Metacommentary: Definition and Examples

Metacommentary: Definition and ExamplesReviewed by Chris Drew (PhD)

This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

metacommentary examples and definition

Metacommentary is a type of metacommunication that provides insightful feedback on the language, syntax, and other components in an existing text. Essentially, it is self-analyzing – taking a closer look at a text’s own composition to get to the heart of meaning.

Metacommentary is a type of self-reflection in which the author or speaker examines and comments on their own language and the language and structure of others.

Examples of metacommentary include direct statements about the text, rhetorical questions about the text, and comparisons between texts.

For example, a direct statement might be:

  • “This sentence is confusing because of the syntax” or
  • “This sentence could have been better structured”

A rhetorical question might be:

  • “Are these two ideas connected?” or
  • “Is this sentence necessary?” 

And a comparison might be:

  • “This is similar to the way X author structures their sentences” or
  • “This sentence is similar to the way Y author structures their sentences.” 

Metacommentary is an indispensable guide for readers to better comprehend the sources and evidence presented.

Metacommentary Definition

Metacommentary is a type of discourse that reflects on an existing text’s language, structure, and message to generate insight, clarity, and deeper understanding. 

It is a form of self-reflection that allows the audience to draw connections between different texts and conclude based on the available evidence. 

According to Copland and colleagues (2016), metacommentary is “comments about language” (p. 201).

Hurley (2019) believes that:

“…metacommentary presses pause on the reasoning as a way to explain the claims more patiently and clearly” (p. 77).

Metacommentary not only offers communicators a way to provide transparency but also allows audiences to recognize the speaker’s sincerity.

By utilizing metacommentary, they can openly disclose their purpose as they communicate with others.

Besides, Dolby (2010) writes that, in simple terms, metacommentary is a “commentary about commentary” (p. 51).

Graf and Birkenstein (2018) suggest that the metacommentary’s purpose is similar to a Greek Chorus – it takes an outside viewpoint of the action, elucidating its progress for the audience so they don’t become lost in their journey.

So, a metacommentary is an essential tool for communicators that provides insight and guidance to their readers. It helps the audience understand and interpret texts, both in the academic world and in day-to-day life. 

Metacommentary Examples

  • Direct Statements: “By this point in the essay, I have established five evidence facts.” Through such direct statement, readers gain insights into the writer’s organizational approach and mental journey.
  • Rhetorical Questions: “Does this sentence make sense in the context of the argument?” By posing thought-provoking questions, authors can prompt readers to evaluate and analyze the text more deeply.
  • Comparisons: “This sentence contains similar syntax to an earlier statement I made.” Through the clever use of metacommentary, communicators can distinctly highlight the parallels and distinctions between their assertions.
  • Clarifications: “To clarify, I am suggesting that…” By offering clarifications, authors can help their audience become more aware of the intended gist behind an argument. If a statement is confounding, metacommentary may be used to make it understandable for readers.
  • Analyses: “This sentence has a particular rhetorical effect on the audience.” This type of metacommentary helps readers think about the implications of an argument and how different people may interpret it. So, it allows the author to provide further insight into their idea.
  • Justifications: “I believe this sentence is necessary for the structure of my argument.” By writing with justification, communicators can support their decisions and provide evidence to support their claims.
  • Critique: “This sentence could have been better worded.” Such metacommentary helps readers recognize the weaknesses of an argument and allows them to think critically about its structure.
  • Summaries: “To summarize, I have established three points.” With such a summary, communicators can remind their readers of the critical points in an argument.
  • Reflections: “This sentence reflects my opinion on the issue.” By reflecting on their own arguments, communicators can make it easier for readers to identify the author’s point of view.
  • Refutations: “I disagree with this statement and have provided evidence to the contrary.” By incorporating metacommentary into their discourse, authors can demonstrate to their readers that they have thoughtfully considered alternate perspectives and provided sound evidence in rebuttal.

Origins of Metacommentary

Fredric Jameson, an American cultural critic, first offered the concept of metacommentary when comparing alternative interpretive methodologies.

He postulates that the metacommentary exemplifies a model analogous to Sigmund Freud’s notion of the nexus between symptom and hidden concept (except for his libido theory) (Jameson, 1971).

In specific contexts, lived experience is manipulated and censored to be included in a text. Consequently, thoughts and ideas deemed inappropriate are often distorted to fit the context of the narrative—or else they must be omitted altogether.

So, according to Freud’s hypothesis on dream interpretation, dreams are chaotic and symbolic representations of our unconscious feelings developed to bypass suppression (Jameson, 1971).

Consequently, comprehending a text necessitates grasping the censorship process articulated by Jameson.

Readers must reconstitute its initial context to further understand why the text had to be distorted in such an approach. Explaining this is necessary for a complete comprehension of what’s been written (Jameson, 1971).

The iconic Hays Code had a tremendous impact on Hollywood, requiring filmmakers to get creative when depicting sex.

A classic example of this is the infamous smoking-in-bed scene that followed the first kiss; it became a universally recognized symbol for sex—even though no explicit act was actually shown!

