Volume 31, Issue 2
  • ISSN 1387-6740
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9935
Buy:$35.00 + Taxes



This article examines characteristics of stories in self-improvement books and the values they promote. The analysis of 36 stories from four self-improvement books shows that they are used to illustrate advice. By focusing on grammatical features (e.g., personal pronoun , interrogative clauses) in the story components (e.g., evaluation, coda), my study shows that these stories promote the idea that individuals, as the primary agent, are responsible for improving their lives (i.e., happier and more fulfilled lives). A study of the coda components also shows that human beings are viewed as having the ability and freedom to choose to improve their status quo. My study shows that stories in self-improvement books are a resource for promoting values.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


  1. Adams, J. T.
    (1931) The epic of America. New York: Little, Brown.
    [Google Scholar]
  2. Adler, J. M., & McAdams, D. P.
    (2007) Time, culture, and stories of the self. Psychological Inquiry, 18(2), 97–99. 10.1080/10478400701416145
    https://doi.org/10.1080/10478400701416145 [Google Scholar]
  3. Askehave, I.
    (2004) If language is a game – These are the rules: A search into the rhetoric of the spiritual self-help book If life is a game – These are the rules. Discourse & Society, 15(1), 5–31. 10.1177/0957926504038941
    https://doi.org/10.1177/0957926504038941 [Google Scholar]
  4. Baker, P.
    (2006) Using corpora in discourse analysis. London: Continuum.
    [Google Scholar]
  5. Bamberg, M.
    (2006) Stories: Big or small: Why do we care?Narrative Inquiry, 16(1), 139–147. doi:  10.1075/ni.16.1.18bam
    https://doi.org/10.1075/ni.16.1.18bam [Google Scholar]
  6. Barrett, D.
    (2013) Break free of your rut: 10 steps to discovering and breaking the patterns that dominate your life. Glastonbury, CT: Eternal Suffering Society.
    [Google Scholar]
  7. Basturkmen, H.
    (2012) A genre-based investigation of discussion sections of research articles in Dentistry and disciplinary variation. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 11(2), 134–144. doi:  10.1016/j.jeap.2011.10.004
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeap.2011.10.004 [Google Scholar]
  8. Becker, D., & Marecek, J.
    (2008) Dreaming the American Dream: Individualism and positive psychology. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2(5), 1767–1780. doi:  10.1111/j.1751‑9004.2008.00139.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-9004.2008.00139.x [Google Scholar]
  9. Bergsma, A.
    (2008) Do self-help books help?Journal of Happiness Studies, 9(3), 341–360. 10.1007/s10902‑006‑9041‑2
    https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-006-9041-2 [Google Scholar]
  10. Brown, B.
    (2010) The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden.
    [Google Scholar]
  11. Cain, S.
    (2012) Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Random House.
    [Google Scholar]
  12. Cheong, E.-Y.
    (1999) Analysis of sermons delivered by Korean, Filipino and American pastors: The view of genre analysis. RELC Journal, 30(2), 44–60. doi:  10.1177/003368829903000203
    https://doi.org/10.1177/003368829903000203 [Google Scholar]
  13. Cherry, S.
    (2008) The ontology of a self-help book: A paradox of its own existence. Social Semiotics, 18(3), 337–348. 10.1080/10350330802217113
    https://doi.org/10.1080/10350330802217113 [Google Scholar]
  14. Christensen, C., Allworth, J., & Dillon, K.
    (2012) How will you measure your life?: Finding fulfilment using lessons from some of the world’s greatest businesses. London: HarperCollins.
    [Google Scholar]
  15. Coyle, K., & Grodin, D.
    (1993) Self-help books and the construction of reading: Readers and reading in textual representation. Text & Performance Quarterly, 13(1), 61–78. 10.1080/10462939309366032
    https://doi.org/10.1080/10462939309366032 [Google Scholar]
  16. Cullen, J.
    (2003) The American dream: A short history of an idea that shaped a nation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  17. Davis, J. E.
    (2002) Narrative and social movements: The power of stories. InJ. E. Davis (Ed.), Stories of change: Narrative and social movement (pp.3–29). New York: State University of New York Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  18. de Bono, E.
    (2004) How to have a beautiful mind. London: Vermilion.
    [Google Scholar]
  19. Ding, H.
    (2007) Genre analysis of personal statements: Analysis of moves in application essays to medical and dental schools. English for Specific Purposes, 26(3), 368–392. 10.1016/j.esp.2006.09.004
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esp.2006.09.004 [Google Scholar]
  20. Dolby, S. K.
    (2005) Self-help books: Why Americans keep reading them. Illinois: University of Illinois Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  21. Dyer, W.
    (2010) The shift: Taking your life from ambition to meaning. New York: Hay House.
