Learning Module 4: Discourse Communities and Academic Writing

July 7 – July 11

Writing assignments due this week

Reading assignments due this week

Participation due this week

July 11 — Comment on at least two blog posts from other students. You are welcome and encouraged to comment on more.


The end is nigh! Welcome to this, the last week of WRIT 1122. In this final week, it’s time to think anew about that question of yore, what is good writing, but to also think about what academic writing is because it’s in the title of the course after all.

The majority of the reading assignments for this week are fittingly alphabetic text, written by academics for an academic audience.  The video and press release are meant as a contrast of public writing to the study that Ariely, Kamenica and Prelec published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization (more on that on the assignment sheet for Blog 7).  Read the assignment before doing this reading.

Trying to capture what academic writing is within one sentence is almost impossible except to say that it is a continual evolution of the writing you have been doing in school thus far and will continue to do in the future.  As a result, although there are notable differences in professional, public, and popular writing outside universities, those who write in these discourse communities too have been influenced by the writing done for and in school settings.  In the first assignment of this learning module, I’m going to ask you to think about what academic writing does better, different, or worse than other types of writing.

The larger concept of the week is that of discourse communities.  As you will read, discourse communities are communities that have a common set of communication expectations and protocols for participating in that community.  I made that sound fancy, but really, you are members of all sorts of formal and informal discourse communities already, whether it is your group of friends (lacrosse fans, video gamers), your family, your college major or your workplace.  Learning the “codes” of participation in those discourse communities is part of a college education, even as a college education is a series of overlapping discourse communities.  For example, in figure 1, a veterinarian would have specialist discourse as part of his or her profession, but would also know the discourses of biology majors, science majors, and college graduates.


Figure 1. The discourse communities that a veterinarian would belong to

Of course, it is not that straightforward.  We don’t take the same courses or have the same professors or even do the same assignments, so there will be holes and absences in those circles, and you will note on the Discourse Communities & Academic Writing PowerPoint that there are discourses connected to particular activity systems that not even everyone in a specific profession will be a part of.

The James Paul Gee excerpt is from a larger book and should help you think more about this concept of discourses, and it should supplement the admittedly more complex ideas presented in this week’s PowerPoint.  The Little, Jordans, and Sayers’ study appeared in the journal Health, and it shows how patients, politicians, and doctors participate in the activity and discourse community of medicine. This study is interesting for its own sake, but I want you to note two new ideas presented in this article: colonization and the evolution of a discourse community.  When we enter a new discourse community, we attempt to bring our old discourses with us, and try to make those things fit even as the new discourse community is passively shaping us.  The concept is important to recognize as it is what you most likely have experienced thus far and will continue to experience.  They also briefly touch on the concept of the evolution of discourse communities, developed by the seminalists, inhabited by the epigones, then ideologues, then the authoritarians.  The literary analysis essay or lab report might be in the authoritarian stage, but where is Twitter or even the blog?

As a reminder for the week, all revisions and work for the course is due by July 11.

Learning Objectives

  • Adapt to different audiences using word choice, evidence, and media
  • Practice applying rhetorical concepts to new rhetorical situations.
  • Reflect on how writing matters to you individually and to society.
  • Differentiate audiences by analyzing how their values shape what evidence they might best respond to.