Macrostructures and Microstructures As a Study-Aid in Textual Analysis and Text Creation

1. Introduction

The concepts of micro- and macrostructures have been relegated to an academic concept in the fields on linguistics and are perhaps the subject of some research. The application of these concepts, however, can have far-reaching implications in the field of education and learning. Of special mention is the use of these concepts as a learning aid especially in the field of humanities.

The theory of micro- and macro structures postulates the summarization and identification of the gist of a text. As a sub- branch of discourse analysis, it also studies the skeletal structure of texts. In the process it unravels the process of textual construction while de-constructing it. This dual analysis of text provides insights to a reader (receiver) and these insights can be used for the effective analysis, deconstruction and subsequent reconstruction of the text in a learner’s mind.

The concepts of macro- and micro- structures and the rules related to them can be used as effective tools in the classroom to improve comprehension and memory while at the same time improving the learner’s written expression.

This paper attempts to use the concepts of micro-, meso- and macro structures and explains their use as an aid to effective memory and writing. With an example, it discusses how a few students were taught how to firstly extract and summarize information from a chapter, and then, based on the macro structures, reconstruct the gist of the chapter and write a précis.

The results are quite promising, and the combination of note taking and précis writing prove to be an effective learning aid for schools and colleges.

In this paper, we shall analyze the notes extracted from the student’s note book in the light of the theory of macro and microstructures and try to identify what aspects of the process are responsible for the better retention of information and the effective expression in writing.

This methodology can prove vital in the teaching of writing and learning skills that are so important in the academic sphere today.

2. Theory of Macro-Structures (Macro-Rules)

The conceptual framework provided below is based upon the theory espoused by Teun A. Van Dijk. He proposed that micro- propositions can be grouped together to form a common macro proposition. This grouping is subject to rules which he calls Makroregeln or macro-rules.

Macrostructures are semantic in nature and represent the global semantic (meaning) structure of a text or a part thereof. They provide a global understanding of the context and text-meaning (van Dijk 1980, 41-44).

All macrostructures must fulfil the requirements for semantic connection as should the microstructures. The theory of macrostructures explains HOW we arrive at the respective macrostructures, what the processes are that can trace and outline the transformation and hence represent the so-called RULES that govern the process and that link the microstructures to their respective macrostructures. Hence, if visually described in an image below, every bundle of microstructures (structures at a lower level) that comes together to a macrostructure at a higher level represents a macro-rule. It is noteworthy that we are dealing with the unitisation of proposition-sequences or groups of propositions and not individual or isolated propositions. We talk here not about units but globality.

 Figure 1: Micro- & Macrostructures

2.1.The Macro-Rules

Van Dijk described 4 basic rules that determine the different kinds of semantic transformations abiding by which we can arrive at macro structures. They are

1. Auslassen Omission
2. Selektieren Selection
3. Generalisieren Generalisation
4. Integrieren Reconstruction or Integration

All rules, according to Dijk, must fulfil the principle of semantic implication (Prinzip der semantischen Implikation) which means that all macrostructures arrived at by the use of macro-rules should be semantically implied by the cluster of microstructures or propositions. A macrostructure should naturally evolve out of microstructures or clusters thereof (van Dijk 1980, 45-49).

3. Case Study

The following are the notes extracted from the notebook of a student from the grade V in a school at Bangalore. The child has the book entitled “Heidi” prescribed as part of their reading for English literature (Spryi 2011).

3.1. Methodology

The student was asked to undertake the following exercise with the instructions given below:

  1. Readeachchapter
  2. Underline the key words and elements in the sentences andparagraphs
  3. Then categorize the chapter thematically into various segments/ sections
  4. In a note book, create a 3 column table.
  5. In column 1, mention the segment no. or letter.
  6. In column 2, jot down the main points underlined during thereading, omitting the ones that may now appear irrelevant orof less importance after having read the entire chapter
  7. After completion of step 6 for the ENTIRE chapter, reflect and ask oneself what is the MAIN idea or the gist of each segment. At this point, the student is encouraged to merge and club segments or to re-arrange, categorize and organize the information based on the overall understanding of the chapter.

3.2. Extract from notes

Below is the extract from the note book. Copied below is only the extract for chapter 1 of the notes. There are a total of 15 chapters in the book.

Ref.  No. Summarized Points


Macro Structure


A. 1.     Mayenfeld, Switzerland, Alps

2.     June – sunny morning

3.     Two people up mountain

4.     Young woman – Dete

5.     5  y/o child – Heidi

1.     wearing three dresses

2.     thick woollen shawl

1.  Dete is taking Heidi up the Alm Mountain to leave her with Alm Uncle.


(Inference: the girl is wearing all her clothes as she is going to stay with Alm Uncle for good – and it’s easier to wear the clothes than to carry them in a bag.)

