MAJOR ASSIGNMENT #2 DISCOURSE COMMUNITY ETHNOGRAPHY
MAJOR ASSIGNMENT #2
DISCOURSE COMMUNITY ETHNOGRAPHY
Choose a discourse community that you are a member of and explore its goals and characteristics. Then
choose a particular point of interest within that discourse community to consider in more detail (like the
menu in “Learning to Serve”). In at least 6-7 full pages (double-spaced, MLA), write an ethnographic report
that describes the discourse community and explores the particular point of interest (or research question)
that you want to focus on. Use the data you collect to make and support your claims.
In the first Major Assignment, we focused on your experience with writing. We have considered rhetoric
within an individual context. For this next Major Assignment, you are going to be shifting from the personal
to the public and applying your rhetorical knowledge to a community you are a member of. Specifically, this
unit introduces the concept of the discourse community, and you will explore how a discourse community
of your choosing uses rhetoric and different literacies to achieve their goals. This assignment builds on the
rhetorical concepts from Major Assignment #1 while introducing new concepts and situating them in social
contexts. Thus, by the end of this assignment, you should have a more thorough understanding of the
contingent, situated nature of writing and communication and with it a deeper understanding of literacy and
how rhetorical situations shape writing. This continues the class goal of preparing you for diverse writing
situations and enhancing your ability to adapt to the needs of different audiences and the multiple discourse
communities embedded within them.
STUDENT LEARNING OUTCOMES:
By the end of this assignment, students will be able to:
P Apply strategies for reading and annotating challenging texts
P Define, understand, and identify the different properties of discourse communities
P Reflect on and communicate the implications of their personal experience to a diverse audience
P Integrate quotes and dialogue
P Paraphrase outside sources
P Craft a compelling introduction
P Use storytelling, style, and descriptive writing to engage readers
P Practice inductive reasoning
P Create a strong thesis statement
P Write an evocative and descriptive academic title
Writing 40 Major Assignment #2 Dr. Baumgartner
Step 1. Collecting Data: Start by choosing a discourse community to study and get permission to do so
from the people involved in it. Then do the following to start conducting your research:
• Observe members of the discourse community while they are engaged in a shared activity. Take detailed notes.
For example, you may consider the following:
o What are they doing? (What activities and work do they engage in?)
o What kinds of things do they say? (Look for specialized jargon, slang)
o What do they write? (Think of genres and memes, for example)
o How do you know who is “in” and who is “out”? (Who is an expert and who is a novice?)
• Collect anything people in that community read or write (their genres), even short things like forms, sketches,
notes, and online communications (videos, chatrooms, message boards, instant messaging, etc.)
• Interview at least one member of the discourse community. You might ask questions like:
o How long have you been here?
o Why are you involved?
o What do X, Y, and Z words mean?
o How do you (or how would you) translate X, Y, and Z words for a novice or someone unfamiliar with your
o How did you learn how to write A, B, or C?
o How do you communicate with other people (on your team, at your restaurant, etc.)
These three elements—observation, collection (of specific texts/genres), and interviews—comprise your
research. This is the evidence you will use to write your report.
Step 2. Data Analysis: First, try analyzing the data you collect using the six characteristics of a discourse
community found in Johns (see p. 319) and Branick (see 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, and knowledge of the group?
The above will give you an overall picture of the discourse community. Now you want to focus on what
you’ve learned to find something that is especially compelling, confusing, or illuminating. You can use Johns,
Mirabelli, and Branick to assist you in this.
Writing 40 Major Assignment #2 Dr. Baumgartner
GETTING STARTED, DRAFTING, AND DEVELOPING THROUGH REVISION
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? Conversely, do any
genres 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 regarding their literacy knowledge? The way
they communicate? If so, why?
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 any 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 (we’ll also practice this in class). Now that you have observed and analyzed data, what
question(s) would you like to explore in your final report?
GRADING AND “WHAT MAKES IT GOOD?”
While your discourse community ethnographic report may take a number of different shapes, it will tend to
include these traits:
• Begin with a very brief literature review of the existing literature (i.e., our class readings) on discourse
communities: “We know X about discourse communities” (citing Johns, Mirabelli, and others as
• Name a niche you will explore (“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 our class readings as models/sample essays and quote from your
notes, your interview(s), the texts you collected, etc.).
• Include and properly format any relevant pictures needed to explain your findings.
• Include a works cited page (we’ll cover how to cite your own research in class).
Writing 40 Major Assignment #2 Dr. Baumgartner
Your assignment will be most successful if you’ve collected and analyzed data and explored the way that texts
(genres) mediate activities within a particular discourse community. The assignment asks you to show a clear
understanding of what discourse communities are and to demonstrate your ability to analyze them carefully
and thoughtfully. It also asks that you simply do not list the features of your discourse community but that
you also explore in some depth a particularly interesting aspect of that community. Since this assignment asks
you to practice making the moves common to academic research articles, it should be organized, readable,
fluent, and well edited.
REQUIREMENTS AND ASSIGNMENT CHECKLIST
Dear student, have you
o Started your essay with a brief literature review of discourse communities?
o Transitioned from your literature review to an introduction that poses a focused research question?
o Described the methods you used to gather your research?
o Discussed and analyzed your findings according to the six characteristics of a discourse community?
o Focused on a particularly interesting aspect of your discourse community?
o Ended with a strong conclusion that addresses the implications of your research and analysis and
reflects on what can be learned about literacy from this particular discourse community?
And don’t forget about these requirements:
o Document must be at least 6-7 full double-spaced pages (excluding works cited and any attached
o Works cited page in MLA Format
o An evocative and descriptive academic title
o Written in proper 9th edition MLA formatting
o Submitted electronically to Canvas by the due date (also found on Canvas)