Discourse Communities & Academic Writing. Discourse Communities.
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Discourse Communities • A Discourse is a sort of 'identity kit' which comes complete with the appropriate costume and instructions on how to act, talk, and often write, so as to take on a particular social role that others will recognize. Imagine what an identity kit to play the role of Sherlock Holmes would involve: certain clothes, certain ways of using language (oral language and print), certain attitudes and beliefs, allegiance to a certain lifestyle, and certain ways of interacting with others. (Gee 142) Gee, James Paul. Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology in Discourses, Critical Perspectives on Literacy and Education. New York: Routledge, 1990. Print.
Discourse Communities (and their general types of writing) • Academic (writing in and for school settings) • Arts – e.g., criticism • Sciences – e.g., IMRaD reports, lab reports • Humanities – e.g., essays • Professional (writing in and for careers) • Business – e.g., memos, grants • Technical – e.g., instructions, specifications • Legal – e.g., legal briefs, IRAC analyses, amicus curiae • Public (writing in and for the public or government) • Journalistic – e.g., features, editorials, reporting for newspapers, magazines • Civic / Political – e.g., policy briefs, resolutions, bills • Popular • Fiction – e.g., novels, stories • Creative non-fiction – e.g., memoirs, personal essays
General Types of Writing In this simple Venn diagram, note that these general types of writing have very little in common with each other. Basic grammatical rules probably sit at the very middle, but beyond that, functional words, style, evidence, citation format, logos, pathos, ethos, media, and genre differ (in some cases greatly). Professional
Consider… One of the course goals for WRIT 1122: • Demonstrate the ability to incorporate and attribute or document source material in rhetorically effective ways. • Academic writing – formal, in-text citation following a predetermined style with accompanying Works Cited/References page • In the sciences: APA, CSE, NLM • In the humanities: MLA, Chicago/Turbian • Public writing – in-text contextual signal phrases (e.g., “A study from Michael Jones published in 2005 in the journal Cell Biology”) with no Works Cited/References page • Professional writing – business, genre or location specific style, some not published outside of the business, but sometimes based on academic styles such as IEEE or Chicago. Many companies have their own style that you will be expected to learn if you work there. • Popular writing – popular writing, even creative non-fiction, cites very little, and if it does, it is closer to public writing (in-text context signal phrases).
How to read a discourse community Activity, Genre, Context, Rhetoric, and Argument
Activities and their systems • Activities are some action that you are taking. They can produce objects, symbols, motivations, data, rules, and social structures. E.g., • Biology experiment • Diary • Computer coding • Activity systems are the interconnected social and artifact layers most common to an activity. • Biology experiment is most often conducted in a lab and reported on to other biologists • Diary is most often written by somebody as a means to remember or reflect on some moment from the past. • Computer coding is most often used to determine procedures for completing an action on that computer.
Genre • Genre – commonly practiced and accepted form or model of communicating; each form is distinct from other forms. • Genres are socially constructed; that is to say, they are dynamic (they have and will change) AND they are determined by a community of practice. • Genres are ways and means of action that structure other actions and objects/motives as they are used—they are parts of an activity system that shape perceptions and expectations. We match our activity to a genre. Sometimes the activity determines the genre; for example, a biology experiment in a biology lab course results in a biology lab report. However, sometimes the rhetorical situation determines the genre; for example, if we conduct a biology experiment we might write about it as an IMRaD report (academic), or grant proposal (professional), or newspaper article (public), or a children’s book (popular).
Context • Context – the “situation” or absolute constraints of a communication situation. • Which genres are used in the most contexts? • Which genres are used in the least contexts? • Do certain genre features transfer (e.g. such as, applying the concept of thesis or citation style) to various genres? • Activity Systems require that we constantly evaluate the genres we have available to us and the rhetorical features and argumentative strategies we use.
Activity System for a cell biology course in college (Russell, 1997).
Genre system of cell biology course in college (Russell, 1997). Commodification – translated and transformed so that those outside the system can understand. ` Qualification – words that address warrants and assumptions. “Facts” – Argument is presented; argument is hidden.
Genres, Contexts, Rhetoric and Argument • Context determine the limits (constraints) of an acceptable argument (premise, claim and evidence) about an activity. • Genres provide a framework of how to “read” and “write” the activity. • The intersection of activity, context, and genre determine the most common rhetorical features (including logos, ethos, pathos, kairos) available to us. • The means of delivering that communication are further determined by the media and modes expected of that intersection between context, activity, and genre. Given these layers, think about the question I asked at the beginning of the term. What is good writing?
Academic Writing is Hopefully, it is clear that academic writing cannot be expressed in a simple sentence. One of the motivations for our approach to WRIT 1122 and 1133 at DU is that understanding that evidence and argument change for different contexts, and that understanding the rhetorical situation and available means and media of persuasion are more important than just learning how to write a memo, grant, or SWOT (all of which will look different four years from now and also further depend on who or what you are writing them for). Of course, others have still tried to define “general” principles of academic writing…
Andy GilletUEfAP website Features of academic writing • Complexity • Formality • Precision • Objectivity • Explicitness • Accuracy • Hedging • Responsibility http://www.uefap.com/writing/feature/featfram.htm
University of Iowa Six Features of Academic Writing: A Guide For Students • Provide context • Thesis • Navigation • Evidence • Counter-argument • Conclusion http://myweb.uiowa.edu/egand/Six%20features.pdf
RMIT University of Vietnam Characteristics of Academic Writing • Clear • Specific • Supported • Focused https://www.rmit.edu.vn/sites/default/files/file_basic_page/characteristics_of_academic_writing_new.pdf
What is academic writing? These three “features of academic writing” resources show difference and contradiction because they each have unstated assumptions about the rhetorical situation. There are many types of writing that defy these lists: • Research-based writing should be question driven and not thesis driven • Sometimes your goal should be to simplify complex topics rather than make them more complex (complexity for complexity’s sake is bad writing) • Clarity and precision depend entirely on the audience and their expectations. There is no “universal” academic audience.