Choose a discourse commiunity that has made an impact on you or one that interests you and find a preliminary answer to this research question: "What are the goals and characteristics of this discourse community?" Write a four- to five-page report that tries to answer your research question based on careful observation of the community.

Data Collection:

  • Observe members of the discourse community while they are engaging in a shared activity; take detailed notes. (What are they doing? What inds of things tdo they say? What do they write? How do you know who is "in" and who is "out"?)
  • Collect anything people in that community read or write (their genres) — even very short things like forms, sketches, notes, IMs, and text messaged
  • Interview at least one member of the discourse community. Record and transcribe the interview. You might ask things like, "How long have you been here? Why are you involved? What do X, Y, and Z words mean? How did you learn to write A, B, or C? How do you communicate with other people [on your team, at your lab, etc]?"

Data Analysis:

First try analyzing the data you collect using the six characteristics of Swales's discourse community:

  • What are the shared goals of the community; why does this group exist and what does it do?
  • What mechanisms do members use to communicate with each other (meetings, phone calls, e-mail, text messages, newsletters, reports, evaluation forms, and so on)?
  • What are the purposes of each of these mechnisms of communication (to improve performance, make money, grow better roses, share reseaech, and so forth)?
  • Which of the above mechanisms of comunication can be considered genres (textual responses to recurring situations that all group members recognize and understand)?
  • What kinds of specialized language (lexis) do group members use in their conversation and in their genres? Name some examples — ESL, "on the fly," BME, etc. What communicative function does this lexis serve?
  • Who are the "old-timers" with expertise? Who are the newcomers with less expertise How do newcomers learn to appropriate language, genres, knowledge of the group?

Then, use Gee, Johns, Wardle, Mirabelli, or one of the other examples we read to analyze your data further:

  • Are there conflicts within the community? If so, why?
  • Do some participants in the community have difficulty? Why?
  • Who has authority here, and where does that authority come from?
  • What are the "modes of belonging" that newcomers are attempting to use?
  • Wht sorts of "multiliteracies" do members of this community possess?
  • Are members of this community stereotyped in any way in regard to their literacy knowledge? If so, why?

Specifications for the final product

Your document should have the following parts or make the following moves (unless there's a good reason not to):

  • Begin with a very brief review of the existing literature (published research) on the topic ("we know X about discourse communities", cite Swales, Gee, Johns, etc as appropriate)
  • Name a niche ("But we don't know Y" or "No one has looked at X")
  • Explain how your study fills in this niche
  • Describe your research methods.
  • Discuss your findings in detail, drawing out two or three central observations (use Mirabelli and Wardle as examples of how to do this—quote from your notes, your interview, the texts you collected, and so on).
  • Include a Works Cited page.
  • Your document should begin with an abstract you compose


  • Research proposal due 3/21
  • Initial draft due 4/4
  • Final draft due 4/9
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