Writing Activity 6A:
Analyzing Intellectual and Discourse Communities
List all intellectual and discourse communities to which you belong. Examples of such communities are your academic major, any clubs or other academic or non-academic groups you belong to, your sorority or fraternity, and so on. Do not limit yourself to the groups with which you interact while in school. If you are a member of any virtual communities on the Internet, such as discussion groups, etc., include them in this list as well.
One you have listed all the intellectual and discourse communities to which you belong, consider the following questions:
- What topics of discussion, issues, problems, or concerns keep these communities together? And what constitutes new knowledge for your group? Is it created experimentally, through discussion, or through a combination of these two and other methods?
- How would you characterize the kinds of language which each of these communities use? Is it formal, informal, complex, simple, and so on? How are the community’s reasons for existence you listed in the first question reflected in their language?
- When you entered into the community, did you have to change your discourse, both oral and written, in any way, to be accepted and to participate in the discussions of the community? This might be a good time to consider all the linguistic adjustments you had to make becoming a college student or entering your academic major.
- Think of several classes you are currently taking. How do the discourses used in them differ from one another? Think about topics discussed, ways of making knowledge accepted in them, the degree of formality of the language used, and so on.
- Does your community or group produce any written documents? These may include books, professional journals, newsletters, and other documents. Don’t forget the papers that you write as a student in your classes. Those papers are also examples of your intellectual community’s discourse.
- What is the purpose of those documents, their intended audience, and the language that they use? How different are these documents from one community to the next? Compare, for example, a paper you wrote for your psychology class and one for a literature class.
- How often does a community you belong to come into contact with other intellectual and discourse groups? What kinds of conversations take place? How are conflicts and disagreements negotiated and resolved? How does each group adjust its discourse to hear the other side and be heard by it?
After completing this activity, you will begin to see knowledge making as a social process. I also hope that you will begin to notice the differences that exist in ways that different groups of people use language, reading, and writing. As persuasive and rhetorical mechanisms, reading and writing are supposed to reach between people and groups.
The term community does not necessarily mean that all members of these intellectual and discourse groups agree on everything. Nor does it mean that they have to be geographically close to one another to form such a community. Quite the opposite is often true. Debates and discussions among scientists and other academics who see things differently allows knowledge to advance. These debates in discussions are taking place in professional books, journals, and other publications, as well as at professional meetings.
Writing Activity 6B:
Rhetorical Analysis of Academic Texts
In consultation with your instructor, select two or three leading journals or other professional publications in your academic major or any other academic discipline in which you are interested. Next, conduct a rhetorical analysis of the writing which appears in them. Consider the following questions:
- What is the purpose of the articles and other materials that appear in the journals? Talk about this purpose as a whole; then select one or two articles and discuss their purpose in detail. Be sure to give concrete examples and details.
- Who are the intended audience of these publications? What specific elements in the writing which appears there can help us decide?
- Consider the structure and format of the writings in the journals. How do they connect with the purpose of the writing and the intended audience? For instance, what kinds of evidence or citation systems do their authors’ use?
- Discuss your results with your classmates and your instructor, or prepare a formal paper reporting and analyzing the results of your research.