Discourse Community

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Posted on 06 Mar 2013 18:52

My case study for a potential discourse community is an online sports forum called Since the website has multiple sections and sub-sections for all the major North-American sports, I chose to focus on just one of those sports (basketball)—which has the most active members and contains over 10 million posts since its inception in the year 2000. The link to these forums is here

Before I investigate a document from these forums, I would like to break down why I think it fits the criteria for a discourse community as identified by John Swales:

• Common Goal: The forums have a common goal of discussing the sport of basketball at all levels (high-school, college, professional) and growing the general basketball knowledge of the community
• Participatory Mechanisms: The forums have a myriad of mechanisms for users to get involved in the discussions. The most simple is through posting topics that ask a question or divulge information. Users can also make polls and vote in polls to express their views and opinions. Finally, a private message (or direct message) feature is available if a user wants to have a one-on-one conversation with another user.
• Information Exchange: As I stated earlier over 10 million posts have been made since 2000. In every post some sort of information is being exchanged between users.
• Community Specific Genres: There are a number of community specific genres broken down in the form of sections and sub-sections. For example there is section for general basketball discussion, and a separate section for discussion about a particular NBA team (generally among fans of that team). If a user wishes to discuss hypothetical trades or perform statistical analysis, they make use of the Trades and Transactions and Statistical Analysis sub-sections.
• Highly Specialized Terminology: The forums have a fairly large specialized vocabulary. Some examples are OT (off topic), GT (game thread), PG (post-game thread), CP3 (Chris Paul), etc.
• High general level of expertise: This one is more difficult because anyone can join the forums. However those who do join all share a common interest (basketball), and as a result are fairly knowledgeable and eager to learn. There are higher level members called Moderators or Admins that are well-respected members of the community and have a higher reputation than regular users.

The document I will analyze for this blog post can be found here:

As I stated earlier the common goal of the discourse community is to discuss the sport of basketball and increase the general basketball knowledge level of every user. This is done through discussions using posts, polls, and direct messages. This document outlines the forum policy for the general basketball message board. The document contributes immensely to helping the community members reach their shared goal by setting the groundwork for how topics and posts should be structured. For example since the forums are meant for insightful discussion about basketball, the document outlines practices that can result in having your membership revoked. These practices do not help the community reach its common goal, and include responding to posts or topics exclusively with a picture or emoticon, posting a topic in the wrong section, posting a topic that was already discussed, or personally attacking another user through racism or inappropriate remarks.

Some of the community-specific terminology found in this document is Read-Only access, PM, Signatures/avatars, GIFS, lock a topic, and suspensions. While some of these terms, like suspension, may not sound community-specific, they actually take on a slightly different meaning in this discourse community. For example suspensions can be 12-hour suspensions, read-only suspensions, or permanent suspensions.

The author of this document is Howard Mass, the site administrator. Site administrator is the highest title on the forums and is held exclusively by Howard Mass. Howard is most definitely an insider, having been in charge of the forums since the website’s inception. In this document he is addressing both insiders and outsiders, although the main audience is outsiders. In general most insiders are respected members of the community and therefore follow these rules and guidelines already. However outsiders who have just joined and are feeling their way around the forums may find the document useful.

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