discourse community

Paper instructions:
Unit 1: Discourse Community Analysis

(What kind of conversation am I getting into

Audience: Classmates and Instructor (this particular community)

field industrial engineering minor in business

This assignment is designed to get you thinking about how people in your field communicate in writing – a look at one of your profession’s discourse communities. To begin, it’s important to understand that discourse communities can only have similar interests and shared knowledge because they continually produce and share written (as well as oral and visual) texts. This kind of exchange defines a discourse community, and is expressed through a common language and the conventions that a community shares when they communicate with one another.


When we begin a writing project we generally begin with consideration of the audience: Who is it for? How will they use it? Where will they encounter it? What do they already know? Etc. For this project we will work backwards. You will look at a document that is read and used in your field and figure out who the intended audience is, what common assumptions they share, how they use this type of document, and how this document reveals the needs and character of the community that uses it. It is possible that you will define both primary and secondary communities that would read and use the document you select.


For this assignment you should choose a text or set of texts that circulates within your particular discipline. It is most effective if you choose a document that professionals use to share information in some way (as opposed to, say, an editorial directed at a general audience or a textbook directed at students). There are many kinds of texts you might consider, so here are a few ways to get started:


1) Think about your last co-op or work experience and the kinds of texts that were used there.

2) Ask someone in the field what the primary forms of communication are between professionals.

3) Examine a website of a professional organization in your field or a trade magazine that is commonly read in your field.

4) Examine a whole issue of a professional or scholarly journal in your field.

5) Brainstorm to define a text or group of texts that is commonly exchanged in your



As you analyze the text or texts you choose, remember that you are not concerned here with the content of the piece, but instead with how the information is shared and with whom. Instead of reading for information, think of your text as an object you are examining, as if you had discovered this artifact and had to draw some conclusions about the community that uses it.




To get started, consider these questions:

• What is the function of this particular text within the community? What does it do? In what ways is that function reflected in its format and language?

• What is the purpose of this document, what is it designed to achieve?

• What can you tell from this document about how/what this community does and what they value?

• What kind of language does this community use to communicate? What does that language tell you about their common knowledge, experiences, assumptions?

• Is the text meant only for members of a specialized community or outsiders or both? Often one document may be used by different discourse communities. There may be a primary and secondary community, for instance.

• If you are looking at a text with multiple contributors (a magazine, for instance), are different audiences targeted by different contributions?

• Is the text as a whole characterized by a certain tone, voice, or style? Is there a lot of variation, or are the contributions to this text consistent?

• If there are advertisements and announcements, what do these suggest about the discourse community?

• Has the text “traveled” through different uses and communities? For instance, some texts are published first in a journal, but then also appear on a more general website online.


Remember content is not necessarily the focus here. You have to consider it when discussing the purpose and function of your texts, but you don’t have to read everything to perform this analysis, and you don’t have to fully understand it. Instead, focus on the look, feel, and use of language to create a picture of how language is used in this community. You do not have to summarize the entire content.


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