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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.

Discourse Communities

One way to examine discourse is to explore how groups of people communicate their messages. A discourse community is a "social group that communicates at least in part via written texts and shares common goals, values, and writing standards, a specialized vocabulary, and specialized genres." Beaufort, Anne, College Writing and Beyond.

Different discourse communities will often discuss the same topic in very different ways. The concept map below shows some discourse communities involved in conversations related to obesity. 

Discourse community concept map


Examples of Discourse Communities


  • Choose communities that are in conversation on a particular topic or problem.
  • Select key communities that represent various perspectives on a topic.
  • Be specific: instead of Cincinnati Reds fans, choose members of the RedsZone or the Rosie Reds.
  • Choose an organized or connected community that has a common purpose; for example, the animal rights group PETA
  • Focus on what the community is saying, how they support their views, and how they represent their ideas, rather than what you think about the topic or idea.
  • Focus on the discourse of an entire community, not on a specific person.

Examples of communities

  • Professional: groups associated with a particular job, profession, or field of study
    • emergency room nurses
    • prison guards
    • political aides

Be careful to sufficiently narrow your focus so you are not trying to analyze a community with millions of members who have vastly different discourse practices (i.e. “scientists” or “business people”)

  • Social/Societal
    • PETA and similar activist organizations
    • a specific ethnic group (Amish, Native Americans living on reservations, Cajun)
    • the PTA or similar school groups

Be sensitive to stereotypes if you analyze a community associated with race, religion, etc.

  • Civic
    • a campus club or organization
    • volunteers for a certain charity
    • political action groups

  • Cultural
    • Trekkies
    • Civil War re-enactors
    • game clubs (Dungeons & Dragons, Magic Cards, etc.)

Discourse Community Analysis/Ethnography

If your assignment focuses on a single discourse community, 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: 15 min. 56 sec.)

Introduction (27 sec.)

Purpose of a discourse community analysis (34 sec.)

Choosing a discourse community (3 min. 5 sec.)

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

Finding your sources: brainstorming (41 sec.)

Finding primary texts (1 min. 57 sec.)

Professional websites (1 min. 46 sec.)

Social media sites (1 min. 10 sec.)

Primary research (50 sec.)

Secondary research (41 sec.)

Working with your sources (1 min. 12 sec.)

Putting it all together (59 sec.)

Helpful resources (1 min. 16 sec.)

Student pre-work

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