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English Composition 2089: Researching Discourse

This guide provides resources for researching "discourse communities" and the documents, videos, reports, images and other materials they create.

Look at discourse critically

Rhetoric and discourse both refer to verbal or written exchange and expression. While rhetoric is mainly persuasive, discourse is broader and often encourages further discussion and examination of different views. Essentially, discourse is the communication of thoughts and formal discussion of a subject by words. 

In considering discourse, ask:

  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What is the purpose of the information presented? (inform, persuade, entertain)
  • What types of evidence are used to support the claims of the information?
  • How is information shaped by a particular genre? (Consider the audience, layout, space, conventions, etc).
  • How formal/informal is the language?
  • What kind of strategies do users or formal discourse communities use in achieving their purposes?
  • How do different genres contribute to conveying messages? What is effective and what is not? Why?

Discourse analysis

Assignments in this course may involve researching and analyzing how a particular societal issue is understood through discourse. The purpose of these assignments is to help you learn more about how we use discourse differently and how discourse shapes our understanding of particular issues.

Things to consider when you analyze discourse:

  • Who are the discourse communities involved and with authority?
  • Through what genres do stakeholders, audiences, and opponents communicate their messages and why?
  • How do those genres of discourse shape an understanding or perception of the issue?
  • How literate, biased, and/or credible are those producing this discourse?
  • To what degree is the discourse mainstream (understood by the broad audience) or considered non-traditional or even avant-garde?

Please remember that the focus of the assignment is ANALYZING DISCOURSE, not the topic.  You should focus on WHO is writing and speaking, WHY they are doing so, and HOW the resulting discourse impacts or has impacted the issue.

The table below illustrates the difference between research questions for the discourse analysis paper vs. the argumentative paper.

Topic Argument on the Topic Analysis of Discourse
Cars and pollution Should US automakers spend more money and research to make cars less harmful to the environment?
  • Who are the discourse communities in conversation about pollution controls in cars?
  • Which groups/companies/organizations have the most authority to influence the outcome and why?
  • How much influence do consumers have in this debate?
  • What forms or genres do groups use to convey their messages?
  • Who is or are the audience(s) for these messages?

Analysing Discourse on a Topic/Analyzing Multiple Discourses

If your assignment focuses on a discourse around a topic or issue and you will be essentailly comparing multiple discourses, please watch the video below. It will provide an explanation of the focus of this assignment, tips on finding sources, and suggestions on analyzing the  sources you find.

Clickable bookmarks to take you to the "chapters" of this video (total duration: 20 min. 25 sec.)

Introduction (27 sec.)

Purpose of the multiple discourses analysis (36 sec.)

Choosing a topic for this project (1 min. 50 sec.)

The focus of your analysis (1 min. 18 sec.)

Finding your sources: brainstorming and focused search (2 min. 43 sec.)

Social media as sources (1 min. 14 sec.)

Broad searching: Google (30 sec.)

Using news articles (1 min. 46 sec.)

Broad searching: Summon (2 min. 40 sec.)

Finding texts in disciplines (3 min. 13 sec.)

How do I look at the sources? (50 sec.)

What do I do with my research? (1 min. 4 sec.)

Putting it all together (44 sec.)

Helpful resources (1 min. 30 sec.)

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