I have been cast adrift in a community of communities where rules are designed to examine rules and procedures are designed to establish procedures. After reading Walter Fisher’s “Narration as a Human Communication Paradigm: The Case of Public Moral Argument” and James Porter’s “Intertextuality and the Discourse Community,” I feel that the entirety of my college education has been spent in a discourse community that studies discourse communities and narration styles within them.
The larger academic discourse community of which I have mainly been a part can be viewed as the English Department. Porter defines a discourse community as “a group of individuals bound by a common interest who communicate through approved channels and whose discourse is regulated” (38-39). It seems clear that the English Department is a rather large and generalized discourse community bound by its members’ interest in writing and literature. Relationships within the department are formalized as professors act as instructors who must be treated with respect. Forms of communication that link professors to students and students to students are formalized and found in nearly every course’s syllabus. Many of us are also bound by a widely accepted belief that writing is storytelling in the manner that Fisher describes; we create and study texts based on a large number of inputs while seeking to present good reasons for our thinking (383).
Within the English Department community, however, a large number of other discourse communities exist. For students in the writing option, a number of starkly contrasting courses are offered which differ vastly in the nature of their assignments and their expectations for writers. Each course expects students to communicate in a manner designed for a different, less generalized discourse community; stories are told in different ways and must adhere to different rules. The following sections note the qualities of writing within a few of the different discourse communities I have been involved in within the scope of the English Department in an attempt to illustrate the vastly different expectations of each community.
The Literature Studies Discourse Community:
This writing community is most varied in its expectation; it would be easy to make the argument that each literature professor creates a different discourse community. However, common traits are often shared amongst literature classes. Professors tend to expect academic writing that is relatively concise and backed by citations from texts. Some freedom of form is often allowed, but writing is still usually expected to be formal. Papers are to be written in MLA style and should feature a citations page.
The Journalism Discourse Community:
The journalism community favors a form of writing that other discourse communities would consider painfully concise; a great deal of time is spent eliminating unnecessary adjectives from articles. The most valuable sources in the journalism community are not texts but living, breathing human beings. Any source materials from text are usually considered to be of secondary importance. Each news story is expected to conform to one of a small number of templates which limit organizational experimentation. AP style should be used for all stylistic and grammatical configurations.
The Technical Writing Discourse Community:
This community is also highly variable and hard to generalize. However, writing is generally expected to be concise and visually attractive to maintain reader interest. Form is often regulated by organizational patterns which have proven to be effective in the past. More research and data is expected to be accumulated for research projects in this discourse community than in any other community in which I have been a part. Citations styles can fluctuate based on the content of each writing project.
The Blogging Discourse Community:
Although I am new to blogging, I already see a large difference between this writing community and others. Blogging allows writers to be verbose and does not require a great deal of academic research. There is little regulation as to the form writing takes and the need for citations is very limited.
All of these different discourse communities and more are nestled close to the bosom of their parent discourse community known as the English Department. My immersion in a number of these communities has always left me feeling unsettled, as though my education is not concrete or grounded. I now believe that this feeling is notable for its accuracy; I am not being groomed for a concrete career. Instead, I am being taught how to communicate in a number of different discourse communities. I am being taught how to create narratives tailored to a wide range of audiences and intentions. Hopefully, this will prove to be useful in the years to come.