ASCE Discourse Research

Blog » ASCE Discourse Research

Posted on 22 Mar 2013 12:04

TO: Andrew Lucchesi
FROM: Nelsyda Perez
DATE: 22 March 2013
SUBJECT: Discourse Analysis Research Proposal (Blog Post 4)

Discourse communities are defined as social groups that gather together and communicate within each other in order to accomplish a common goal. According to John Swales, most people believe that discourse communities can only exist within an academic setting and it must be a speech community; however, Swales argued for the contrary, thus revealing a new way of observing a discourse community.

By understanding the workings of a discourse community, you can integrate yourself into the technical world, a world that possesses its own set of discourse communities. Researching a discourse community is a great way to introduce yourself to the technical workplace and to learn about how people interact within the workplace.

Current Situation

With regards to discourse communities, I looked at many different approaches to researching discourse communities, but I noticed one reoccurring trait that all discourse communities seem to have: their own language. Every discourse community has their own lexis that they use for intercommunication between members of the discourse community. The ideas seem to differ when each author comes up with their own definition of what a discourse community is. John Swales views discourse communities as a way for people to work together in accomplishing a common goal. James Paul Gee sees Discourses as a way of living that no outsider can ever adapt to.
Because discourse communities can be interpreted and defined in ways that differ depending on which discourse community you are trying to research. Every person that researches discourse communities in depth wants to gain an understanding of the particular discourse community that s/he bases his/her research on. In some instances, people research discourse communities with the hope of being able to join a specific discourse community. In the case of authors such as Swales, Gee and Mirabelli, studying discourse communities allows them to bring awareness to their readers and teach their readers more about discourse communities. Their purpose for writing was to spark an interest in discourse communities so readers can conduct their own research or understand a particular group more.

John Swales left me thinking the most because his approach to classifying discourse communities is methodical and easy to follow. The guidelines he claim are met by any discourse community allows me to evaluate my own discourse community of choice. If the community doesn’t fit the guidelines precisely then I could explain the community myself and make sense of it while trying to mirror the general idea that Swales was trying to get at.

Another author I plan to look at is Elizabeth Wardle as she focuses on the process involved becoming an insider in a discourse community. She focuses on the workplace, according to her title, but it could apply well to the group I chose to study, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Project Plan

For my own research I plan to take an approach that looks at the ASCE from an interested outsider’s point of view rather than the point of view of an insider. I will still look at the insider’s perspective because it will give me a much better idea of the society in general. Some potential insiders include professors in the civil engineering department at the City College of New York (CCNY) and civil engineering upperclassmen at CCNY.

The steps I plan to take with this research are:

• Evaluate the discourse community

I plan to use Swales’ model of a discourse community to show that the ASCE is a valid discourse community. If either of the criteria are not met completely then I will offer my own thorough explanation that will prove that the ASCE is a discourse community.

• Study the ASCE newsletters that I have been receiving these past few weeks

The newsletter is available to everyone that subscribes to the newsletter. Because this is the only readily available document that outsiders have access to this would be a great way to gain an initial opinion on the civil engineering society.

• Attempt to gain access to the public blogs

Upon taking an initial look at the ASCE website, I noticed that there are public blogs on the site that everyone should be able to access. I have come across some difficulties in reading the blog posts, but if I am able to look at them that will be another document that I could use in order to further my research.

• Look at any third party resources that talk about the ASCE

Because the ASCE is such a well-known discourse community, there will be plenty of information on the community itself. Just as the ASCE newsletter presents news articles from other third party sites, I could present the achievements of the ASCE using articles that directly mention the society.

• Interview the faculty in the civil engineering department at CCNY

I heard about the ASCE through the school. I assume that there are a few members of the ASCE among the faculty of the school. By interviewing professors at CCNY I could learn more about the civil engineering society through the perspective of an insider. They will also be selective of the information that they reveal as they keep in mind that I am an undergraduate and an outsider to the ASCE. They will tell me what I will need to know as of right now rather than bombarding me with information that may or may not be important. One way I plan to find a professor to talk to is by using CCNY's Grove School of Engineering Office of Student Development (OSD) as a means of finding a professor I can talk to. Because the OSD's main focus is to make sure the students at the Grove School of Engineering are involved with the engineering department so they have a better chance of staying in the School of Engineering. Also, as suggested by another fellow civil engineering major Stefanie Reichman, I will look at the civil engineering department's website and contact the professors directly depending on what they are involved with and what they have done as a civil engineering professor or as a civil engineer in general. If I cannot gain access to a professor then I will try to look online for any civil engineers who frequently post on any blogs or are publicly showing their civil engineering work online. Those people might be willing to be interviewed through either email or even an instant messaging chat if that is available.

• Interview students directly involved in the civil engineering world

There are many students at CCNY that participate in the civil engineering clubs that are at the school. Two well known clubs include Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and the Concrete Canoe. Both clubs work on actual projects related to civil engineering and most of the members, if not all of the members aspire to be civil engineers. I believe there are students within those clubs that plan to join the ASCE in the near/distant future. I could also try to communicate with the members of EWB and the Concrete Canoe through social media sites such as Facebook, if possible.

After gathering enough data on the discourse community, I plan to write a research paper on the ASCE with visual aids and enough information that will focus on introducing the outsider to the ASCE so they can work on becoming an insider.


This group seems possible to research because of the reputation this society has earned among prospective civil engineers. Despite the fact that membership within the group is limited, many people aspiring to be civil engineers research this group thoroughly in the hopes of becoming a directly involved insider.

I will use what I read from the passages relating to discourse communities to carry out this project. I will also use my conversational skill when I conduct my interviews and the skills gained from past research projects. These skills are important in finishing this project because without them this project might not be able to be completed.

As mentioned before, I will use internet sources, professors and students to gain any information that I need. I will also look into print sources that the ASCE distributes or print sources distributed by CCNY relating to the ASCE.


The hardest part of the project will be the lack of insider information. If you are not an insider, it is almost impossible to gain insider information on your own. That is one of the main reasons that I chose to research this discourse community, but my main reason could be the reason behind some of the impossibility associated with this project. It is a risk to study a group that is restricted to outsiders to some extent, but at the end of the day the information gathered will be beneficial to any future civil engineers. Another difficulty that I might come across is the difficulty in being able to communicate with a civil engineering professor at CCNY. Because of their busy schedules, they might not have the time to actually be interviewed by me. Also, the amount of information I will gather depends on the information the professor is willing to disclose. So there is a chance that I will never get a specific piece of information due to privacy/security concerns the professor will have.

Personally, I hope to gain information on the ASCE because I hope to become a civil engineer in the future. The ASCE seems to be a good step forward into the process of integrating yourself into the civil engineering workplace. Other civil engineering students or students considering to look into civil engineering would also benefit from my research for the same reasons I feel that I will benefit from this research.

Thank you for taking the time to read this proposal.

Nelsyda Perez

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