Ethnography of a Discourse Community

****THIS NEEDS TO BE COMPLETED BY SATURDAY 4/4/20 by 11:59 PM*******

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Throughout this semester, we have discussed the rhetorical situation (audience, purpose, context, etc.), how people become “literate,” and how writers/producers of information use particular genres. For your third major paper, you will work on a project that connects ALL of those ideas as you research, analyze, and present the writing and composing practices of a particular discourse community. In other words, you are researching the communication/writing practices of a specific social group and writing a “guide” to communicating and writing in that community. You should draw upon all that you have learned this semester in order to seek a full, complex, and diverse representation of sources primarily by but also about the discourse community of your choice. Your choices are virtually unlimited. You may choose a serious discourse community or a humorous one. Established and well-known, or brand new. Related to a particular profession or to a social or cultural group. There’s only one exception: you may not choose a discourse community of which you are a member.

The purpose of this assignment is to help you learn more about how writers use discourse differently and to help you improve your research skills.

General Requirements
Style: MLA format. Your sources must be properly cited, with a Works Cited page.

Length: 2200-2800+ words, double spaced, 12-point font in Times New Roman.

Focusing on a Community
Choose a specific community (the more specific, the easier time writing you’ll likely have); in other words, do not write about “musicians” or “white collar employees.” Write instead about the Beyoncé fandom or the marketing department at Kroger. Consult our article by John Swales to make sure you’re actually writing about a discourse community. Also, focus your analysis on the discourse of an entire community, not on a specific person; you are not writing a biography.

Some examples might include the writing and composing practices of: the Engineering department at UC; a club at UC; UC deans who use Twitter; the staff of Vogue; people who write 50 Shades of Grey fanfiction; professional beard growers; Sheltie dog breeders; a particular religious group of a religion you don’t practice, and so on…

To get started, you might ask these types of questions: What kinds of texts get produced and for what purposes? What genres are typically used and why? Are texts produced individually or collaboratively? What counts as discourse – what does this community value as good writing, speaking, or communicating? What types of specialized vocabulary, jargon, or language is used? How is oral and digital (including visual) communication used to complement the written or text-based discourse?

Essay Structure: Option One
Talk through the research in your own voice. Point out the surprising knowledge gained vs. information known, and final thoughts about the discourse community. Your essay should have a clear beginning, middle, and end, and it must address the ideas listed below. You are welcome to organize your essay into these sections:
● Introduction. Describe your discourse community, how you learned about it, and why you chose it. Give any necessary background. Keep this part brief.
● Thesis/conclusions drawn. You’ll need to work backward from here for the remainder of the essay, but state your thesis, analysis, or conclusions about this community’s discourse early in the essay (however, you may also want to withhold your thesis and conclusions until the final paragraph of your essay). This section should be brief, but will definitely be more than a couple of sentences. Remember that your thesis should make a point about the community’s discourse.
● Discourse analysis. This section will comprise the bulk of your essay. Analyze genres and major publications (using that term broadly to mean print and multi-media, digital, and online sources) used by this discourse community – in other words, how do they communicate and compose, and why? Try to address as complete a variety of discourse as you can, including written and visual artifacts, and sources from multiple genres; make sure to discuss any discourse for which the community is well-known or famous. Highlight and discuss specific sources that led you to your analysis. The community’s discourse should be your focus. However, you should also use secondary sources to analyze discourse about this community; see my section on “sources”.
● Conclusion. Connect your analyses to your thesis and wrap it up with something brief and interesting that you haven’t talked about yet.

Essay Structure: Option Two
Addressing the above points, you might write this essay in a “top 10” format (i.e., 10 Tips for Joining the Discourse of the Steampunk fandom). With this option, be sure to strive for the same depth of analysis and research you would if you were writing a traditionally-formatted academic research essay. If you still find yourself running short on page length, you may include a critically-analytical statement of your goals and choices for writing in this format.

Essay Structure: Option Three
Addressing the above points, you’re welcome to compose within a genre that is not primarily text-based. For instance, if you wish to compose a video essay or a podcast episode, feel welcome. Please run your idea by me. You may include a brief rationale with your draft. As with Option Two, be sure to strive for the same depth of analysis and research (same number of sources) you would if you were writing a traditionally-formatted academic research essay.

Final words about composing the essay
For each option, feel absolutely welcome to include video, audio, image and more. You have been working with and in genres and will be collecting multimodal artifacts along the way, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t allow a multimodal approach.

Source Requirements
Your paper should be thoroughly supported by a strong variety of sources. In the past, students have used anywhere from 7 to 15 sources. Here are some guidelines to help you choose which sources to examine:
• The main bulk of your paper should be made of primary research. You can use it one of two ways—either you use as much as your text can handle or you focus on a particularly interesting writing / communication practice. Primary sources are those used by the discourse community in order to communicate. Gather samples of the “texts” produced by the discourse community. These will include traditional sources such as articles and books, Web sites, online forums, blogs, social media and films, but could also include artifacts such as bumper stickers, signs, photographs, brochures, clothing, or posters. If a discourse community is associated with a famous book, a well-known report, a certain film, or even a particular genre, then you need to address it.
• You must use at least one primary source of field research. This is a source you create yourself. Interview someone from the discourse community, conduct a survey, visit a conference or sit in on a meeting, or otherwise observe the discourse community in action. In the rare case that you are not able to participate directly because of the nature of your community (e.g., it would put you in danger), email me for a permission to use someone else’s field research.
• You must use secondary research to support the primary research (at least one source). Secondary sources include magazine, journal, and newspaper articles, books, and Web sites. These sources aren’t produced by your discourse community, but about it (by a third party). You will need to be flexible when choosing secondary sources. For example, if you are analyzing a local fraternity or sorority you might not find an article on that group specifically, but you will find plenty of articles on the Greek system and fraternities and sororities in general.
• The sources you use for your analysis will depend on the discourse community you choose. Strive for a variety of genres, but don’t force a source – if a discourse community isn’t known for communicating via the Web or for producing passionate letters to the editor, then don’t rack your brain looking for those sources. (Keeping a log (an annotated bibliography) of sources and citations will help when you are ready to draft your analysis.)
• Keep in mind that this is an academic essay. Though you will likely use non-traditional sources, refrain from only examining sources that lack the complexity or validity expected of college-level research. Your essay certainly does not need to rely on journal articles and books; neither should your works cited page be composed solely of a bumper sticker, a photograph, a Wikipedia entry, and an interview with your roommate. You want a mix of both serious and less serious sources.
• Use MLA style to cite your sources (including in-text citations and Works Cited page).
Use an MLA handbook or online resource ( to guide you, and ask me if you have problems.

****THIS NEEDS TO BE COMPLETED BY SATURDAY 4/4/20 by 11:59 PM*******

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