory element in the Header but as an optional element in the Content and the Footer.
LG and PT, which are always organized in fixed order, appear as obligatory elements in the
Header but as optional elements in the Footer. Email / support acts as an optional element in all
of the three parts. 
4.1. The Header parts of English introductory pages
The English introductory page headers of the Vietnamese university websites under
investigation are all divided into 2 areas: the left area, where most of the obligatory elements are
distributed, and the right area, where most optional elements appear. The English introductory
page headers investigated do not cover much area on the pages but potentially consist of 14
different elements. Besides the 5 types of elements which already exist in the analytical
framework, other 9 types of elements could be identified. As regards the obligation and the
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positions of the elements, the features of GSP of the website header could be summarized as
follows:
+ The six obligatory elements of the Heading part include: logo (LG), page title (PT),
images/photos (IM), navigation bar/ links (NA), search tool (ST), and language choices.
+ The eight optional elements of the Heading part include: motto, statement of achievements
(medals awarded, accreditation), message from the president, working agenda, web structure,
email/ support system (library, map), social network link. 
The average number of elements is 6.9 elements (min 6, max 8). The GSP of the
university English introductory page header is as below:
{LG• PT} ^ (motto) ^ • IM ^ (achievements) ^ (message from the president) ^ NA^
ST• language choices^(web structure) ^ (email/support) ^ (social network link)
4.2. The Content parts of English introductory pages
The contents parts of the English introductory pages could be divided

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