    [Google Scholar]
  22. Erjavec, K., & Volćić, Z.
    (2009) A Slovene president’s self-help discourse: Making Slovenes more positive. Critical Discourse Studies, 6(2), 97–110. 10.1080/17405900902749965
    https://doi.org/10.1080/17405900902749965 [Google Scholar]
  23. Flowerdew, J., & Wan, A.
    (2006) Genre analysis of tax computation letters: How and why tax accountants write the way they do. English for Specific Purposes, 25(2), 133–153. 10.1016/j.esp.2005.03.005
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esp.2005.03.005 [Google Scholar]
  24. Fu, X.
    (2012) The use of interactional metadiscourse in job postings. Discourse Studies, 14(4), 399–417. 10.1177/1461445612450373
    https://doi.org/10.1177/1461445612450373 [Google Scholar]
  25. Georgakopoulou, A.
    (2006) The other side of the story: Towards a narrative analysis of narratives-in-interaction. Discourse Studies, 8(2), 235–257. doi:  10.1177/1461445606061795
    https://doi.org/10.1177/1461445606061795 [Google Scholar]
  26. (2007) Small stories, interaction and identities. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 10.1075/sin.8
    https://doi.org/10.1075/sin.8 [Google Scholar]
  27. Germer, C. K.
    (2009) The mindful path to self-compassion: Freeing yourself from destructive thoughts and emotions. New York: The Guilford Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  28. Grodin, D.
    (1991) The interpreting audience: The therapeutics of self-help book reading. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 8(4), 404–420. 10.1080/15295039109366806
    https://doi.org/10.1080/15295039109366806 [Google Scholar]
  29. Henry, A., & Roseberry, R. L.
    (1998) An evaluation of a genre-based approach to the teaching of EAP/ESP writing. TESOL Quarterly, 32(1), 147–156. doi:  10.2307/3587913
    https://doi.org/10.2307/3587913 [Google Scholar]
  30. Hight, A. J.
    (2011) The American dream: Illusion of individualism and self-help in Oprah’s book club. (Masters), Northeastern University, Boston.
    [Google Scholar]
  31. Holmes, J.
    (2005) Story-telling at work: A complex discursive resource for integrating personal, professional and social identities. Discourse Studies, 7(6), 671–700. doi:  10.1177/1461445605055422
    https://doi.org/10.1177/1461445605055422 [Google Scholar]
  32. Jessop, B.
    (2002) Liberalism, neoliberalism, and urban governance: A state–theoretical perspective. Antipode, 34(3), 452–472. 10.1111/1467‑8330.00250
    https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8330.00250 [Google Scholar]
  33. Jones, J., Wood, P. H., Borstelmann, T., May, E. T., & Ruiz, V. L.
    (2011) Created equal: A history of the United States (3rd ed.). New York: Prentice Hall.
    [Google Scholar]
  34. Knight, B.
    (2013) The power of negative thinking: An unconventional approach to achieving positive results. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
    [Google Scholar]
  35. Koay, J.
    (2019) Persuasion in self-improvement books. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. 10.1007/978‑3‑030‑12149‑5
    https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-12149-5 [Google Scholar]
  36. Labov, W.
    (1997) Some further steps in narrative analysis. Journal of narrative and life history, 7, 395–415. 10.1075/jnlh.7.49som
    https://doi.org/10.1075/jnlh.7.49som [Google Scholar]
  37. Labov, W., & Waletzky, J.
    (1967) Narrative analysis: Oral versions of personal experience. InJ. Helme (Ed.), Essays on the verbal and visual arts: Proceedings of the American Ethnological Society (pp.12–44). Seattle: University of Washington Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  38. Levorato, A.
    (2003) Language and gender in the fairy tale tradition: A linguistic analysis of old and new story telling. London: Palgrave Mcmillan. 10.1057/9780230503878
    https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230503878 [Google Scholar]
  39. Martin, J. R., & Rose, D.
    (2008) Genre relations: Mapping culture. London: Equinox.
    [Google Scholar]
  40. Maxwell, J. C.
    (2007) Talent is never enough: Discover the choices that will take you beyond your talent. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
    [Google Scholar]
  41. Maxwell, J. C., & Dornan, J.
    (2006) Becoming a person of influence: How to positively impact the lives of others. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
    [Google Scholar]
  42. McAdams, D. P.
    (2004) The redemptive self: Narrative identity in America today. InD. R. Beike, J. M. Lampinen, & D. A. Behrend (Eds.), The self and memory (pp.95–115). New York: Psychology Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  43. McGee, M.
    (2005) Self-help Inc: Makeover culture in American life. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195171242.001.0001
    https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195171242.001.0001 [Google Scholar]
  44. McGraw, P.
    (2012) Life code: The new rules for winning in the real world. Los Angeles: Bird Street Books.
    [Google Scholar]
  45. McKay, S., & Bonner, F.
    (2002) Evaluating illness in women’s magazines. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 21(1), 53–67. 10.1177/0261927X02021001004
    https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X02021001004 [Google Scholar]
  46. Miller, D.
    (1967) Individualism: Personal achievement and the open society. Austin: University of Texas Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  47. Muncy, J.
