Discourse Community Knowledge

Learning Objectives

By the end of this course, students will be able to: 1) identify and analyze discourse communities; 2) engage in inquiry-based research, locate and evaluate evidence, and document sources, all in accordance with discourse community expectations and standards.

 In How Writing Works, you were introduced to the concept of discourse communities, groups of people who come together with common goals and purposes, and share a specialized discourse, or ways of communicating. You may have even written a discourse community analysis, studying a specific discourse community to understand how its members communicate with other members, or perhaps with those outside the discourse community. Introduction to Public and Professional Writing aims to deepen your understanding of how discourse communities operate, looking not only at the idea of community-specific discourse, but also at how different kinds of discourse communities engage in research, select evidence, and document sources.

Understanding some of the discourse community theories and concepts presented here will be especially important as you write in new contexts beyond the classroom. You will learn how to apply your knowledge of academic discourse communities to writing for audiences from professional and public discourse communities. The chapters that follow will help you adapt research practices for finding and evaluating different kinds of sources, integrating those sources into your own writing, and citing or attributing those sources according to the standards and expectations of different discourse communities. As you know, meeting the expectations of the discourse community to which you are writing—whether or not you are yourself a member of the discourse community—is essential to achieving your goals for a given project or text.

The chapters in this section provide new perspectives on discourse community knowledge:

Discourse and Discourse Community” explains the concepts of discourse and discourse communities to show how discourse is shaped within a community. It provides an overview of how discourse communities coalesce around shared goals and a common language, or discourse. It also highlights the sometimes adversarial nature of the communicative style embraced by discourse communities and demonstrates the potential conflict that might arise through one’s membership in multiple professional and public discourse communities.

Research and Finding Credible Sources” shows you how moving through the inquiry and research processes involves a range of methods from primary to secondary research, library databases, and digital search engines. The choice of method is determined by the problem you are interrogating, as well as your purpose and intended audience. In college, research for academic writing is typically understood as searching for “new” information.  In professional and public  contexts, however, research is understood differently: as a rhetorical strategy, to support what is already known or believed, and to do so in ways rhetorically acceptable to a given discourse community. To be persuasive, lawyers, for example, will research and cite earlier cases, not to find new information but to find “old” information, that is, cases where courts have already decided in agreement with the lawyer’s argument.  This is accepted as persuasive because one convention of this discourse community is that judges must rely on precedent. This essay will help you think about locating and evaluating evidence, expanding your understanding of what it means to say a given piece of evidence is “credible” within a given discourse community.

Citations and Attributions” highlights the process of citing sources not just to avoid charges of plagiarism, but also to ethically and responsively engage others’ words, images, and ideas. The chapter emphasizes understanding citation practices as guidelines rather than rules: guidelines that evolve over time, in accordance with new technologies and discourse communities’ changing needs. Additionally, this essay emphasizes the similarities and differences between citation and attribution, as they are variously used by writers integrating multimodal sources in writing for academic, professional, or public audiences.

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Introduction to Professional and Public Writing by Roger Williams University Department of Writing Studies, Rhetoric, and Composition is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.