B. 1.        1/2 way up (at Dorfli)

2.        Did not return greetings of people

3.        Woman’s old home.

4.        Friend Barbel joins them at Dorfli.

A. 1.     Dete has got a job in Frankfurt.

2.     Is going to drop Heidi with Alm Uncle.

3.     He is Heidi’s grandfather .

4.     He is an unfriendly person.

5.     Barbel advises her against this.

2.  Half way up at Dorfli, her friend Barbel joins her.


3.  They start a conversation.

D. 1.   Barbel does not understand why Alm uncle is a misanthrope.

2.   Why he is called Alm Uncle.

3.   Barbel lived in Dorfli – she was married there.

4.   Dete was born here till her mother died.

5.   Had a job at Ragatz. Now a new good job at Frankfurt.

6.   Asks Barbel why people are against Alm Uncle.

7.   Barbel wants to know more about Alm uncle.

8.   Dete says she knows quite a bit – but Barbel should not tell anyone.

E. 1.   Barbel assures Dete that she can keep secrets.

2.   Dete does not see Heidi.

3.   Looks around and finds him with a goatherd – Peter.

4.   Dete can hear the story now.

5.   Alm uncle apparently has nothing except a hut and two goats.

F. 1.   Barbel asks whether Alm Uncle ever had more.

2.   Dete replies: He once owned a large farm.

3.   He liked to spend, driving about the country, drank and played cards.

4.   One day he lost his fortune.

5.   His mother died of grief.

6.   He joined the army for 12 years.

7.   He came back with a small child to his relatives in Ragatz.

8.   His relatives disowned him.

9.   He never went to Ragatz again.

 4.  History of Alm Uncle.
G. 1.     He came to Dorfli with his child.

2.     His wife had died soon after giving birth.

3.     He paid for his son to learn the wood trade.

4.     His name was Tobias. He married Dete’s sister – Adelaide.

5.     They both had a child – Heidi.

6.     Tobias died two years later when some wood fell on him.

7.     Adelaide died of shock a short while later.

8.     People talked of his tale.

9.     They called it a punishment from god for his ill deeds.

10.  Some said it on his face.

11.  Alm uncle was bitter and angry.

12.  He stopped speaking with people.

13.  He went to live on top of the mountain.

H. 1.   Adelaide’s baby was 1 year old.

2.   Dete and her mother took care of Heidi.

3.   The mother died a year ago and

4.   Dete went to live in Ragatz.

5.   She paid an old woman to take care of Heidi.

6.   Now she had got a new job with a rich family in Frankfurt.

7.   She had to leave the day after the next and

8.   Had come to leave Heidi with Alm Uncle.

5.  Reason for Dete to leave Heidi with Alm Uncle.
I. 1.   She says she cannot take Heidi to Frankfurt.

2.   On the way they see a dilapidated little hut.

3.   It belongs to Peter, a goatherd.

4.   He took care of goats for a living.

5.   He had no father.

6.   He had a blind grandmother.

J. 1.   Peter knew where the tasty bushes were.

2.   He took the flocks by another path.

3.   Heidi followed him.

4.   She took off her clothes and made a tiny bundle of clothes and was only in her under-clothes.

6.  Heidi makes friends with Peter, a young goatherd.
K. 1.   Heidi is left behind as Dete walks up.

2.   She calls out and Heidi rushes up to her.

3.   Dete scolds her for having taken off her clothes and asks her to wear them again.

4.   They reach Alm uncle’s hut.

5.   He is sitting on his chair, smoking and looking at the valley.

L. 1.   Alm uncle initially refuses to accept Heidi. She asks “what is the child to do with me?”

2.   Dete replies that she has taken care of her for four years and now it’s his chance.

3.   She says it is his problem now – how he takes care of her.

4.   Alm uncle gets angry and screams at Dete telling her to go away.

5.   Dete runs away, feeling guilty.

6.   People ask her where she left the child.

7.   When she replies, people don’t approve.

7.  Dete hands over Heidi to Alm Uncle despite his refusal and runs away feeling guilty and sad.

Table 1: Note taking and Macro Structures – Example

3.3. Précis Version 1: (Short Version)

Dete is taking Heidi up the Alm Mountain to leave her with Alm Uncle, who is Heidi’s grandfather. (1)

Half way up, at Dorfli, her friend Barbel joins her (2). They start a conversation. Dete explains the reason why she must leave Heidi with her grandfather (3, 5). They also discuss Alm uncle’s history (4).

On the way the little Heidi makes friends with Peter, a young goatherd (6).

When they reach the mountain top, Dete hands Heidi over to Alm uncle and runs back, feeling guilty and sad (7).


3.4.Précis Version 2: (Longer Version)

Dete is taking Heidi up the Alm Mountain to leave her with Alm Uncle, who is Heidi’s grandfather. (1)

Half way up, at Dorfli, her friend Barbel joins her (2). They start a conversation. Dete explains the reason why she must leave Heidi with her grandfather (3, 5). They also discuss Alm uncle’s history (4).