    (2002) A few keys to all success: Discovering the best person I can be. Illinois: Few Keys.
    [Google Scholar]
  48. Oldham, I.
    (2012) 5 tools to change your world: Taking control of what you experience. Bloomington, IN: Trafford.
    [Google Scholar]
  49. Paul, A. M.
    (2001) Self-help: Shattering the myth. Psychology Today.
    [Google Scholar]
  50. Pearson, P.
    (2012) The eight facets of a fulfiling life. Sydney: Ignis Global.
    [Google Scholar]
  51. Philip, B.
    (2009) Analysing the politics of self-help books on depression. Journal of sociology, 45(2), 151–168. 10.1177/1440783309103343
    https://doi.org/10.1177/1440783309103343 [Google Scholar]
  52. Polanyi, L.
    (1989) Telling the American story: A structural and cultural analysis of conversational storytelling. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  53. Rohn, J.
    (2002) The five major pieces to the life puzzle. Southlake, TX: Jim Rohn International.
    [Google Scholar]
  54. Rose, D., & Martin, J. R.
    (2012) Learning to write, reading to learn: Genre, knowledge and pedagogy in the Sydney school. Bristol: Equinox.
    [Google Scholar]
  55. Sadeghi, V., & Samuel, M.
    (2013) Genre analysis of the letters of appeal. Discourse Studies, 15(2), 229–245. doi:  10.1177/1461445612471467
    https://doi.org/10.1177/1461445612471467 [Google Scholar]
  56. Salmenniemi, S., & Vorona, M.
    (2014) Reading self-help literature in Russia: Governmentality, psychology and subjectivity. The British Journal of Sociology, 65(1), 43–62. doi:  10.1111/1468‑4446.12039
    https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-4446.12039 [Google Scholar]
  57. Samraj, B.
    (2005) An exploration of a genre set: Research article abstracts and introductions in two disciplines. English for Specific Purposes, 24(2), 141–156. doi:  10.1016/j.esp.2002.10.001
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esp.2002.10.001 [Google Scholar]
  58. Spence, J. T.
    (1985) Achievement American style: The rewards and costs of individualism. American Psychologist, 40(12), 1285–1295. doi:  10.1037/0003‑066X.40.12.1285
    https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.40.12.1285 [Google Scholar]
  59. Swales, J. M.
    (1990) Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  60. Tessuto, G.
    (2015) Generic structure and rhetorical moves in English-language empirical law research articles: Sites of interdisciplinary and interdiscursive cross-over. English for Specific Purposes, 37(0), 13–26. doi:  10.1016/j.esp.2014.06.002
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esp.2014.06.002 [Google Scholar]
  61. Thornbury, S., & Slade, D.
    (2006) Conversation: From description to pedagogy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/CBO9780511733123
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511733123 [Google Scholar]
  62. Upton, T. A., & Cohen, M. A.
    (2009) An approach to corpus-based discourse analysis: The move analysis as example. Discourse Studies, 11(5), 585–605. doi:  10.1177/1461445609341006
    https://doi.org/10.1177/1461445609341006 [Google Scholar]
  63. Van Dijk, T. A.
    (1995) Discourse semantics and ideology. Discourse & Society, 6(2), 243–289. doi:  10.1177/0957926595006002006
    https://doi.org/10.1177/0957926595006002006 [Google Scholar]
  64. (2006) Ideology and discourse analysis. Journal of Political Ideologies, 11(2), 115–140. doi:  10.1080/13569310600687908
    https://doi.org/10.1080/13569310600687908 [Google Scholar]
  65. Wilson, D. M., & Cash, T. F.
    (2000) Who reads self-help books?: Development and validation of the self-help reading attitudes survey. Personality and Individual Differences, 29(1), 119–129. 10.1016/S0191‑8869(99)00182‑8
    https://doi.org/10.1016/S0191-8869(99)00182-8 [Google Scholar]
  66. Woodstock, L.
    (2005) Vying constructions of reality: Religion, science, and “positive thinking” in self-help literature. Journal of Media & Religion, 4(3), 155–178. 10.1207/s15328415jmr0403_3
    https://doi.org/10.1207/s15328415jmr0403_3 [Google Scholar]
  67. (2006) All about me, I mean, you: The trouble with narrative authority in self-help literature. Communication Review, 9(4), 321–346. 10.1080/10714420600957290
    https://doi.org/10.1080/10714420600957290 [Google Scholar]
  68. Xiao, R., & Cao, Y.
    (2013) Native and non-native English abstracts in contrast: A multidimensional move analysis. Belgian Journal of Linguistics, 27(1), 111–134. doi:  10.1075/bjl.27.06xia
    https://doi.org/10.1075/bjl.27.06xia [Google Scholar]

Data & Media loading...

This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error