Writing in community

Part One: Tasks Collecting Data Choose a discourse community to study, and get permission to do so from the people involved in it. Then do the following: • Observe members of the discourse community while they are engaged in a shared activity; take detailed notes. (What are they doing? What kinds of things do 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 short things like forms, sketches, notes, IMs, and text messages. • Interview at least one member of the discourse community. If you want to record audio and transcribe the interview. Otherwise simply take notes on what the member of the community says. You might ask questions 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 restaurant, etc.)? Data Analysis First, try analyzing the data you collect using the six characteristics of a discourse community found in Johns (p. 319) and Branick (pp. 383–394): • What are the shared goals of the community? Why does this group exist? What does it do? • What mechanisms do members use to communicate with each other (meetings, phone calls, emails, text messages, newsletters, reports, evaluation forms, etc.)? • What are the purposes of each of these mechanisms of communication (to improve performance, make money, grow better roses, share research, etc.)? • Which of the above mechanisms of communication 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, 86, etc. What communicative function does this lexis serve (e.g., why say “86” instead of “we are out of this”)? • Who are the “old-timers” with expertise? Who are the newcomers with less expertise? How do newcomers learn the appropriate language, genres, knowledge of the group? • The above will give you an overall picture of the discourse community. Now you want to focus in on what you’ve learned to find something that is especially interesting, confusing, or illuminating. You can use Johns, Branick, Wardle and Kain, and Marro to assist you in this. In trying to determine what to focus on, you might ask yourself questions such as: • Are there conflicts within the community? If so, what are they? Why do the conflicts occur? Do texts mediate these conflicts and make them worse in some way? • Do any genres help the community work toward its goals especially effectively — or keep the community from working toward its goals? Why? • Do some participants in the community have difficulty speaking and writing there? Why? • Who has authority here? How is that authority demonstrated in written and oral language? Where does that authority come from? • Are members of this community stereotyped in any way in regard to their literacy knowledge? If so, why? Planning and Drafting As you develop answers to some of the above questions, start setting some priorities. Given all you have learned above, what do you want to focus on in your writing? Is there something interesting regarding goals of the community? Are there conflicts in the community? What do you see in terms of the lexis and mediating genres? Do you see verbal and written evidence of how people gain authority and/or enculturate in the community? At this point you should stop and write a refined research question for yourself that you want to address in your writing. Now that you have observed and analyzed data, what question(s) would you like to explore in your final report? (Consult the articles by Johns, Kain and Wardle, Marro, and Branick in this chapter for examples of how you might do this.) If your teacher has assigned you to write a fairly formal research report, then your final text ought to have the following parts, or you should make the following moves (unless there’s a good reason not to): • Begin with a very brief literature review of the existing literature (published research) on the topic: “We know X about discourse communities” (citing Johns and others as appropriate). • Name a niche (“But we don’t know Y” or “No one has looked at X”). • Explain how you will occupy the niche. • Describe your research methods. • Discuss your findings in detail. (Use Johns, Kain and Wardle, Branick, and Marro as examples of how to do this — quote from your notes, your interview, the texts you collected, etc.) • Include a references page. LITERATURE REVIEW, REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE A literature review (or review of the literature) is a text that explains the existing conversation about a particular topic. Literature reviews are usually found at the beginning of research articles or books, but are sometimes written as separate projects. Note that literature in this case refers to published research in an area, not to novels or short stories. Criteria for Success Your assignment will be most successful if you’ve collected and analyzed data and explored the way that texts mediate activities within a particular discourse community. Exceptional reports will show a clear awareness of audience and clear understanding of what discourse communities are and will effectively demonstrate your ability to analyze the discourse community carefully and thoughtfully. The report will explore in depth a particularly interesting aspect of that community.