Dete shares with Barbel the story of Alm Uncle and how he had squandered his fortune in his youth and his mother had died of grief. He served in the army for 12 years, and had a son. His wife had died after giving birth. His relatives disowned him. He taught his son, Tobias, the wood trade. Later, Tobias married Dete’s sister Adelaide. They had a daughter together, whom they named Heidi. Tobias died in an accident and Adelaide died of grief soon after. People spoke of Alm Uncle’s misfortune as a punishment from God and actually said this on his face. Alm uncle became very bitter and stopped talking with people (4).

Dete and her mother took care of Heidi after Adelaide’s death – and her mother died a year ago. Now, Dete has got a job in Frankfurt and cannot take Heidi along with her. So she decides to leave her in the care of Alm Uncle (5).

On the way the little Heidi makes friends with Peter, a young goatherd (6).

When they reach the mountain top, Dete hands Heidi over to Alm uncle and runs back, feeling guilty and sad (7).

4. Analysis

The process undertaken by the student results in the following internal mental processes and enables the student to achieve a better understanding of the chapter.

  1. Deconstruction of the text and categorization into segments
  2. Understanding the global propositions of the various segments
  3. A discerning understanding of the relevance of certain aspects, and the relative insignificance of other aspects.
  4. A clear visual and mental picture of the variouspropositions as situated in the larger contexts.
  5. Interconnecting the macrostructures to create a shortsummary.

This incidentally also represents of what happens in the mind and how the data gets processed for better and more effective re- presentation while writing the précis.

We can see from the part I (the tabular notes) that the student has divided the chapter into 12 segments, A to L as show in column 1. For each segment, the student has noted down the main points in column 2. These represent the microstructures or the individual information and propositions that are provided in the text. It must be noted that this is already a level higher in terms of micro and macrostructures, as not all the text from the original is provided here but only selected of the key information.

After the main points were noted, the notes were reviewed at a glance. With this overview and with and understanding of the global context, the candidate then re-organized the segments. This is the result of the comprehension of the ideational meaning of the chapter (the content) as well as the textual meaning (Halliday and Hasan 2004, 47) which deals with the interconnectedness of the ideas, content or propositions. It is with this global u nderstanding (ideational + textual meanings) that the student comprehends the chapter in its totality.

Based on the aforementioned understanding and processing, the student then arrives at the main ideas or themes and writes them in column 3. These are the macrostructures or macro-propositions. The student identifies correctly 7 main topics or themes that are covered in this chapter. These 7 points represent the macrostructures of this chapter.

This provides a tree-structure where the macro structures are easily retained in memory by virtue of the power of association, and each macro structure is related to various micro propositions. The result is that the table works like a palimpsest or archive, a kind of a mental map so to speak, which makes it easy for the brain to locate large amounts of information in a systematic manner based on its relational significance and logical categorization under the larger macro structures.

This is akin to systematic arrangement of books in a library or filing of files in an organization. The library or storage area is divided into zones for different categories or alphabet groups. This is level one of the division – like the macro structures. Then, within each zone, a further sub-division is done for individual sections or shelves, in which the individual files are placed. These compare to the micro propositions of the text. This kind of organization, as we all know, assists in ease of retrieval, and the same process takes place in the mind of the learner. The cognitive ability of the student is bolstered and the “memory” appears to have improved, when in reality, it is not memory per se, but a framework of relationships and interconnectedness that is clearly spaced out on paper and as a result, in the mind.

The macrostructures appear disjointed as they appear in the table. Hence, in the next step, in part II of the notes, the student has re-phrased the 7 macro-propositions or macro structures into a paragraph, making necessary modifications to make them connected and flow into one another (précis version 1). Intertextuality (Renkema 2004, 50-51) is achieved this way which comes forth as good writing style – and the disjointed propositions have been woven into a coherent paragraph.

In the précis version 2, we see that the student has realized that the propositions 4 and 5 are of greater importance, and merely mentioning the “about-ness” (Renkema 2004, 90-91) of the themes 4 and 5 is not sufficient. She decides to add a summary of both these aspects. This is optional and a step further in the level of detail.

With the addition of the two paragraphs (italicized), the précis becomes complete and no important detail seems to have been left out. In version 1, it seems as though merely an overview of the themes has been provided (eg. “They spoke about the history of Alm Uncle.”), while keeping the actual and significant information (the history) hidden from the reader. In version 2, however, the information seems complete and the précis can function as a summarized version of the story by itself.

5. Challenges

The method introduced in this paper, though effective and very useful, will have 3 major areas of difficulty.

1. The identification of the key elements to highlight
2. The identification of the global or main idea from a large chunk of information
3. Finally, the ability of the student to connect the macro

structures and weave them into an interconnected paragraph

These skills are not always mastered by students especially in our Indian context, where the medium of English is actually an alien one and most of the learners speak a different language at home while using English as the primary medium of instruction and interaction at school.

These challenges notwithstanding, the process itself presents an insight into the process of assimilation and integration in the mind and provides a key to clearing the blocks in the process of learning and retention of information.




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Halliday, Michael, and Ruqaiya Hasan. “Language, Context and Text: Aspects of language in a social-semiotic perspective.” In Introduction to Discourse Studies, by Jan Renkema, 45-48. Philadephia: John Benjamins North America, 2004.

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