In this chapter we will look at specialized discourse in Spanish, focusing on corpus-based studies of the epistolary genres. Such genres are of particular interest for exploring the discursive and linguistic features of texts that exemplify different modalities of what is generally known as “specialized”—that is to say scientific, academic or technical/professional—discourse. Epistolary genres are central in a wide variety of professional contexts and practices. In the scientific field, for example, we may find short letters, letters to the editors of scientific journals, emails putting forth proposals and so on. Letters in academic/professional contexts can be exemplified by, among many other such texts, letters in support of an appointment to an academic post, or letters referring a patient to a specialist. For their part, business letters in a variety of thematic sub-areas structure and execute the processes involved in offering, negotiating and selling various goods and services.

First, after drawing distinctions between scientific discourse, special discourse (i.e., discourse for specific purposes) and academic discourse (section 2.1), we differentiate work based on extensive corpora from that based on selective corpora (section 2.2). We then discuss the definition of the letter genre, which is found in a variety of specialized discourse modalities (section 2.3). Section 3 is devoted to a critical overview of the research that focuses on the three types of specialized letters, namely scientific, academic/professional and business letters. In Section 4 we explore various methodological issues that arise from our overview regarding the scope and limits of the research examined. Finally, we synthesize our main observations and conclusions (section 5). As a discourse genre, the letter serves particularly well to illustrate in detail and depth not only the methodology of working with specialized corpora in the Spanish-speaking domain but also the most promising directions for future research, as identified by the most recent work in this area.