As Jameson’s oeuvre progressed, he began using the term dialectical criticism to characterize his analytic methods rather than metacommentary. It does not merely look at the text itself but also contemplates its context and implications (Tally et al., 2014).

In essence, metacommentary is one way to understand the implications of a text by exploring its context. Communicators who use metacommentary can make their arguments understandable and accessible to readers. 

Related: Metacognitive Theory

Metacommentary vs. Commentary

A metacommentary and commentary diverge in their purviews on the most fundamental level. While both of these forms of criticism investigate a text’s content, metacommentary generally delves deeper into its context and any implications it may have.

Commentary dives deep into the text, seeking to understand meaning from within. On the other hand, metacommentary takes a step back and reflects on what implications can be derived from an external perspective. 

By looking at these two as separate practices, people gain insight into understanding the context of literature more holistically (Graff & Birkenstein, 2018).

Metacommentary isn’t just about the words on a page – it’s about exploring why those words were chosen and how they will impact readers. It’s a big-picture perspective that can offer meaningful insight into any discussed issue.

Commentary typically analyzes an argument’s structure and quality, while metacommentary evaluates a text’s implications. 

Additionally, metacommentary is often more personal than commentary, as it usually incorporates the author’s reflections and opinions (Graff & Birkenstein, 2018).

Importantly, metacommentary does not replace commentary but instead serves to enhance it. By incorporating both forms of critique, communicators can provide readers with a more comprehensive and persuasive argument.

Importance of Metacommentary

While some may perceive metacommentary as a superfluous endeavor, it enables communicators to explore the broader implications of a text and its censorship to represent their messages more accurately. 

Here are a few of the significant benefits associated with metacommentary:

1. It Helps Develop Any Point Further

Metacommentary offers an opportunity to explain ideas more comprehensively. It’s an effective tool for expanding on a point and offering additional insight into any argument.

For example, by incorporating metacommentary, an author can effectively make a case for their argument more convincing (Copland et al., 2016). 

By writing, “This example of censorship is indicative of a much larger issue,” the author can explain why this issue matters and how it affects individuals beyond the text itself.

2. It Increases the Persuasiveness of Any Argument 

By looking at a text’s implications, the metacommentary hones in on why a particular issue is essential to readers. It provides an opportunity to explain why a point matters and how it connects to readers’ lives. 

By utilizing metacommentary, communicators can bolster their arguments and ensure readers comprehend why a particular issue is important.

3. It Enhances Reader Engagement 

Metacommentary can also create an engaging experience for readers. For example, authors can share personal reflections to make their points more meaningful and relatable. 

So, writing “This problem is personal to me, as I have experienced it firsthand” can make a text more resonant for readers and encourage them to be more invested in the argument.

4. It Builds Credibility 

Incorporating reflections and opinions into an argument or discussion adds to the credibility of communicators. 

In addition, it demonstrates that authors have done the necessary research and are willing to share their personal perspectives on an issue with readers (Graff & Birkenstein, 2018).

For instance, when an author has firsthand experience on the issue they’re discussing, they can leverage this to their advantage by sharing it and emphasizing how it fortifies their argument. 

With such personal accounts involved in a topic of discussion, readers will find themselves more persuaded and thus build trust with the communicator.

See Also: Credibility Examples

Conclusion

Metacommentary means looking at the bigger picture when analyzing any text. It requires an in-depth analysis of a text’s implications and offers readers additional insight into why any argument or discussion matters.

In simple terms, metacommentary is a commentary with an added reflection layer. As a result, it is a powerful tool for communicators to utilize to make their points more convincing and engaging for readers.

Moreover, metacommentary has several advantages for communicators, including helping to develop a point further, increasing the persuasiveness of any argument, enhancing reader engagement, and building credibility. 

Overall, metacommentary is a valuable resource for improving the effectiveness of any communication.

By utilizing it, communicators can ensure that readers are thoroughly informed on any text and create an engaging and persuasive experience. 

References

Copland, F., Shaw, S., & Shnell, J. (2016). Linguistic ethnography: Interdisciplinary explorations. Springer.

Dolby, S. K. (2010). Self-help books: Why Americans keep reading them. University of Illinois Press.

Graff, G., & Birkenstein, C. (2018). “They say/I say”: The moves that matter in academic writing (5th ed.). W.W. Norton & Company.

Hurley, G. F. (2019). The playbook of persuasive reasoning. Vernon Press.

Jameson, F. (1971). Metacommentary. PMLA86(1), 9. https://doi.org/10.2307/460996

Tally, R. T. (2014). Fredric Jameson: The project of dialectical criticism. In E. Leslie & M. Wayne (Eds.), JSTOR. Pluto Press. https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt183p5xw

Viktoriya Sus

Viktoriya Sus (MA)

Viktoriya Sus is an academic writer specializing mainly in economics and business from Ukraine. She holds a Master’s degree in International Business from Lviv National University and has more than 6 years of experience writing for different clients. Viktoriya is passionate about researching the latest trends in economics and business. However, she also loves to explore different topics such as psychology, philosophy, and more.

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This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

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